Zen Shiatsu and Namikoshi Shiatsu are perhaps the best known common styles of Shiatsu Massage Therapy. Zen Shiatsu was developed by Shizuto Masunaga (1925 – 1981), although he himself didn’t call his style Zen Shiatsu, but rather IoKai Shiatsu.
“Io” means king or master of medicine, and “Kai” means group or association. Shizuto founded the Iokai Shiatsu Center in Japan in 1968. Nevertheless, the label Zen Shiatsu is more popular in the West than Iokai Shiatsu, along other terms, such as Meridian Shiatsu and Keiraku Shiatsu. In any case, the publication of Shizuto’s book “Zen Shiatsu” in the 1970s in English (originally in Japanese it was titled Shiatsu) made his particular Shiatsu implementation quickly popular in both Europe and North America.
Although Shizuto Masunaga had also studied at Tokujiro Namikoshi’s Japan Shiatsu College, he developed his own style of Shiatsu Therapy, which perhaps can be best described as “going back to the roots,” while also incorporating a more natural style of applying pressure, a new kata (choreographed form or sequence), fluid movements and ergonomic postures for the practitioner, and using the palms, elbows, knees and feet to apply the massage in addition to using only the thumbs.
While Namikoshi’s Shiatsu system avoided referring to traditional Japanese i.e. Chinese TCM concepts, Masunaga reintegrated and emphasized Eastern healing concepts into his Shiatsu style (alongside Western psychology and physiology, by the way), such as Meridian Energy Lines theory, Tsubo pressure points, Ki Vital Energy, Kyo-Jitsu, Ampuku abdominal diagnosis and treatment, meditation, and Zen Buddhism.
Zen Shiatsu is a clothed massage without the use of oils or lotions, typically applied on a massage mat i.e. futon on the floor. The therapist works in a meditative ambiance and uses the thumbs, fingers, palms, elbows, feet and knees to give pressure and acupressure along the Meridians, while also using other techniques, such as stretches, “listening to the body,” leaning in with body weight, and “holds.” The core aim of Zen Shiatsu Therapy is to balance the flow of Ki Energy and thereby stimulate the inherent self-healing powers of the body and mind of the receiver.
The Life Energy Pathways i.e. Meridians manipulated in Shiatsu Massage Therapy are basically the same set of Meridians as known in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), although Masunaga changed and extended the Meridian system after his own insights.