Shiatsu is a Japanese physical therapy that supports the body’s natural ability to heal. Holistically, this therapy addresses emotional, spiritual and physical elements of health and works together to realign all three. The word shiatsu means, ‘finger pressure’ in Japanese and is a practice that uses touch, comfortable pressure and manipulative techniques to balance energy flow. It essentially adjusts the elements of the body’s physical structure.
The History of shiatsu
This is a type of message which looks to utilise pressure points that correspond to organs and energy pathways right through the body. The goal of a session is to reinvigorate the circulatory system and minimise muscle tension. Shiatsu massage is rooted deep in ancient Chinese and Japanese traditions and is known for its contribution towards relaxation and improvement in health.
The Ancient origins
This massage style evolved out of Anma which is essentially an ancient Japanese massage and acupuncture also regarded as a Chinese therapy. This practice incorporates tapping, rubbing and the adding of pressure to different locations across the body. This stimulates and influences the muscular and circulatory system. Tamai Tempaku created Shiatsu massage at the start of the 20th century. Since the 1940’s, many schools of shiatsu massage have formed and developed throughout the world.
Shi and Ki
‘Shi’ translates to mean ‘finger’ and ‘atsu’ means pressure. This massage uses pressure application, slight body manipulation and assisted stretching. ‘Ki’ is a Japanese term for energy flow, which is believed to circulate throughout the body. For thousands of years, this energy represented the essence of Japanese culture- nourishment for the body, mind and soul. It is believed that energy flows to the organs throughout specific pathways which are known as the meridians. This style aims to eliminate energy imbalances within the organ systems, making a clear path for the energy flow.
The five elements
Ancient Chinese writings that date back to the first century, name the five elements that are active in the body. These elements are earth, fire, wood, water and metal. The elements represent the types of energy that circulate in the body. However, when these elements become imbalanced, it can cause problems. For example, an imbalance of the Fire element can create bitterness, whereas as imbalance of the earth element could cause jealously These ideals were introduced into Japanese culture during the 6th century and did impact the practice of shiatsu massage. As such, historical and traditional practices do focus on finding elemental imbalances and realigning the energies into a stable state.
The Namikoshi system
Tokujiro Namikoshi founded the Japanese shiatsu college in 1940, combining traditional technique with western physiology and anatomy. In Namikoshi stiatsu, manual and digital compression is applied to certain pressure points. It relies less on identification of the five elements. It is understood that Marilyn Monroe was treated for an unidentified illness in the 1950’s by Namikoshi. This allowed his system to become widely accepted within western society.
Japanese psychologist, Shizuto Masunaga invented Zen shiatsu in 1997; a form of shiatsu massage which incorporates psychology, neurology and pressure points into therapy. Masunaga created exercises for individuals to perform outside of sessions to help reduce energy imbalances for people. Zen Shiatsu is a combination of eastern and western philosophies and has since become a common form of shiatsu massage in the US.
What is shiatsu?
Originally, shiatsu was developed in Japan and is regarded as a form of Chinese traditional medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine includes a variety of medicinal practices that share some of the same concepts. These are based upon traditions which are over 2,000 years old. That being said, it has also been influenced by western therapies too.
Ultimately, shiatsu works with the body’s vital energies, the main one known as ‘qi’. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is thought that when this energy becomes constricted of stagnant, it causes illness to develop. Using pressure to rouse the energy channels, also known as meridians, shiatsu looks to dislodge stuck energy. As a result, it is thought to help the body heal itself.
As you can tell, shiatsu is very much spiritual, but it also works on a physical level too. Rather than just remaining aware of posture, massage strokes and manipulation techniques are incorporated into the session too. Shiatsu also uses breath work and physical exercises as part of its practice. This works to remove deep tension from the body and encourages relaxation for the mind, body and soul. Nowadays, every masseuse approaches shiatsu massage differently. Some focus on acupressure points whereas others look to the ‘energy pathway’ or incorporate diagnostic systems. All are still based upon Chinese medicine theories, however.
How does it work?
The body and mind are undoubtedly linked- fact. This therefore means that if one takes a blow, the other usually does too. For example, if you’re physically unwell, the chances are you’ll feel melancholy. Alternatively, if for example, you’re chronically stressed, it’ll usually impact your physical health too. Shiatsu teaches that if we feel low, we tend to become tenser physically, making us lethargic and grumpy. Shiatsu massage recognises this, and uses supportive touch to inspire healing. Shiatsu massage makes us overly aware of our boy’s vital energies and offers a way of understanding how our experiences impact us holistically.
