Shiatsu

Shiatsu

Traditional hands-on Japanese healing to rebalance your energy flow

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How can shiatsu nourish you?

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[1], 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[2]. 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[3].

The term ‘shiatsu’ was coined by a Japanese practitioner named Tamai Tempaku, who published a book on the method in 1919[4]. 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[5] by the Japanese government in 1964. Namikoshi famously treated various Western celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali[6]

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[7] 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[8] in post-term women, and the results of a pilot study indicate that it may have beneficial effects on pain reduction and sleep quality[9] in people suffering from fibromyalgia. Research suggests shiatsu may improve quality of life by reducing the severity[10] of chronic lower-back pain. Shiatsu combined with physical activity has also been studied as a way of significantly reducing depression[11] in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Shiatsu is reported to possibly be an effective way of managing refractory migraine[12], 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[13] in cancer patients, although further research is recommended. Studies suggest that shiatsu may decrease the intensity of pain[14] and levels of anxiety[15] in burns patients.

Shiatsu may assist in relieving symptoms related to:

Allergies
Anxiety
Arthritis, rheumatism and osteoarthritis
Asthma
Back pain
Cancer
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME)
Colds and flu
Constipation
Dementia and alzheimer's
Depression
Digestive and gastrointestinal issues
Energy and vitality
Fatigue, burnout and exhaustion
Fibromyalgia
Headaches and migraines
Insomnia and sleep disorders
Liver issues
Mobility and movement
Neck pain
Pain relief
PMT/PMS and menstrual issues
Sciatica
Shoulder and elbow issues
Sports injuries
Stress and tension
Tennis elbow and repetitive strain injury (RSI)
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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[16] 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[17] (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[18]. 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’[19]. 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[20] 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[21], 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.

References

  1. What is shiatsu? | Shiatsu Therapy Association of Australia
  2. History of Shiatsu Massage | Acupuncture Massage College
  3. Kampo Medicine as an Integrative Medicine in Japan | med.or.jp
  4. About shiatsu | shiatsusociety.org
  5. History | shiatsunetwork.org
  6. Tokujiro Namikoshi | Professional Shiatsu School
  7. Shiatsu Massage Therapy | utopiahealthcare.com.au
  8. The effects of shiatsu on post-term pregnancy | ScienceDirect
  9. Effects of Shiatsu in the Management of Fibromyalgia Symptoms | ScienceDirect
  10. Shiatsu for chronic lower back pain | ScienceDirect
  11. Shiatsu as an adjuvant therapy for depression in patients with Alzheimer’s disease | ScienceDirect
  12. Single-blind, randomized, pilot study combining shiatsu and amitriptyline in refractory primary headaches | link.springer.com
  13. Relieving pressure – An evaluation of Shiatsu treatments for cancer & palliative care patients in an NHS setting | ScienceDirect
  14. The Effect of Shiatsu Massage on Pain Reduction in Burn Patients | PMC
  15. The Effect of Shiatsu Massage on Underlying Anxiety in Burn Patients | PMC
  16. Brett Bannon ~ Shiatsu Therapist | bythebaykinesiology.com.au
  17. Therapies | naturopathic-care.com
  18. Benefits of a Massage Chair | SPINE Health
  19. Shiatsu | University of Minnesota
  20. Shiatsu | Australian Traditional-Medicine Society
  21. What happens during a treatment? | Shiatsu Therapy Association of Australia

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