Few will argue most western medical treatments have side-effects, and that prevention is always better than cure. One of the most enjoyable preventive health treatments is shiatsu - a massage therapy that has its origin in ancient Chinese medical philosophy and practises before taking root in Japan in about 900AD. Shi means finger and atsu refers to pressure. The principle of shiatsu is applying pressure to parts of body to maintain a free flow of energy through the meridians, which are pathways of energy. According to Chinese medical philosophy, the underlying cause of most diseases and its symptoms is the imbalance of qi - a vital energy that gives us the spark of life. 'Because the qi moves around the individual, when the qi is strong and healthy, it keeps the person strong and healthy,' says Les McClure, a shiatsu therapist and tai chi instructor. For example, if you are not sleeping well due to exam stress, a traditional Chinese doctor will diagnosis your problem as the imbalance of shen - an aspect of qi expressed in the ability to formulate ideas and elaborate thoughts through speech. In addition to pressure, our qi is often upset by a poor lifestyle, such as eating junk food or getting little sleep. Your face and body will then show signs of an energy disturbance - details that shiatsu therapists are taught to notice. For example, a reddish complexion is linked to an imbalance of the heart or fire energy. 'Shiatsu is a way of working with an individual's qi. When the qi flows smoothly, the person is well and happy,' explains Mr McClure. To facilitate a better flow of energy within the body, shiatsu therapists apply pressure along the meridians. Unlike acupuncturists who use needles for this, shiatsu therapists use their thumbs and fingers. Mr McClure says that in general, people experience noticeable changes in their health after three or four sessions of shiatsu. Although most of us are not familiar with our meridian paths, there are simple methods that we can practise to restore the harmony of our qi. One such way is to spend a few minutes every day massaging our own feet - an area where all the meridians end or begin. All you need to do is to basically squeeze your whole foot. 'My Japanese shiatsu teacher ... says if everyone massaged their feet for five minutes every day, 70 per cent of diseases would disappear,' says Mr McClure. Perhaps the simplest way to let your energy flow better is to be a compassionate person. Be friendly and helpful to your friends, classmates, neighbours and family and you will find yourself in a more relaxed frame of mind. 'If you feel angry and get frustrated a lot, eventually your body will feel that and symptoms will arise,' explains Mr McClure. 'If you feel more kind, caring, considerate and have good thoughts for people and situations, your body will also experience that, as your mind and body cannot be separated.' For more information about shiatsu, call the Vitality Centre on 2537-1118.