Shiatsu is the Japanese name for a therapy originating from ancient Chinese medicine involving various types of pressure. The Japanese words shi and atsu literally mean ‘finger’ and ‘to press’, respectively. As the name suggests, Zen-shiatsu is a specific type of shiatsu, developed in Japan.
In modern shiatsu the practitioner does not restrict himself to using finger pressure. He also uses his elbows and knees, for example, to exert a physical pressure that his clients must at all times experience as comfortable.
Shiatsu therapy focuses on supporting the human body’s natural healing ability and its ability to adopt a state of balance, not only physically but also emotionally and mentally.
Although modern shiatsu therapy is primarily originating from Japan, it has actually developed from traditional Chinese medicine going back over 1,500 years. Through the ages shiatsu has been adapted to the cultures and needs of the local population. This has led to a growing importance of manual therapy. More recently, in shiatsu a specific type of diagnostics was introduced. In addition, several aspects of Western sciences such as anatomy and physiology are now part of shiatsu.
All in all, contemporary shiatsu is a massage therapy where knowledge and techniques from different ancient and modern worlds and disciplines have been brought together. Since 1964 shiatsu has been a specific therapy officially recognised by the Japanese government.
It will come as no surprise that over time various forms and styles of shiatsu have been developed, while new types are certainly underway.
One of the most frequently applied and popular types of shiatsu is Zen-shiatsu. This name was coined by Shizuto Masunaga (1925-1981), an important Japanse shiatsu practitioner, who expanded shiatsu with a collection of exercises simulating the flow of ki (energy) through the body along a number of paths called ‘meridians’. Such meridians are said to contain various pressure points that can benefit from massage. Of course, the addition of Zen to shiatsu directly links to the kind of spirituality which is central to Zen Buddhism.
As a therapy shiatsu unmistakably shares a number of characteristics with other types of treatment, such as sports and deep tissue massage, acupuncture and acupressure. However, shiatsu is clearly different from all other types of treatment. For example, shiatsu uses no massage tables or needles and neither does the practitioner apply a large amount of physical pressure on any one pressure point. Please note that shiatsu is in no way meant to replace medical treatment by general practitioners, hospital doctors, physiotherapists and similar. However, shiatsu therapy can well be applied alongside such types of treatment.
Shiatsu is suitable for everyone. During a treatment the client, who is wearing normal clothes, is lying or sitting on a comfortable mattress, the so-called ‘futon’, which has been rolled out on the floor. If required by the client or the treatment one or more supporting cushions are used.
Shiatsu is, in principle, suitable and intended for everyone. That means that people suffering from a wide range of disorders and conditions may benefit from shiatsu. That is, both pregnant women, people with various physical and mental problems, incurably sick people and otherwise healthy people may find shiatsu particularly relaxing and helpful to feel better.
In practice people who choose to be treated with shiatsu therapy often complain about, for example, stress related issues such as shoulder and neck pain, headache and migraine, tight muscles, period (menstrual) problems, mood changes and depression, fatigue, burn-out, anxiety, sorrow and nervousness.