Yin and Yang
The word ‘yang’ means ‘the sunny side of the valley’ and yin means ‘the shady side of the valley’. As you can see, the concept of Yin and Yang revolves around the idea of balance, and looks to even out these contradictory energies. Yang signifies characteristics such as heat, excitement and light, whereas Yin symbolises passiveness, col and quiet reflection. Keeping Yin and Yang balanced is very important within traditional Chinese medicine. Shiatsu attempts to create this balance.
Shiatsu is a natural therapy that strives to create holistic tranquillity. Many people use it as a form of stress management, whereas others use it as a preventative health care plan. Ultimately, it promotes overall health and well-being, even if you already feel fit and healthy.
If you’re suffering from a physical or mental ailment, Shiatsu can certainly soften the blow. After all, shiatsu is a complimentary form of therapy. As such, it is most effective when practiced alongside conventional treatment. Of course, always seek advice from a doctor before you get a shiatsu massage, or any massage style for that matter.
Shiatsu massage helps to relieve:
Depression- Massage is an excellent way of tackling depression. Shiatsu massage encourages a sense of calm and helps people to get restful sleep. These are two of the biggest factors which contribute towards the development and preservation of depression.
Menstrual cramps- For some women, menstrual cramps can be crippling. Shiatsu massage is actually known for reducing the pain. The relaxing effects of this massage can ease discomfort and also re-balance the hormones.
Anxiety- Shiatsu massage helps to improve anxiety because it forces the body and mind to relax. This is especially useful when it comes to anxiety, and this is often a result of an overactive imagination and thought process.
Circulatory and digestive issues- This massage helps to improve circulation of blood. Similarly, it also aids the digestive system in the breaking down of food. This is therefore beneficial for anyone who suffers from digestive issues or high blood pressure.
Muscle Pain- Obviously, shiatsu works to ease tension from the muscles. The massage itself manipulates the muscles and focuses on ironing out any knots which are causing pain or discomfort.
Migraines- Essentially, migraines are extremely painful headaches. They are crippling for most people who suffer from them. Shiatsu massage relaxes the body and increases blood flow which helps to ease any pain.
Stress- The main way to tackle stress is by relaxing. Shiatsu massages are undoubtedly relaxing. Regular sessions encourage a more stress-free way of thinking. In a lot of cases, people seek out massages during times of increased stress in their lives. This can be anything from the death of a loved one to hectic schedule. Regardless, Shiatsu massage is insanely beneficial for reducing stress.
Believe it or not, shiatsu can actually be helpful with helping to manage the side-effects of cancer and its treatments.
• It can improve a low mood
• It can increase your appetite after things like chemotherapy
• It can help you to get a better night’s sleep.
A typical session
Usually, the first session of a shiatsu massage will begin with a short consultation with the masseuse. This is done so that they can fully assess any existing injuries, illnesses or points of the body you wish for the masseuse to focus on. The masseuse may ask you some question about your lifestyle and general mood, in order to gain a better understanding your concerns.
After this is over, your masseuse will gently touch your abdominal area in order to understand tour body’s energy levels. This will allow them to understand which meridian point needs to be stimulated so that a balanced energy source can be achieved. Once this has been established, the massage will begin. An average session normally lasts between 40 and 50 minutes, and usually takes place on a mattress or futon on the floor. If you’re uncomfortable lying down, the masseuse will usually allow you to sit up. Although you will be clothed, loose fitting tops and trousers are recommended.
Ultimately, the massage is meant to be relaxing and enjoyable. If you feel uncomfortable during any point, do not hesitate from informing your masseuse. They will adapt their routine accordingly. Once the body work has finished, there will be a short rest. You will then be given the opportunity to tell your masseuse how you felt during your session; how much you enjoyed it and what emotions it evoked. Depending on what you say, your masseuse might recommended some activities or exercises for you to perform at home so that your session is supported and the benefits are dragged out.
How to get the most from your massage
Prolonging the benefits of a massage is relatively straightforward, but most people fail to do so. Here are a few top tips in order to reap the benefits of your massage experience:
Don’t eat a heavy meal before your session- Eating a heavy meal before a massage is a bad idea, for several reasons. First of all, shiatsu encourages the production of the digestive system, and as such, it will make the massage uncomfortable if you have a belly full of food. Secondly, if you’re lying down on your stomach, it’ll also be uncomfortable.
Do not exercise after your session- Massage relaxes the muscles- therefore exercising directly after could put you at risk of obtaining an injury. Just put up your feet and relax.
Hydrate after your massage- Although it might not seem strenuous, most people leave the massage table feeling dehydrated. That boils down to the fact that shiatsu massage makes the body work twice as much. As such, you’ll need to pick up a few bottles of water after your session.
The right massage for you
If Shiatsu massage sounds good to you, then it’s definitely something you should splash out on. If however, you feel like you’re pining for something a little more creative, then there are other options on the market for you that you can find easily with a quick Google search.