What is it?

Shiatsu is a traditional Japanese healing art. It has its roots in ancient Oriental medicine and has evolved from Traditional Chinese Medicine and Anma, a traditional Japanese form of massage. The philosophy underlying Shiatsu is that vital energy (Qi in Chinese, Ki in Japanese) flows throughout the body in a series of channels called meridians. For many different reasons, Ki can stop flowing freely and this then produces a symptom. Shiatsu can be beneficial for a wide range of conditions - from specific injuries to more general symptoms of poor health.

Shiatsu uses touch to affect the flow of Ki in the meridians. A Shiatsu practitioner will consider your state of health, the symptoms you are experiencing and depending on your constitution and general energy levels, will use a variety of techniques to improve your energy flow. These may include gentle holding, pressing with palms, thumbs, fingers, elbows, knees and feet on the meridians, and when appropriate, more dynamic rotations and stretches. As the quality of the Ki changes, the symptoms associated with an imbalance in the movement of Ki will gradually improve. Shiatsu is a therapy that works on the individual as a complete being - the physical body and also on an emotional and/or mental level.

Each treatment will last approximately one hour. The first session will be longer since a detailed case history will be taken to develop a complete picture of your health according to the principles of Oriental Medicine. Each session usually takes place on a padded mat or futon at floor level. The client stays fully clothed.

There are several different styles of Shiatsu, and most Shiatsu Schools teach more than one style to their students. As a result, many practitioners use a blend of treatment approaches to their practice of Shiatsu. A few of the main styles are:

Namikoshi Shiatsu: (also known as shiatsu massage) places more emphasis on physical techniques developed from Anma; using pressing and rubbing to specific areas of the body to assist healing. It draws on Western knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology and advice on diet, exercise and lifestyle is usually given. This style tends to downplay the significance of Yin and Yang, Ki and the Meridian System.

Zen Shiatsu: Developed from Namikoshi Shiatsu by Shizuto Masunaga, this style is probably the most popular form of Shiatsu. It blends Anma with the traditional Chinese medicine concepts of Yin and Yang, Ki and Meridian theory and uses these methods to affect the flow of Ki to restore balance to the body. Masunaga extended the traditional network of acupuncture meridians to cover the whole body and used Five Element Theory which is a further classification of the types of Ki. He also devised a method of palpating the abdomen to diagnose the quality of Ki in the meridians and a theory of energy balance known as Kyo-Jitsu. Treatment involves working the whole length of the imbalanced meridian using two hands, rather than using specific points only. Advice on diet, exercise and lifestyle advice may also be given.

Tsubo Therapy: This style was developed by Katsusuke Serizawa and concentrates on the nature of the acupoints (tsubo in Japanese). It is based on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Meridian Theory, but looks for a scientific explanation of the meridian systems. Serizawa conducted research on the acupoints to demonstrate that the electrical resistance of the skin changes over a tsubo point. Treatment involves the stimulation of tsubo by means of massage, needles, electrical devices and moxa. This style is not as widespread in the West.

Sources: The Shiatsu Society UK
The Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia of Alternative Healing Therapies

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