How To Heal By Embracing Your Inner Amoeba

I grew up in the 1980s, when some of the most common insults we used were “homo,” “faggot,” “queer,” and “gay.” Clearly, we were deeply fearful of what we didn’t understand – and the ostracism that went with it. Even though I wasn’t gay, this uptight culture caused me to avoid doing anything that might be construed as gay – like touching other males. It wasn’t until college, when we all relaxed a bit, that I recognized how much I enjoyed casual touch.

Given my past, it didn’t come naturally to me. I knew warm people for whom touch was easy and comfortable. But anytime I was in contact with another human, my attention would be drawn to that point of contact. If we were talking I might just stop mid-sentence if the other person rested their hand on my shoulder (people tend to think that’s weird).

Maybe this inability to multitask with touch was a product of my American socialization. There was a fascinating study of touch done by a psychologist named Sydney Jourard in the 1960s. He watched friends in conversation in cafés in different countries. In England, there was zero touch over the course of an hour. In the United States, friends touched an average of two times. In France, there were 110 touches in an hour. And in Puerto Rico, friends touched an average of 180 times! Doesn’t it seem like Americans and Brits are missing out?

In grad school, as I practiced physical exams and bodywork techniques, I had a forum to safely and thoroughly explore the potential of touch. I got a lot more comfortable with it, and for the first time in my life, people told me, “You have healing hands.” My professor of Zen Shiatsu (a Japanese form of massage) noticed this aptitude, too, but saw it merely as a prerequisite. “You’re pretty good at finding the jitsu,” she said. “Now you need to work on the kyo.”

She explained these words, jitsu and kyo, in terms of an amoeba. The amoeba, she said, departs from a state of balance through the emergence of a need – hunger, for instance. This is its kyo – an emptiness, weakness, instability, or deficiency. In response to this kyo, the creature bulges itself toward something it perceives to be edible. This bulging, the action of attempting to acquire and consume, becomes its primary focus and drive, its jitsu. Jitsu is also translated as hardness, protectiveness, fullness, or stagnation. When the amoeba’s bulge encompasses the food, its kyo – and the jitsu that arose in response – are resolved.

Humans aren’t that different from amoebas, we just like to make things more complicated. We mostly see each other’s jitsus, which are the outward responses (tension, volition, drive, armor, etc.) to an inner kyo. At best, the things we’re prompted to do are accurately connected to our kyo, and we achieve something that restores balance – at least temporarily. More often, we feel an urge (jitsu) without an understanding of the kyo beneath, and we deal with it in a misguided way that never truly heals the core issue. 

In the context of massage, my professor was trying to convey that the places that are begging for attention – the knots, like the amoeba’s bulges – are expressions of jitsu, a hardening of the surface in response to an inner weakness. Pressing on them is a bit like pushing that bulge of the amoeba back inward. It makes things look more balanced from the outside for a little while, but it usually doesn’t get to the root cause.

If we’re exhausted from stress (kyo) we might mount tight shoulders (jitsu). When our lower back locks up (jitsu), it might stem from weak abdominal muscles (kyo). While most practitioners work exclusively on the jitsu – the tight shoulders or back – my professor emphasized the value of addressing both the jitsu and the kyo. When a shiatsu practitioner works on a patient’s kyo, specifically intending to fill it up and stabilize it, this causes an immediate softening and opening of the jitsu.

I went through a recalibration period as I learned to look deeper, and I saw that this dynamic goes way beyond massage. It could be expressed, for instance, as a relentless pursuit of money, food, or possessions due to a deep inner void. And of course, it might show up as boys perpetually attacking each other as “gay” because of their own insecurity.

This learning process affirmed my belief in the value of touch and humans’ need for it. And, despite my training, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting those shoulders or back massaged – even if the practitioner knows nothing of jitsu and kyo. But I would like to encourage you, the next time some part of your body is screaming for attention, to look inside and see if there’s an even deeper place that needs to be touched.

Stay tuned for more.

Be well,

Dr. Peter Borten

28 thoughts on “How To Heal By Embracing Your Inner Amoeba

  1. ♡♡

    1. As a Licensed Massage Therapist, this resonates deeply to my being. It is without a doubt, truth. I look for the kyo to balance the jitsu.
      Thank you for this article.
      Dora Gonzalez, LMT
      Owner/Operater @
      Bear Paws Massage

      1. Thanks, Dora. Glad you’re doing the good work.

  2. Love this ebb and flow dynamic that alludes to many facets of our lives!!

    1. Thank you, Dawn. It’s everywhere.

  3. Wonderful insight! I greatly appreciate being able to learn this!

    1. Thank you, Ashley. I’m glad it was helpful for you.

  4. Thanks for sharing this – it will help me be present in the moment. Touch and energy are such interesting things to learn about.

    1. Thank you, Aleen. Yes, presence is the most valuable thing.

  5. Thank you for this insight. I receive regular massages but always wondered why a week or two later I would be locked up again. I will look closer at this as part of my personal growth.

    1. You’re welcome, Renee. Yes, there’s likely something deeper that isn’t being addressed.

  6. Great article and so full of wisdom.

    1. Thank you, Julie. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  7. Very nice article. It touched me in the right place, my heart! Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Aimee & you’re welcome. I’m glad your heart was receptive to it.

  8. I wanted to share this article, its resonaltion with me and my current situation is amazing, but FB said it had a hard time with the URL.
    Is it not ok to share it?

  9. Nevermind, I found it on your FB page. Sorry – Thanks for all you do!

    1. Thanks, Lisa. I’m glad you got it figured out.

  10. I really liked this article although I must admit that I first started reading it thinking that you were going to talk about pro-biotics or something along those lines! It definitely makes a lot of sense that if there’s a problem in one area that there’s likely an imbalance in another area.


    1. Ha! I should have thought of that interpretation. Although there are many non-pathogenic species of amoeba, I generally don’t recommend that people deliberately consume them 😉 And yes, jitsu and kyo are like yin and yang – two sides of a coin.

  11. Great post, Dr Peter! A very timely reminder for me. Also, it brings to mind to mind a Tom Robbins quote, “There is only one amoeba.”

    1. Thanks, aQui. I never heard that quote!

  12. This resonates so much with me. I have been feeling off balance for some time. I think it’s my kyo / jitsu in a push /pull perpetual state (resulting in very little touch) It’s time to figure this out…Thank you for opening my eyes.

    1. You’re welcome, Didi. I hope you get to the bottom of it and open up.

  13. This is a great article! I have learned so much from you over the years. Thanks for all that you share!

    1. Thanks, Kelly!

  14. This gave words to experiences I have had as a licensed massage therapist. At the beginning of every appointment I ask clients to rank for me the goals they would like addressed at that time. Many, many times I also end up working on something they did not mention, and when I am asked, ‘How did you know to do that?’ all I can say is that it called to me.

    Thank you!

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