Massage therapist Karlo Berger says the new class
he’ll be teaching at the Community College of
Rhode Island come January will be a mix of science
To learn the type of shiatsu massage that Berger
plans to teach will take a knowledge of anatomy and
physiology, but he will also offer lessons on less
scientific things, too, such as chi, the life force
energy those who study Eastern medicine believe
flows through the body.
“It’s a scientific art and an artistic
science,” Berger says of shiatsu, a massage
technique that uses finger and palm pressure and
various stretches to hit certain points on the body.
“It’s really hard to pin down as an art or a
CCRI offered a class in shiatsu in recent years,
but when a previous instructor decided to stop
teaching the course, Berger stepped in for the
The lessons won’t be intended for the hobbyist,
and they are not intended to turn out full-fledged
shiatsu therapists. Instead, Berger says he is going
to emphasize how the knowledge of things like chi
and meridian lines can be worked into a conventional
To become a shiatsu therapist takes hours and
hours of training, Berger says. “But I can help
them integrate a lot of these principles into their
work as a massage therapist.”
That thinking fits in with Berger’s other job,
leading a Boston-based nonprofit called the
Integrative Medicine Alliance, which attempts to
bridge conventional and holistic health care.
Berger traces his interest in shiatsu to a t’ai
chi class he took while he was a student at Brown
University. After several years of using the
meditative form of exercise, he took a community
education course on Japanese shiatsu, which is based
on principles developed over thousands of years in
He continued his shiatsu studies in Bristol,
England, and then at the now-defunct Boston Shiatsu
School. He now operates his shiatsu therapy business
on the East Side.
CCRI officials say the school will be one of only
a few places in New England that will offer lessons
in shiatsu. Bristol Community College in Fall River
has a course, but two shiatsu schools in Boston have
closed in recent years.
Berger likens the technique to acupuncture, which
uses needles to stimulate areas on the body along
meridian lines to “unblock” the flow of chi.
Acupuncturists and shiatsu therapists believe
that illness occurs when a person’s chi is
blocked, deficient or in excess as it flows through
Instead of needles, shiatsu therapists use
acupressure. Berger said he performs the massage
with a client lying and fully clothed. The pressure
at particular points along meridian lines on the
body “unblocks the chi and helps the body,” he
For doubters, Berger says studies have shown that
in many cases techniques such as shiatsu and
acupuncture have improved a person’s health.
“There have been demonstrable effects,” he says.
“But how it works is still pretty mysterious.”
Unlike acupuncture, shiatsu doesn’t help much
with smoking cessation, weight loss and easing
addictions. But, Berger said, it is good for
In his own practice, Berger says most of his
clients come to him with chronic pain, either back
or neck or both. Many are white-collar workers who
spend their days at desks in front of computer
screens. Some develop headaches.
Many clients are looking for help with
stress-related problems, such as anxiety and
insomnia. He offers special workshops for expectant
women suffering back pain. The sessions show the
proper pressure points to relieve sciatic-nerve
discomfort and labor pain.
The full semester course is expected to draw
about 10 advanced-level students in the therapeutic
massage program at CCRI.
It certainly will be different from the standard
courses offered at the school. Students will be
expected to bring in people to massage for their
final exam. For classes in the middle of the
semester, students will work on each other.
“There’s a great deal of hands-on work,”
Berger said. “It’s actually nice in a program
like this because you get to receive a lot of
massages, which is part of the learning process.”