Shiatsu is a massage technique originating in Japan (the word comes from “shi”, meaning finger, and “atsu” meaning pressure).

imageMore than 2,000 years ago an old “waka” (Japanese poem) talks about the first doctor in Japan, named Sukunahikona-kami, healing people with his bare hands. In 1912, when the founder of modern shiatsu therapy, Tokujiro Namikoshi-sensei, was seven years old, he completely cured his mother’s rheumatism with special massage technique, using pressure from only his thumbs, palms and fingers.

The word shiatsu itself is thought to have been used first by Tenpeki Tamai about the year 1900, and so Namikoshi decided to give the name shiatsu “ryoho” (treatment) to the therapeutic method he had invented. This was just the beginning, and he went on to establish the complete anatomical and physiological theory of shiatsu and began a school to train therapists.

In 1964 Namikoshi’s shiatsu was recognised by the Japanese Ministry of Health. Now all qualified shiatsu therapists in Japan have to go through a government-regulated programme. The method is described as “diagnosis and therapy combined”. It relies on an understanding of how the body functions according to western principles of anatomy and physiology.

The shiatsu pressure points (called “tsubo” in Japanese), and their location, are applicable only to this form of treatment. They are not related to the ancient Chinese systems of meridians used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Experienced shiatsupractors are sensitive enough to detect, on contact, irregularities in the skin, muscles or body temperature in order to pinpoint problems.

At the same time, shiatsupractors apply treatment. The amount of pressure and its tempo are gauged to apply the appropriate pressure for each patient which can be either strong or soft, quick or slow.

In more recent years, additional techniques based on TCM have been devised by practitioners from the Japan Shiatsu College to stimulate the “qi” (vital energy), the meridians (energy pathways) and the “tsubos” (vital points or holes)

There is also a strong presence of Zen Shiatsu practitioners in the US and the UK. Zen Shiatsu was founded by Shizuto Masunaga-sensei, who emphasised the importance of remaining in a Zen-like, present state when practicing shiatsu; first by nourishing weak “kyo” areas, then by dispersing excess “jitsu” areas; using two-handed technique to better feel the flow of qi while working from the body’s energy centre or “hara”, and using perpendicular pressure to access the qi.

Masunaga expanded the meridian system, discovering extensions of the classical Chinese meridians, and developed an effective new system of hara diagnosis.

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