27 Jan 2017
27 Jan 2017
15 min read
15 min read
Nineteen years ago, a Japanese healer set up a centre in Kathmandu that has helped heal hundreds of people suffering from musculoskeletal ailments
Torakichi routinely puts himself through this exercise because it sharpens his ability to sense the tension built up under a person’s skin by muscle knots and awkwardly aligned bones. During Sotai and Kai therapy, a Japanese non-allopathic healing technique, therapists such as Torakichi loosen those knots, and help realign the framework of their client’s body. His father Yoshihiro Akita started practising Sotai 25 years ago and established the Sotai and Kai Therapy Centre in 1998, now run by Torakichi. At the centre in Pulchowk, the father-son duo provide Sotai and Kai therapy to hundreds of people with physical ailments and have also taught many people how to adopt the Sotai and Kai lifestyle to prevent them from picking up the ailments in the first place.
Sotai is a sub-practice of Kai Therapy, which literally means ‘comfortable’ therapy. Kai therapy is all about maintaining a healthy lifestyle by focusing on five key aspects: nutrition, breathing, physical health, mental health and your living environment. Sotai refers to the physical practices you can take up and the physical interventions a therapist will use on patients suffering from muscle and bone related problems anywhere in the body. Sotai was invented by a Japanese physician called Keizo Hashimoto, and Torakichi’s father learned to conduct the therapy from the inventor’s student, Uryu Ryosuke. The therapy seeks to realign the body’s framework to restore its natural balance, without the aid of any pharmaceuticals or surgeries.
“Sotai therapy can be very helpful for most of us living stressful lives,” says Torakichi. “For example, it’s useful for people who work desk jobs and do not pay attention to their posture. If you’re not careful, your muscles get knotted, and slowly but surely, that leads to bad posture. To remedy this problem, we use a combination of deep tissue massage, heat therapy, herbal therapy and Sotai therapy to restore your body’s natural posture. We also use Sotai therapy to restore your natural vertebral position. For example, using only the right hand would mean more use of the right side of the body, pulling the vertebra towards the right, and the vertebra needs to be realigned,” says Torakichi.
Sotai refers to the physical practices you can take up and the physical interventions a therapist will use on patients suffering from muscle and bone related problems anywhere in the bodyTo realign the vertebrae, muscles and bones, Sotai therapists use a strategic massaging technique where specific points in the body—where muscles tend to get tight and form knots—are untied or loosened. Torakichi and the other therapists at Sotai and Kai use shiatsu (finger pressure) and sokuhatsu (leg pressure) massage to work on those points that have knotted up due to inactivity or bad body posture.
And you can tell, when you opt for this therapy, that this is not your conventional massage. To begin with, Sotai therapy does not necessarily require you to be unclothed. The therapy centre provides its customers with pajamas, and the therapy is conducted with the patient fully clothed. As you lie face down on a mattress, the therapist’s skilled fingers glide over your clothed body, feeling for knots. The fingers probe and press, and as they approach certain parts of your body, you become overly conscious of all those regions that you didn’t care to stretch. In a matter of minutes, he’ll figure out which parts of the body are misaligned and where the knots have formed. And once he does, he zeroes in on those spots with firm and confident manoeuvres. Persistent hands and feet knead the knotted muscles, and what starts as a slightly unpleasant experience—or painful depending from person to person—turns into a rhythmic series of presses with the pain alleviating as your body starts getting accustomed to the massage. Once the therapist has dealt with the knots, you find yourself getting extremely relaxed. By the end of the session, your body ends up feeling lighter. And as you leave the centre, you realise that if you were to look after yourself in the manner prescribed by the therapists, you might feel this way all the time.
Sotai’s healing capabilities go well beyond restoring the body’s framework. It has even been used to cure numerous cases of rheumatoid arthritis, migraine, lumbago, and hip and pelvic distortions. Torakichi’s father once worked on a paralysed 83-year-old woman. “After countless treatments in the US and Malaysia had failed to cure her, she came to our therapy centre for help. My father got her back on her feet within six months, and she lived to be 93,” says Torakichi. For cases that need more than Sotai intervention, Torakichi refers them to Ayurvedic practitioners and amchis (practitioners of Tibetan healing) within his network.
Sotai’s healing capabilities go well beyond restoring the body’s frameworkBesides being a skilled therapist, Torakichi also teaches the many benefits of adopting the Sotai and Kai lifestyle. “Try not to consume animal-based protein as its molecular structure is too big for our body’s enzymes to digest,” he advises. “Seal your lips with tape while sleeping at night. This rules out the possibility of your breathing through your mouth. Going to sleep and waking up in the same position is not a good sign. Sleep on a hard bed so that your body is free to move, as opposed to a soft one, where the body just ends up sinking into the mattress.” He is an endless repository of such nuggets of advice. Occasionally, the therapy centre also holds seminars to teach people how to embrace the Sotai and Kai lifestyle.
The principles of Sotai, however, aren’t set in stone; they evolve constantly. Yoshihiro learned the basics from his teacher and built upon this foundation by tackling the many problems that his customers came to him with. Torakichi has today inherited all this knowledge and continues to add to that repository of knowledge through his practice and research.
The therapy centre is thriving today because patients who get healed here keep referring others with similar ailments to the centre. It has expanded to a branch in Baluwatar, and the Pulchowk branch alone sees about 14 clients a day—many of whom are regular patients. To handle such numbers, besides Torakichi, there are seven therapists. Five of them happen to be deaf and were trained by Yoshihiro. His wife too assists Torakichi and the other therapists, and his father, although retired in 2012, still provides training to the therapists.
Yoshihiro had never thought of making a living out of Sotai. He had first come as a tourist to Nepal in the early 80s, when he fell in love with not just the country’s culture, but also with his translator, Dharma Laxmi Shilpakar, his wife today. He had initially thought of making use of his academic background in Buddhist art to become a thangka trader and entering the Nepali thangka market. However, he was a better scholar than he was a trader. One bad business deal after another, and the thangka market closed its doors on Yoshihiro. That was when Yoshihiro decided to fall back on his family’s tradition of healing people. What started as a desperate attempt for livelihood turned out to be a blessing in disguise for many people who have been healed through Sotai and Kai therapy.