Shiatsu Massage Therapy is a Japanese treatment that involves use of finger and body pressure to help the body to heal itself and to promote relaxation and harmony within the body. To define Shiatsu, it literally means “finger pressure” in Japanese.
In Eastern medicine, it is believed that your mind and body, as a whole, need to be balanced for you to experience optimum health and wellbeing. The idea behind Shiatsu therapy is that when your energy channels (known as qi) become blocked, ill health and sickness can occur.
It works on certain points in your body (called meridians) to release blocked energy enabling it to flow and distribute efficiently through your body. In fact, accupuncture uses the same system of meridians but uses needles instead of the Shiatsu way of using pressure on those points.
This manipulation of the meridians helps balance your body in a holistic way, promoting healing in mind and body. In the western world it is considered a complementary therapy.
Shiatsu massage can be gentle and/or strong pressure but should be a pleasurable and relaxing experience.
The Origins of Shiatsu
A Chinese Buddhist monk brought massage (which was considered Chinese medicine, along with acupuncture and herbalism) to Japan in the 6th century.
It was adapted and modified by the Japanese to suit their own culture to include diagnosis and healing.
In Japan in the early 20th century, a massage practitioner (Tamai Tempaku) mixed westernized methods of treatments such as physiotherapy and chiropractic with the massage techniques that the Japanese had been using for many years.
He wrote a book called “Shiatsu Ho”, published in 1919, which translates into “finger pressure method”.
Also during the early 20th century, a boy called Tokojiro Namikoshi discovered the healing powers of what was to be defined as “Shiatsu”.
His mother had developed arthritis in her knee and there was no doctor available. As Namikoshi and his siblings attempted to help her, he realised that by putting pressure and rubbing on certain points, his mother began to feel the benefit from this technique. She experienced relief from the pain and her body healed.
There is some discrepancy as to whether Namikoshi or Tempaku invented this form of therapy as we know Shiatsu today.
In 1942, Tokojiro Namikoshi started his own Shiatsu college to provide training for others in this practice. This massage technique became increasingly popular towards the latter half of the 20th century in the west.
During 1964 the Japanese government recognized Shiatsu as a unique therapy, distinct from Chinese or Western therapeutic methods.
What is Involved in a Shiatsu Massage Session?
A Shiatsu practitioner will begin your session with a discussion to find out about your past and present health and will ask about any medical conditions.
Hara Massage: Abdominal Diagnosis
After the initial consultation, you will lie (fully clothed) on a futon on the floor. Your Shiatsu therapist may first perform an abdominal diagnosis or “Hara Massage”.
The “Hara” is the area in your abdomen where all your vital organs are located and through where the energy merdians flow. Hara Massage is a key diagnostic tool in Shiatsu massage as it can help the therapist decide which areas to focus on during the treatment.
Palms of the hands are used on the front and back of the abdomen to make the diagnosis and find out which organs are deficient. The therapist may also use their palms in a clockwise circular motion on the Hara to rebalance your organs.
Shiatsu Massage Techniques
During a massage session, several techniques may be employed:
- Pressure and rubbing with fingers and thumbs on pressure points (meridians)
- The therapist’s body weight is used for stretches and leaning. For example, he may put vertical weight on certain parts of your body (leaning) or hold your arm or leg and lean his bodyweight back (stretching)
- Elbows can be used either flat (firm pressure) or in a “V” shape (deeper pressure) for tight areas in your body
- Palm walking, also known as palm crawling uses the therapist’s bodyweight and is a good weight to warm up the body or assess tension in the back
- His feet to walk on the soles of your feet (this is good for grounding the patient at the end of a session
- Gently pushing the body in a rocking motion. This is called “Kembiki”. Kembiki is a good way to ground the body to the floor at the beginning of a massage session and can help release the nervous system
- Lunges whereby the Shiatsu therapist will use their body to apply vertical pressure.
- Rotations. This may involve your arm or leg being rotated and is good for alignment. Smaller rotations can be implemented too, such as with the ankle or wrist
- Lumbar grasping with fingers and thumbs
Is Shiatsu Massage Gentle or Firm
This can depend on your diagnosis. If your body is weak, tired and are found to be in need of rejuvenation, you may benefit from a slower, lighter touch, whereas if energy needs re-distributing, a deeper, firmer massage will be preferable to balance your body.
What are the Benefits of a Shiatsu Massage?
There are many conditions and health issues that Shiatsu can help improve and alleviate. Below are some examples but there are many more that are not included here:
- Alleviate stress and anxiety
- Arthritis and Rheumatism
- Blood flow and circulation problems
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (and ME)
- Digestive problems
- Injuries from whiplash
- Insomnia or sleep problems
- Low immune system
- Menstrual problems
- Migraine and general headaches
- Neck, back and shoulder aches, pains and general tension in these areas
- Sluggish lymphatic function
What is the Difference between Shiatsu and Other Forms of Massage?
There are a few differences between Shiatsu and massage techniques. For a start, oil is not used on the body and a the treatment is performed with you fully clothed unlike most massage treatments which require skin to skin contact.
Rather than lying on a massage table for your treatment you will lie on a special mat or futon on the floor. This is because the practitioner needs to use their body weight to manipulate certain points.
However, if you are elderly or have problems getting down on to the floor, a practitioner may be able to work with you sat in a chair or on a traditional massage table.
Preparing for a Shiatsu Session
There isn’t really any prepation other than making sure that you don’t eat an hour before your appointment. But remember to find out recommended clothing requirements from your practitioner.
What to Wear for a Shiatsu Massage
You will need to wear comfortable clothing for your Shiatsu session. Loose clothes such as yoga pants or leggings and a t-shirt are ideal.
Different practitioners will have varying requirements when it comes to what you should wear. Some prefer your whole body (such as your arms and feet) to be covered whereas bare arms and feet may be fine for other therapists.
Who Should Not Have a Shiatsu Massage?
This treatment is safe for most people but there are certain circumstances when it is unadviseable to have this therapy:
- If you have problems getting down to the floor it may be difficult for you to benefit completely from Shiatsu as the treatment is at floor level.
- If you have an injury. Always inform the therapist if you have an injury as they can then work around the rest of the body and avoid that part if necessary.
- If you have recently had surgery. You need to give your body a chance to heal first so wait until your body has recovered.
- If you are sick. If you have a cold or flu, let your body recuperate before booking your session.
Shiatsu is a complementary therapy which is believed to be useful in balancing the body and relieving many symptoms of dis-ease.
You can also obtain the relaxing and rejuvenating benefits of this kind of therapy with a Shiatsu Massage Chair.