Shiatsu is a traditional, hands-on therapy originating from Japan. It is a constantly evolving form and its different styles include aspects from Chinese medicine, Japanese massage traditions and Western ideas about anatomy and physiology. It is a fascinating therapy with an interesting history.
It was first thought to have begun around 1000 AD when Chinese acupuncture was first introduced to Japan. It was originally regarded as a rather mystical activity, mainly practiced by women and the blind. The name comes from the Japanese words shi and atsu meaning finger pressure.
It is known for treating common physiological and psychological complaints such as anxiety, stiffness, depression, arthritis, cramps, nausea and headaches. Acupressure points are pressed which relieve some of these symptoms.
The general idea is that chi or energy circulates along channels called meridians. When it flows freely it supplies strong, fresh energy and it gets rid of toxins and spent energy. However if the chi is blocked it should be cleared and restored.
The pressure points lie along 14 meridians running the length of the body and once the therapist has diagnosed the problem areas they will firmly apply pressure using fingers, knuckles, palms, elbows, toes, feet and knees. A good Shiatsu therapist first makes a diagnosis assessing where the chi flows well and where it may be obstructed. In order to do this they will take note of your odor, appearance, sounds and sensations felt by touch. They will then ask if you have any specific ailments and start to lightly assess which pressure points are tender or stiff.
In 1940 the Shiatsu College was established in Japan and it systemized a form of Shiatsu based upon Western anatomy and physiology. It now holds a special, legal status in Japan and is one of the medical therapies licensed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
The Zen style which is based around more traditional Chinese medicine is an offshoot of original Shiatsu and was begun by one of the pupils, and later professor at the Shiatsu College. In the 1970s Shiatsu, particularly the Zen style, became very popular outside Japan and is now practiced all over the world.
When having a Shiatsu treatment you should wear comfortable clothing such as cotton and linen. You will be asked to lie flat on the floor, either on a futon or beaded mat. This will help your muscles to completely relax and prepare you properly for the massage.
Many people believe that Shiatsu is preventative as well as curative and so having it done regularly may improve your overall health, especially if it is part of a regime including exercise and a balanced diet. It should stimulate the immune system and with the natural healing power that people already possess it can be done without necessarily treating specific problems.
Diagnosis and therapy combined is the essence of good Shiatsu. It should leave you feeling re-invigorated and more energetic, after even one session. For more deep-seated problems and issues your therapist will suggest a longer course of treatment.