Shiatsu is a Japanese word meaning ‘finger pressure’.  Shiatsu is a form of holistic massage and was developed in Japan in the early 20th century, although its origins date back to China around 530BCE as part of Traditional Oriental Medicine.  It evolved from a combination of a self-massage and exercise process known as Toa-Yin (or Do-In) and an acupuncture-based massage system known as Anma.  It became known as Shiatsu because as Western Allopathic Medicine became more influential in Japan the use of Anma was gradually restricted, so Anma therapists coined the term Shiatsu to avoid these restrictions.

There are two main schools of Shiatsu:

  1. Nippon Style Shiatsu, developed by Tokujiro Namikoshi, which in Japan is based exclusively on Western medical concepts but in Europe and the USA incorporates some aspects of Traditional Oriental Medicine.
  2. Zen Shiatsu, developed by Shizuto Masunaga, which is based on the principles of Traditional Oriental Medicine but integrates Western physiology and psychology.

There are also other methods of Shiatsu that incorporate aspects of both of the above methods in varying degrees.

Shiatsu Massage

Zen Shiatsu

The method that I practice is Zen Shiatsu.  It differs very much from Western style massage as it is practiced on mats on the floor rather than on a massage table, no oil is used, and the recipient wears loose comfortable clothing.  The technique involves stretching and leaning body weight onto areas of the recipient’s body.  Pressure is mainly applied using hands, thumbs and fingers, and occasionally the forearms, knees and feet are also used. The treatment is focused along the acupuncture channels known as meridians.

These meridians carry the subtle body energy known as Chi or Ki.  There is no accepted equivalent of Chi in Western Medicine;  Chi is roughly translated as ‘essential life energy of the body, mind and spirit’.  According to Traditional Oriental Medicine, the effective flow of Chi within the body is the basis of health.  All illness, disease, pain and tension is a result of blockages in the flow of Chi.  The existence of Chi has yet to be recognised by Western Medicine mainly because it is so subtle that the technology required to measure it has only recently been developed.  As this technology further develops Western Medicine will eventually be revolutionised by the recognition of Chi and the combination of traditional techniques with these new technologies.

Shiatsu releases blockages in the flow of Chi, and thus heals and relaxes the whole person to a very deep level.  The first time I received a Shiatsu massage I remember telling the therapist afterwards that although I had felt very relaxed after various Western-style massages, Shiatsu had left me feeling peaceful.  This is due to its holistic qualities – it calms the mind, emotions and spirit a well as the body.

Shiatsu is a full-body treatment normally lasting 50-60 minutes and often includes a head and face massage.

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