“Shiatsu” is the Japanese word for finger (“shi”)
and pressure (“atsu”). It is the style of Asian bodywork
most widely known in the Western world.
A Shiatsu treatment combines acupressure with gentle
stretching and manipulation techniques. The patient remains passive while
the practitioner turns, bends, and lifts the patient’s head, torso,
and limbs in various ways. This allows the practitioner to stretch
the meridians and use gravity or leverage to apply pressure at certain
points. Pressure is applied by leaning into the patient with fingers,
hands, elbow, knees and feet, and by walking on the patient’s
back under certain circumstances.
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Shiatsu originated in the 6th Century AD when commercial trade
was first established between China and Japan. Japanese healers traveled
to China to study the Imperial Medicine. All medical students in China
were required to learn massage and acupressure and to master the palpatory
skills needed to sense qi as it flows through meridians.
The knowledge and techniques brought back from China were particularly
useful to Japanese martial artists who often had to treat injuries
or revive sparring partners.
Until the 20th Century, Japanese Shiatsu was almost identical
to Chinese tuina. However, Japan unlike other Asian Countries, was
heavily influenced by the West. European traders bought Western medicine
and culture to Japan early in the 19 th Century. The Japanese adopted
Western surgical methods and treatments for infectious disease. By
the late 19 th Century, Japanese aristocracy banned traditional therapies
and Western medicine became the official medicine of Japan.
Early in the 20th Century, there was a resurgence of interest
in traditional therapies. The Japanese had observed and experienced
the limitations of Western medicine in the treatment of many chronic,
degenerative, and painful conditions.
After World War II, General Douglas MacArthur banned
the practice of shiatsu and acupuncture in Japan. These forms of healing
were traditionally provided by blind healers, who were considered to
possess extraordinary sensitivity and a highly developed sense of touch.
The Japanese Blind Association sought Helen Keller’s assistance. She petitioned President
Truman and MacArthur’s ban was removed.
Aware that political circumstances could threaten their livelihood,
some Japanese practitioners downplayed the traditional origins of shiatsu.
They used Western medical terminology, focused on pathological conditions
as they were defined in the West, and incorporated Western physical
therapy techniques. They conducted research studies that focused on
such subjects as the electrical resistance of areas of skin over acupoints,
or the effects of shiatsu on anatomical structures and systems of the
Later in the 20th Century, some practitioners reintroduced
and elaborated upon the classical theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine
and developed schools of shiatsu based upon it. Other practitioners
incorporated Western psychology and Zen philosophy into their approach.
Today, there are several major styles of shiatsu. Each has its own methods
of assessment and treatment.
I have learned several styles of shiatsu, incorporate a broad
spectrum of shiatsu techniques and emphasize whichever style is most beneficial
to each patient.