What is Shiatsu?
Shiatsu has it roots in the thousands of years of understanding of energy in health and wellbeing as used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is the basis of both Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs. It is a refinement, primarily by the Japanese over the 20th century, of the methods of palpation that have been an integral part of that system over that time. The theory of traditional Chinese medicine proposes that energy, otherwise known as chi, qi (or ki in Japanese), moves through the body in well-defined channels or pathways known as meridians. Each meridian is connected to an internal organ and carries the energy of that organ’s functioning. Good health is reliant upon the harmonious flow of ki through the meridians and internal organs.
Whereas acupuncture uses needles into specific points, and herbs work via the digestive system to effect a change in the energy, shiatsu works into the energy channels, known as meridians in TCM, via focused touch or massage of the physical body to facilitate changes in the system. So whilst the receiver gains the therapeutic benefits associated with a harmonising of the energy flow, they also get tangible physical relief of aches and pains that are a manifestation of an energetic imbalance, as well as a deep sense of relaxation and nurturance that comes from the power of touch.
It is that focused touch that forms the key foundation to all shiatsu styles and something that all shiatsu therapists will tell you takes a lifetime of learning. The therapist, using both hands and their body in a state of relaxed tone, is looking for the point at which giver meets receiver without expectation. It is at this point where the receiver can experience not only a deep sense of safety, but also a deep connection to the possibility they can ‘let go’ and allow a healing change. Often because of years of feeling ‘unsafe’, the process of change ultimately takes time until the receiver feels 100% safe on all levels. According to Stephen Porges PhD, the creator of the Polyvagal Theory:
“feeling safe, is the treatment”
The touch and treatment can be passive and holding with a deep intent, or it can be dynamic, mobilising the body to free trapped energy with the use of flowing stretches, gentle rotations of the limbs and joints, simple structural alignments and muscle release techniques. In practice, it is a combination of both passive and dynamic, and if your therapist has got it just right, then there will be no pain, but instead a deep sense they have touched and opened every part of your body in a way and manner it needs. On a physical level, treatment has the effect of stimulating circulation and the flow of lymphatic fluid. It also works on the autonomic nervous system; helps to release toxins and deep-seated tension from the muscles, and can also stimulate the hormonal system.
Although the word shiatsu translates literally from the Japanese as ‘finger pressure’, in practice, the thumbs, palms, elbows, knees and feet are used to apply pressure to various parts of the body. Pressure can be gentle or firm, depending on what the specific receiver needs.
Generally, to facilitate this style of treatment, shiatsu is done on a thick futon on the floor to make it easier for the therapist to fully engage their body in the treatment. The receiver also remains fully clothed during treatment.
What is Shiatsu good for?
Whilst the benefit from treatment will vary from person to person, clients have found Shiatsu effective for the following conditions:
- general wellbeing
- headaches and migraines
- stress and tension
- neck and shoulder tension
- back problems
- digestive complaints
- muscular pains & aches
- menstrual conditions
- support during pregnancy and post birth recovery
- trauma, accidents and whiplash
- respiratory problems
- emotional or mental distress
- tiredness & lack of motivation
- weak immune system
Shiatsu is a supportive therapy, so the benefit from treatments will be dependent upon the degree of responsibility each person takes in dealing with their health and wellbeing.
What happens in a treatment?
Shiatsu takes place at floor level on a soft futon with the aid of a specially designed body supporter if needed (this can also be used to treat pregnant woman on their front up until pretty much they give birth). You will remain fully clothed throughout the treatment with the practitioner moving you between face down, face up and side positions. After an initial palpation diagnosis, pressure is then applied to various parts of your body that correspond to the energy channels (meridians) using mainly thumbs and fingers, but sometimes also elbows and even knees and feet to activate or disperse the energy flow as appropriate. Treatment will also include the use of flowing stretches and gentle rotations of the limbs and joints, and possibly simple structural alignments and muscle release techniques if required.
Each session lasts for around 1 and a quarter hours which includes an initial consultation or follow-up discussion, treatment, and advice and recommendations after the treatment. Why so long? – shiatsu, unlike a lot of other therapies, aims at tonifying and meeting the underlying ‘need’ before dispersing the areas of accumulated tension where the body has been struggling in its attempt to meet that deep ‘need’. The treatment coupled with subsequent lifestyle recommendations are focused on facilitating long-lasting and sustainable changes.