It hurts so much to know that someone you love is ill and in pain and yet you are powerless to help. That’s why I was so pleased to learn about a unique hands-on technique that can bring significant comfort to patients—and to caregivers, too.

Called Jin Shin Jyutsu© (pronounced jin shin jit-su), it’s an ancient form of touch therapy that is simple and safe…often provides immediate relief…and can be performed at a basic level by people with no formal training. It’s completely natural and noninvasive, involving only your hands—no pills, potions, side effects or equipment.

Jin Shin Jyutsu is an energy healing technique that utilizes the same principles of Eastern medicine as acupressure, except that little or no pressure is applied. It is based on the premise that energy flows through our bodies along certain pathways, and when that energy is blocked, we experience disharmony, including pain. Like jumper cables for a car, Jin Shin Jyutsu sparks the flow of energy to help restore proper functioning.

Exciting new research: A recent pilot study involved 159 cancer patients who ranked their pain, nausea and stress on a scale of zero (no symptoms) to 10 (extremely severe symptoms) before and after receiving Jin Shin Jyutsu therapy. Results: Participants reported an average two-point reduction in pain and nausea and three-point reduction in stress after their first and subsequent Jin Shin Jyutsu sessions. Benefits typically lasted for many hours or days, depending on the individual.

Though this was a preliminary study and has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, I was intrigued enough to contact study leader Jennifer Bradley, the Jin Shin Jyutsu integrative practitioner at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center in Lexington. She told me that she became interested in Jin Shin Jyutsu when she saw the profound relief it brought to her sister, a breast cancer survivor, while she was receiving chemotherapy. Bradley also used the technique to ease the suffering of her mother-in-law. “I was taught a simple toe hold that helped alleviate the breakthrough pain from a brain tumor up until the very end of her life,” she said.

Bradley’s study focused exclusively on cancer patients, but she said that the principles of Jin Shin Jyutsu can promote balance and healing in everyone, including people who are basically healthy but feel depleted. In fact, Jin Shin Jyutsu is something we all practice unconsciously. For instance, babies suck their thumbs because it’s soothing…people put their hands behind their heads to relax themselves. Jin Shin Jyutsu is simply a way of doing such actions with intention to promote certain beneficial responses.

The technique also provides a means of maintaining a deep connection at the end of life, when a person is no longer able to communicate verbally. Bradley said, “Family members can be taught some simple Jin Shin Jyutsu holds, so they can bond with their loved ones in a profound way during what can often be a difficult transition for everyone.”

What a Professional Practitioner Does. Jin Shin Jyutsu uses 52 energetic points, or safety energy locks, on the body (similar to acupressure points). These energy locks can be thought of as small breaker boxes that keep the energy system in check, like the fuse box in a home, Bradley explained. These points are stimulated in predetermined orders called flows. The specific hand and finger positions the practitioner uses are called holds, though this word applies only in the most passive sense because there is no gripping, grasping or manipulation at all—instead, a very light touch is used.

During the session, the patient lies comfortably on a padded surface, fully clothed except for shoes…watches and jewelry also may be removed from the wrist. First the practitioner places her hands on the patient’s wrists in a technique called pulse listening, to sense the energetic pulse and determine which procedures are needed to promote balance. Then she works her way through various safety energy locks, moving from one to the next as she senses that harmony is being restored.

A session with a professional typically lasts about an hour. The cost is similar the charge for a massage, depending on the location, practitioner and years of experience. Sometimes the service is provided without charge—for instance, the Jin Shin Jyutsu program at Markey Cancer Center is offered free to patients through a grant from the Lexington Cancer Foundation. To find a practitioner near you, click here.

Techniques You Can Do for a Loved One. Here are some basic holds Bradley suggested that anyone can do to ease a loved one’s suffering. You can do any or all of them, in any order. Use whichever holds feel good to your loved one—these are what will offer assistance, Bradley said.

The patient may sit in a chair or couch with feet propped up or may lie in bed, whatever is comfortable for her or him. For techniques that involve the toes, the patient’s feet can be bare or in socks. In each case, maintain a gentle hold without squeezing or rubbing for several minutes per position or until you feel a gentle rhythmic pulsation. If possible, do the holds once or more daily—there is no limit on the amount of time or number of times the techniques can be performed. What to do…

To reduce fatigue: Wrap the fingers of your right hand around the patient’s right thumb and the fingers of your left hand around his/her left thumb…hold…then reverse your hands and repeat.

To lessen anxiety: Place one hand under the back of the head just above the neck area. This can be done underneath the pillow if necessary. At the same time, gently wrap the fingers of your other hand around the patient’s fingers, one by one. If it is not possible to hold the back of the head, gently hold the patient’s palm with one of your hands while using your other hand to hold each finger individually. Then repeat for the patient’s other hand.

To ease back pain and trauma (including spinal paralysis) or to relax the body overall: You will use one hand to hold each of the patient’s fingers (one after the other) while at the same time using the other hand to hold each of his/her toes. Going in the following order, hold the patient’s…

  • Right pinkie at the same time as the left big toe
  • Right ring finger at the same time as the left second toe
  • Right middle finger at the same time as the left middle toe
  • Right index finger at the same time as the left fourth toe
  • Right thumb at the same time as the left pinkie toe.

When finished, repeat the same sequence, holding each left finger at the same time as each right toe. It is also fine to begin with the left fingers/right toes sequence first, followed by the right fingers/left toes sequence.

To help clear anesthesia from the body after surgery: Stand at the end of the bed or sit at either side of the bed. With your palms facing up, place your left palm under the patient’s right calf and your right palm under his/her left calf, gently cradling the legs…hold…then reverse so your right palm cradles the right calf and your left palm cradles the left calf.

To soothe radiation treatment side effects (burning pain, skin sensitivity, skin damage): This can be done any time after treatment. Place the palm of your left hand on or just above the irradiated area, then place your right hand atop the left…hold for 20 minutes, repeating as much as requested.

Easing Your Own Emotional Pain. A basic tenet of Jin Shin Jyutsu is that each finger corresponds to a specific emotion or attitude. So when you feel upset—whether about a loved one’s condition or for any other reason—you can soothe yourself simply by holding the appropriate finger with the opposite hand for several minutes. (You can also teach your loved one to do this for himself.)

First, use your left hand to lightly hold a finger on your right hand, then switch hands. If you feel…

  • Worried—hold your thumb.
  • Fearful—hold your index finger.
  • Angry—hold your middle finger.
  • Sad—hold your ring finger
  • Insecure or overwhelmed—hold your pinky finger.

Intrigued? For more information, watch Bradley’s video here. Jin Shin Jyutsu is not a substitute for appropriate medical care, good nutrition and rest, Bradley noted. Rather, it is an integrative therapy that can help optimize quality of life for patients and caregivers, whatever the health challenges they face.