What Is Shiatsu Massage?

Published: Aug 12, 2017 | Updated: Jul 7, 2021

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Shiatsu – a Japanese word which translate to “finger pressure” – is a type of bodywork where the thumbs, palms and fingers are used to massage and provide treatment to the patient. Other techniques used in shiatsu include stretching, holding, and leaning body weight into various points along key channels or meridians.

Shiatsu is a contemporary massage therapy with its roots in Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM), and it is sometimes described as Japanese physiotherapy. It is also compared to acupuncture because of its usage of the theoretical framework of TCM, like the meridians (energy channels) and tsubo (pressure points) as well as TCM diagnostic methods, but without the use of needles.

The pressure applied to points on the body promotes Vital Life Energy flow called Ki in Japanese and corrects disharmonies throughout the patient’s body. It helps to relieve stress, contributes to treat pains and illnesses as well as promotes the patient’s overall health and well-being.

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Where does it come from?

Shiatsu evolved from Anma, a traditional Japanese massage modality – also derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine – developed in 1320 by Akashi Kan Ichi. Prior to the emergence of Shiatsu in Japan, masseurs were often nomadic, earning their keep in mobile massage capacities.

The term Shiatsu has been in use since 1919, when a book called Shiatsu Ho (“finger pressure method”) was published by Tamai Tempaku. Additionally, in 1925, the Shiatsu Therapists Association was founded with the purpose of distancing Shiatsu from Anma massage. However, it was officially recognized as an independent method of treatment by the Japanese Government only in 1964.

Shiatsu gradually evolved from Anma under influences from both East and West. 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, like the Japan Shiatsu College and the Iokai Shiatsu Center, respectively.

Shiatsu has become increasingly popular in the Western world in the last decades. Currently there are many different styles and philosophical approaches within Shiatsu, like Zen Shiatsu, Macrobiotic Shiatsu, Healing Shiatsu, Namikoshi Shiatsu, Movement Shiatsu and Hara Shiatsu. However, they are all based on Traditional Chinese Medicine.

How is it given?

Shiatsu therapy is given on a floor mat, a massage table, or on a chair. Usually a session is given with the receiver fully clothed, but it can also be given on the unclothed body.

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