Tuesday, January 6, 2009



Shiatsu is a Japanese word meaning "finger pressure". Shiatsu uses hand pressure and manipulative techniques to adjust the body's physical structure and its natural inner energies, to help ward off illness, and maintain good health.

Shiatsu is characterized by its great simplicity. It grew from earlier forms of massage, called Anma in Japan (Anmo or Tuina in China) which use rubbing, stroking, squeezing, tapping, pushing, and pulling to influence the muscles and circulatory systems of the body. Shiatsu, by contrast, uses few techniques and to an observer it would appear that little is happening - merely a still, relaxed pressure at various points on the body with the hand or thumb, an easy leaning of the elbows or a simple rotation of a limb. It almost seems a lazy activity. But underneath the uncomplicated movements much is happening internally to the body's energy on a subtle level.

Subtle Energy in the Body

The Oriental tradition describes the world in terms of energy. All things are considered to be manifestations of a vital universal force, called 'Ki' by the Japanese, ''Chi", or 'Qi', in China. Ki is the primary substance and motive force of life. It is most often described as "energy", but Ki is also synonymous with breath in the Japanese and Chinese languages. In Oriental medicine, harmony of Ki within the human body is conceived as being essential to health. 

History of Shiatsu

The Development of Shiatsu in Japan
Shiatsu was developed in the early part of the 20th century by a Japanese practitioner, Tamai Tempaku, who incorporated the new Western medical knowledge of anatomy and physiology into several older meth ods of treatment. Originally he called it "Shiatsu Ryoho", or "finger pressure way of healing", then "Shiatsu Ho ", "finger pressure method". Now known simply as "Shiatsu", it was officially recognized as a therapy by the Japanese Government in 1964, so distinguishing it from the older form of traditional massage, Anma. The role of shiatsu therapists is to diagnose and treat according to the principles of Oriental medicine.

Chinese origins of Shiatsu
The earliest known book of Chinese medicine is called the 'Huang Ti Nei Ching', 'The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine'. In it the legendary Emperor questions his physician, Ch-I Po, about problems of medicine ,and health among his people. In one well known passage Ch'i Po explains that different forms of medicine were developed in different re gions according to the prevailing climate and the resulting constitutional problems from which people suffered. Treatment using herbs, needles and heat were attributed to Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western re gions, but development of physical therapy including massage and breathing exercise was accorded to the people of China's central region. Thus began the long association of massage and manipulative therapy with special physical exercise, breathing techniques, and healing med itations which represented the highest level of Chinese medicine. These came to be known collectively as "Tao Yin", methods for guiding the subtle energies within the body to flow smoothly. Shiatsu is the modern inheritor of this tradition. 

Chinese medicine was introduced to Japan by a Buddhist monk in the 6th century. The Japanese developed and refined many of its methods to suit their own physiology, temperament, and climate. In particular they developed the manual healing and diagnostic arts, evolving special techniques of abdominal diagnosis, treatment, and abdominal massage.

Styles of Shiatsu

Many early Shiatsu practitioners developed their own style and some, including Tokojiro Namikoshi and Shizuto Masunaga, founded schools that helped establish Shiatsu as a therapy. There are many different styles of Shiatsu today. Some concentrate on "acupressure (acupuncture) points". Some emphasise more general work on the body or along the pathways of energy to influence the Ki that flows in them. Others highlight diagnostic systems, such as the "Five Element'' system or the macro-biotic approach. But all of these are based on traditional Chinese-medicine.

Zen Shiatsu

Masunaga incorporated his experience of Shiatsu into his studies of Western psychology and Chinese medicine; he also refined the existing methods of diagnosis. His extended system incorporated special exercises, known as "Makko Ho', to stimulate the flow of Ki, and he developed a set of guiding principles to make the techniques more effective. He called his system "Zen Shiatsu" after the simple and direct approach to spirituality of the Zen Buddhist monks in Japan.

The Chinese Approach to Understanding the Body and Health

You may notice a circularity in the logic of Chinese medicine. Westerners think of cause and effect as a linear progression of ideas and events from A, through B, to C. Eastern philosophy regards events as mutually conditioned, arising together. They are not seen as distinct from the environment in which they occur. The background is as important as the fore-ground. An example is given here to help to clarify the difference.

A headache is not just an event in the head, according to Chinese medicine, nor is it merely a pain, or something to be stopped without regard for its origins, nor even treated on the same basis as someone else's headache. Rather, it is an obstruction of Ki, related to the overall energy patterns in the whole body of the particular individual, their circumstances, and lifestyle. Treatment might involve work on the arms or legs as well as (or instead of) the head and will bring more lasting and satisfactory changes than will an attempt to block the superficial symptoms.

* Edited extract from Paul Lundberg’s ‘The New Book of Shiatsu’, as obtained from ShiatsuSociety.Org
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