About Shiatsu

Shiatsu is a physical therapy that supports and strengthens the body’s natural ability to heal and balance itself. It works on the whole person - not just with the physical body, but also with the psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects of being.

Shiatsu originated in Japan from traditional Chinese medicine, with influences from more recent Western therapies. Although shiatsu means ‘finger pressure’ in Japanese, in practice a practitioner uses touch, comfortable pressure and manipulative techniques to adjust the body’s physical structure and balance its energy flow. It is a deeply relaxing experience and regular treatments can alleviate stress and illness and maintain health and well-being.

History of Shiatsu

Massage, along with acupuncture and herbalism, was for centuries an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine, which was introduced to Japan by a Buddhist monk in the 6th century. The Japanese developed and refined many of its methods to suit their own physiology, temperament and cli­mate. In particular, they developed the manual healing and diagnostic arts, evolving special techniques of abdominal diagnosis, treatment and massage, which are used in shiatsu today.

However, the practice of massage known by the old name of anma (anmo or tuina in China) became gradually divorced from medicine and more associated with relaxation and pleasure. Certain practitioners were concerned to preserve massage and related techniques as an accepted healing art.

In the early part of the 20th century, one such practitioner, Tamai Tempaku, incorporated the newer Western sciences of anatomy and physiology and disciplines such as physiotherapy and chiropractic into several older meth­ods of treatment. Originally he used the term shiatsu ryoho or finger pressure way of healing, then shiatsu ho or finger pressure method. Now known simply as Shiatsu, it was officially recognized as a therapy by the Japanese Government in 1964, so distinguishing it from anma and Western massage.

Styles of Shiatsu

Many early Shiatsu practitioners developed their own style and some, including Tokojiro Namikoshi and Shizuto Masunaga, founded schools that helped establish Shiatsu as a therapy.

Today, Shiatsu has a number of different styles, philosophical approaches and theoretical bases and practitioners around the world are still evolving new approaches to treatment. Some concentrate on acupressure (acupuncture) points, while others emphasise more general work on the body or along the pathways of energy to influence the Ki that flows in them. Other styles high­light diagnostic systems, such as the Five Element system or the macrobiotic approach. However all are based on traditional Chinese medicine.

The approaches most commonly found in Britain are Zen Shiatsu, Macrobiotic Shiatsu, Healing Shiatsu, Namikoshi Shiatsu, Movement Shiatsu and Hara Shiatsu.

Zen Shiatsu

Shizuto Masunaga (1925-1981) incorporated his experience of Shiatsu into his studies of Western psychology and Chinese medicine. He also refined the existing methods of diagnosis. His extended system incorporated special exercises, known as makko ho, to stimulate the flow of Ki and he developed a set of guiding principles to make the techniques more effective. He called his system Zen Shiatsu after the simple and direct approach to spirituality of the Zen Buddhist monks in Japan.

Further Reading

Shiatsu: A Step-by-step Guide by Nicola Pooley

Secrets of Shiatsu by Cathy Meeus and Paul Lundberg