It brings the body, mind and soul together in harmony. It helps you relax, unwind, and it supports the natural strength of the body. Shiatsu – a Japanese massage technique that represents a path of personal growth for both the patient and the therapist.

Shiatsu – what is it about?

Shiatsu involves pressure on specific points of the body for therapeutic and relaxation purposes. It is often referred to as non-needle acupuncture, or acupressure, but those who have mastered it emphasise that these terms fail to fully reflect its essence. It is also hard to classify shiatsu simply as an Oriental physiotherapy or manual therapy technique. Even though certain elements of these methods can indeed be found in the practice of the Japanese massage, they would narrow down its meaning to purely physical work with the patient. According to the original philosophy, shiatsu means bodywork based on identifying and responding to the patient’s natural energy, so it is not just mechanical manipulation of soft tissues but attention to detail, empathy and the ability to react to the signals sent by their body.

History of the Oriental massage

The history of the Japanese massage technique dates back 2000 years and, just like all methods of treating through touch, it is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine. However, before massage was recognised for its therapeutic properties, it was an element of former religious rituals. The remains of those practices can be found in the spiritual and emotional dimension of shiatsu.

It was in China was that the first schools of massage emerged as early as at the end of the first century AD and that subsequent massage trends and philosophies evolved. Over the centuries, the countries of the Orient developed enhanced new techniques, making use of the achievements of modern science and medicine. Based on Chinese acupressure and reflexology, the Japanese created their own therapy, known as anma. This is where shiatsu comes from. The holistic technique was shaped at the beginning of the 20th century, and the term first appeared in 1919 in Tamai Tempaku’s Shiatsu Ho (meaning “Finger pressure”). Shiatsu took on in the Occident in the 1970s. Its prestige grew when the Japanese Ministry of Health recognised shiatsu as a legitimate therapeutic method in 1995.

What a shiatsu massage looks like

According to the ministerial definition, shiatsu, literally ‘finger pressure’, is a technique where a therapist uses their thumbs and palms to press specific areas of the body to eliminate disorders, reduce pain and generally improve the patient’s health. Shiatsu combines the rich Oriental tradition with the achievements of modern science – anatomy, physical therapy and osteopathy. This combination is to guarantee the recipients of the Japanese practice a holistic therapy of body and mind, where touch is a means to inner balance and a method of stimulating the body to natural regeneration and fight for health.

The traditional rudiments of the Japanese massage are connected with the belief in ki – the vital energy filling human body. The energy is believed to travel the body through certain channels – meridians. When they are blocked, the flow of ki between certain organs is disrupted, and as a result, deprived of sufficient energy, the organs stop functioning properly. Shiatsu regulates the flow through skilful pressure of meridans, which are sensitive to touch. A therapist is expected not only to be technically skilled and knowledgeable but also empathetic, sensitive and capable of calming down and focusing their own thoughts. To be able to successfully support the natural regeneration of the patient’s body, a masseur must be fully aware of themselves and their own body. This is how shiatsu is partially also a path to personal development, followed by both patients and therapists.

Shiatsu step by step

The Japanese massage is performed on the floor, on a traditional futon mattress, which can be replaced in contemporary Western conditions by a regular mattress, a blanket or a mat. It is important that the masseur be at the same level as the massaged person during the treatment. Proper technique so requires as the therapist is to use their own body weight rather than the strength of arms or hands. Unlike the name may suggest, shiatsu is not performed with fingers only but also with the whole palms, elbows, or even feet or knees. The touch should be rather pleasant, mild, but also firm. It should not cause pain or strong discomfort. Stretching of the spine, the limbs and muscles is also helpful in the regulation of the internal energy and in the removal of tension. Additional techniques include rotations, limb bending in joints or tapping of tense muscles,

The patient should not eat a big meal before the massage, and it is advisable to avoid any interruptions during the treatment. According to the shiatsu theory, the breaths of the masseur and of the massaged person should be synchronised, long and clam.

Shiatsu – mechanism of action and results

Shiatsu is used as a relaxing, regenerative and therapeutic massage. It is recommended for instance to those who suffer from a backache, headache, rheumatoid diseases, neuralgia, neck stiffness, digestion problems, sleep disorder, chronic stress or depression. Scientists believe that the Japanese massage is beneficial for the function of the cardiovascular system, the nervous system and internal organs – heart, liver, stomach, lungs and intestines. It helps enhance the mobility of joints, alleviates backache and pain in other parts of the body. With its relaxing effects, it successfully improves the mood, restores the inner balance and is a weapon against stress. Spiritual shiatsu practicians also claim that if properly delivered, the massage deepens the patient’s contact with their body, boosts their self-esteem and reinforces their positive outlook on the world.

Shiatsu – contraindications

Before the treatment, the therapist should take a detailed medical history from the patient. Shiatsu contraindications include primarily skin diseases, thrombosis, untreated hypertension, atherosclerosis, acute inflammations and varices. The massage is also ill-advised in the period of recovery following a surgery or a severe disease. Specialists are not entirely in agreement as to the safety of shiatsu treatments during pregnancy. Some sources list pregnancy as a contraindication for such therapy, while other mention the Japanese technique as one of the few forms of massage recommended for future mums.

You do not have to wait for a long journey to the Country of Cherry Blossoms to experience the regenerative treatments. Japanese massage is offered by many Western beauty parlours and salons – also in Poland. Looking for a shiatsu place, check the qualifications of the therapists. A certificate from such institutions as European Shiatsu School in London or Shendo Shiatsu Institute in Berlin indicates that we are likely to experience the actual Japanese art of massage. After all, shiatsu is more than touch – it is an art where the body and mind meet on a path to inner balance.

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