Shiatsu is Japanese for “finger pressure,” although palms, forearms, and sometimes even feet are used during a shiatsu massage session. The goal of this massage technique is to unlock the body’s “qi,” “ki,” or “chi” (pronounced chee). Qi is believed to be the natural life force that travels through the body’s energy lines, commonly referred to as meridians. These perceived lines have specific points, and when held or stimulated, they can help release blocked energy flow. Shiatsu, like acupressure and Thai massage, is believed to assist in healing the mind-body-spirit in a holistic and non-invasive manner.
What Is Shiatsu Massage?
It is believed that shiatsu techniques, the roots of which can be found in traditional Chinese medicine, were brought to Japan by a Buddhist monk sometime in the 6th century. The origins of the modern version of shiatsu, however, can be traced to mid-1900s Japan, when Tokujiro Namikoshi started the first Japan Shiatsu College.
Today, shiatsu takes several different forms including Namikoshi shiatsu and Zen shiatsu. Techniques from other modern massage therapy and bodywork models, such as Swedish massage or acupressure, may also be incorporated into a session. Shiatsu uses the same points along the body’s meridians as acupressure and acupuncture, with the goal of helping those receiving treatment to release blocked qi.
Traditional Chinese medicine, shiatsu, acupressure, and acupuncture all historically draw concepts from the Five Element theory, which has been used for nearly 2,000 years to address ailments and energy blockages in the body. The Five Element theory suggests various systems in the body are related to and impacted or influenced by various cycles and elements such as wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.
What Is a Shiatsu Massage Session Like?
Shiatsu, considered to be a gentle and soothing form of massage, attempts to address concerns that affect the entire mind-body-spirit system. It is believed one person’s energy can be sent to another for healing and energizing purposes through thought projection and touch. Gentle pressure on the body’s meridians helps stimulate and increase blood flow for healing and relaxation.
Acupressure pulses are sometimes taken before the massage to help evaluate the areas of the body that are over- or understimulated. After the practitioner analyzes whether pulses are too weak or too strong, the session can begin. This method is typically used if the practitioner is following a more traditional Chinese medicine approach.
Oils and balms are not usually used because the client is typically clothed during shiatsu massage. Sometimes Swedish massage techniques are incorporated into the session, in which case oils or balms may be necessary. Loose clothing is usually suggested for shiatsu; however, a practitioner may suggest shorts and a tank top to facilitate better direct contact with the skin and the body’s meridians. Some practitioners believe this will achieve an overall better energy flow for the client.
During a shiatsu session, the practitioner will:
- Use rhythmic pressing and kneading while working toward the client’s heart
- Use gliding motion on the skin that gently stretches the muscles, tendons, and ligaments
- Lightly massage or hold pressure points to release energy blockages
- Use a rocking motion that creates a subconscious “safe space” to relieves stress and nurture the mind, body, and spirit
The result is a relaxed, renewed experience that may be attained after a single session, although experiences will vary based on the ailments and personal goals of the clients.
What Are the Health Benefits of Shiatsu Massage?
Shiatsu, like most massage therapy and bodywork techniques, can be a helpful approach to self-care when utilized as part of an ongoing process. Although some people will experience significant results after their first shiatsu session, the stresses, strains, and health issues that develop in everyday life sometimes require a maintenance program.
As the body learns to relax more, flexibility (both physical and mental) and balance should gradually increase. Like many healthy initiatives, sticking with the treatment may help a person achieve longer-lasting and more sustainable results.
Shiatsu massage is considered ideal for:
- The release of tension and stress
- Attaining a better and deeper state of relaxation
- Becoming more focused and having a calmer attitude
- Achieving better blood circulation, which helps to optimize all the body’s systems
- Assisting in healing conditions in which energy is out of balance
- Increasing overall energy levels
- Increasing flexibility and strength, which helps protect the body from injury
- Maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle
Fostering a healthy, energetic, more vibrant self can help a person assist others and also meet their own needs, which is typically a goal of any self-care routine. Finding the right shiatsu massage therapist can be a great foundation for those already recovering from injury or illness, practicing good prevention, or seeking greater overall well-being. Shiatsu might also be useful for those who are taking the first big steps in establishing helpful self-care activities for themselves.
- About shiatsu. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.shiatsusociety.org/treatments/about-shiatsu
- Bruen, J. (2015, August 16). History of shiatsu massage. Livestrong. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/90568-history-shiatsu-massage/
- Five element theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/abc/fiveelementtheory.php
- Shiatsu (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/shiatsu