How can shiatsu nourish your soul?
Shiatsu is a form of acupressure massage which may also include gentle stretches and postural alignments, intended to restore the balance of qi (vital energy). The word ‘shiatsu’ literally means ‘finger pressure’ in Japanese, although practitioners also use their elbows, palms, thumbs, even their feet and knees, to apply pressure as appropriate.
Shiatsu is a Japanese technique of therapeutic touch which originated from traditional Chinese massage. The intention of these styles of massage involves promoting a healthy flow of qi through the body’s meridians (invisible energy pathways). It is believed that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) concepts were introduced to Japan between the fifth and sixth century.
The term ‘shiatsu’ was coined by a Japanese practitioner named Tamai Tempaku, who published a book on the method in 1919. Another pioneering practitioner, Tokujiro Namikoshi, further refined shiatsu techniques, and his emphasis on including a Western perspective of physiology contributed to shiatsu therapy being formally recognised as a distinct healing modality by the Japanese government in 1964. Namikoshi famously treated various Western celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali.
Benefits of shiatsu
Traditionally, the intention of shiatsu is to dissolve blockages of qi through the meridians of the body and restore optimal flow of qi to areas of ‘energy stagnation’. It is believed that when a person’s energetic balance is restored, symptoms ranging from aches and pains to insomnia and digestive difficulties can be alleviated.
There is evidence to suggest that shiatsu may help trigger spontaneous labour in post-term women, and the results of a pilot study indicate that it may have beneficial effects on pain reduction and sleep quality in people suffering from fibromyalgia. Research suggests shiatsu may improve quality of life by reducing the severity of chronic lower-back pain. Shiatsu combined with physical activity has also been studied as a way of significantly reducing depression in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Shiatsu is reported to possibly be an effective way of managing refractory migraine, reducing the quantity of painkillers taken by people suffering from primary headaches. There is evidence to suggest shiatsu may be a useful way of reducing pain as well as managing anxiety and stress in cancer patients, although further research is recommended. Studies suggest that shiatsu may decrease the intensity of pain and levels of anxiety in burns patients.
Shiatsu may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Arthritis, rheumatism and osteoarthritis
- Back pain
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME)
- Colds and flu
- Dementia and alzheimer's
- Digestive and gastrointestinal issues
- Energy and vitality
- Fatigue, burnout and exhaustion
- Headaches and migraines
- Insomnia and sleep disorders
- Liver issues
- Mobility and movement
- Neck pain
- Pain relief
- PMT/PMS and menstrual issues
- Shoulder and elbow issues
- Sports injuries
- Stress and tension
- Tennis elbow and repetitive strain injury (RSI)
What to expect from a shiatsu session
The session will begin with your shiatsu practitioner asking you about your general medical history and any specific pain or ill health you might be experiencing, as well as the state of your emotional wellbeing. Your practitioner may also use traditional diagnostic techniques such as looking at your tongue and feeling your pulse, as well as a hara examination (evaluating your abdominal area using gentle touch).
The shiatsu treatment itself involves lying down, fully clothed, on a futon, although some practitioners may offer you a massage chair, depending on your needs. Practitioners will often cover you with a sheet for greater comfort. Your practitioner will apply deep, focused pressure to key points along your energy meridians according to a sequence that is personalised to your ‘state of qi’. They will use their thumbs, fingertips, palms, elbows, feet and knees to carry out the massage therapy, which often also includes gentle stretches and mobilising some of your joints through their natural range of movement.
In general, the treatment itself takes about an hour, but a session might last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the reason why you are seeking treatment. It is recommended that you wear loose-fitting clothes made from natural fibres for your shiatsu treatment, and it is advisable not to eat close to the time of your session.
As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing shiatsu. If you have an injury or other health issue, or any concerns at all, also speak to your shiatsu practitioner, who will be happy to address these and make sure the session is personalised to your individual requirements.