Shiatsu is a massage treatment developed in Japan. The name is derived from the two Japanese words shi (finger) and atsu (pressure).
Within the shiatsu tradition, bodily symptoms are seen as an expression of disruptions or imbalances of the flow of qi (life force energy) in the body. The goal of the massage treatment is to promote and balance the correct flow of qi.
Shiatsu is used not just to treat problems, but also to prevent ailments and promote good health.
A treatment session will usually start with the client talking about their health and any physical and/or psychological symptoms.
The therapist will then examine the client’s body through palpation and check the pulse. An important goal of this examination is to get an idea about the client’s energy condition.
During the massage, the therapist will use their palms and fingers. Sometimes, the feet are used as well.
The therapist will apply pressure to various parts of the client’s body in order to release tension in the client and make muscles and ligaments more agile. The muscles and ligaments are not kneaded. Instead, focus is placed on pressuring, stretching, holding and rocking certain key channels. It is common for therapists to lean onto or into their patients, using their body weight to give extra force to the massage.
Tools are not used during a standard shiatsu massage.
If you are familiar with traditional Chinese therapies such as acupuncture, you will recognize a lot in shiatsu. Shiatsu developed from a Japanese massage therapy called anma, which in turn is based on the Chinese medical system tui na. Tui na reach Japan as early as the 8th century BC, and anma developed during the 14th century.
The modern shiatsu massage that we know today was developed by Tokujiro Namikoshi (1905-2000), who founded a shiatsu school in Japan in the 1940s. Shiatsu is older than this however, and the first organization for shiatsu therapists was formed in Japan in 1925. Also, the book Shiatsu Ho by Tamai Tempaku was published in 1919.
What made Namikoshi’s shiatsu school so special was that he taught shiatsu in relation to modern science-based medicine from the west.
One of the most famous of Namikoshi’s students is Shizuto Masunaga. He started out as a student, before becoming one of the teacher’s at Namikoshi’s school. Eventually, he founded Zen Shiatsu and the Shiatsu Center School. With Masunaga, the shiatsu was more closely tied to traditional Chinese belief systems regarding health and sickness.
Hiroshi Nozaki is the founder of Hiron shiatsu, also known as holistic shiatsu. This shiatsu has a greater focus on intuitive techniques. Nozaki was one of the students who learned shiatsu directly from Namikoshi.
Today, Hiron shiatus is chiefly practiced in Europe, especially France, Italy and Switzerland.