Café Culture’s newest healing-arts professional Sarah Chicone on the benefits of this specialized massage

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“It felt terrific!” exclaimed Garrett Vatcher after getting a massage from local shiatsu therapist Sarah Chicone. “It evens your energy out. It’s almost like magic.”

Vatcher had just stood up after an outdoor shiatsu session in Bidwell Park’s Five-Mile Recreation Area on a recent morning. Chicone had spent an hour working on her client—with measured and fluid movements—using leverage to “open up” his spine and manipulate other parts of his skeletal system.

Chicone started up her Spirit Path Healing Arts bodywork practice last summer, working primarily on location according to clients’ needs. In June, she also began working out of Café Culture.

Vatcher, a local businessman, said that besides making him feel exceptional in an overall way, Chicone’s shiatsu work has helped his shoulder pain.

Her nurturing and empathetic manner, partly demonstrated by her soothing voice as she explained to Vatcher what she was doing as he lay in the grass on a mat, seemed to be as much a part of her technique as the pressure she applied to various points on his body with her hands and fingers.

Shiatsu—also called “acupressure”—originated in Japan. The word “shiatsu” is translated literally as “finger pressure.” Chicone’s shiatsu practice encompasses elements of Western anatomy and physiology, and traditional Chinese medicine, along with Japanese massage techniques to provide relaxation and lessen clients’ symptoms, such as pain or fatigue. Her shiatsu technique involves applying alternating finger and hand pressure, as well as kneading and stretching, to the body’s “meridians”—channels in the body along which energy travels, according to Chinese medicine.

Before becoming a shiatsu therapist, Chicone—who was raised in Minnesota—earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture, and lived in Korea and Japan for a couple of years, teaching English. She first learned about shiatsu in a weekend workshop she took after returning to Minnesota following college graduation in Iowa. “I absolutely loved it,” she said of her first encounter with shiatsu. “It spoke to me in so many ways. I decided I wanted to use it to help other people.”

Chicone enrolled in a two-year program at CenterPoint Massage and Shiatsu Therapy School and Clinic in Minneapolis, graduating in 2009 as a certified shiatsu practitioner. She came to Chico last summer after meeting her now-boyfriend, a Chicoan, on a beach in Oahu where they were both taking a photo of the same sunset.

After arriving in Chico, Chicone expanded her repertoire of healing skills by taking a reiki-therapy course in Paradise. “It’s heightened my intuitive aspect,” she said of the energy-focused massage technique. “Shiatsu is structural. Reiki allows me to be more in tune with the energy of the universe and to make a connection with the individual I’m working on.”

Chicone said she believes everybody has an innate ability to balance and be healed, but people just “get stuck and then need a little boost,” which is where she comes in. She doesn’t use a massage table—she has a traditional shiatsu mat, which she frequently lays out on the grass at Five-Mile so that she can provide a shiatsu session to a client outdoors, in nature. Other times, Chicone schedules sessions in a room at Café Culture on West Fifth Street.

While she worked on Vatcher, the sunshine and the carefree sound of both the birds and the creek added to the relaxing ambiance. It was clear this was part of Chicone’s approach—to bring individuals to a place in nature where they can leave stress behind and relax amid greenery and wildlife. She said she believes the healing effects of shiatsu can be “amplified” by being in a natural setting.

Part of Chicone’s work with people is not just to give them a massage, but also to help them figure out the bigger picture of their health. For example, she guides them in exploring changes they could make to their diet and exercise habits in order to feel better.

“The thing I have to do is make sure it [the massage session] is educational to the client, so they walk away with an idea of how to keep their health going well,” Chicone offered. “I want them to walk away with more of a sense of empowerment.”

With a move to a house in Cohasset imminent, Chicone envisions creating a healing center where people can not only receive shiatsu therapy, but also experience closeness with nature. She wants to use the Cohasset site for weekend workshops and retreats, as the land she is moving onto is near forested trails perfect for hiking and mountain biking.

Another project Chicone wants to implement in Chico is getting body workers and energy workers together for day-long workshops of teaching one another and exchanging services.

“When we all connect, we can learn so much more, grow so much more,” said Chicone. “I don’t think it [body-work knowledge] should be proprietary information. I want to see it widespread. If we all did foster the knowledge [of health and healing] and keep it alive, we would be so much richer as a culture.”