(Not practicing, still learning...)

"Shiatsu" is a Japanese word meaning "finger pressure".  It is a "hands-on" therapy used both as a compliment to conventional medicine and as a preventative/alternative therapy. It is often described as the equivalent of acupressure, but this comparison is not entirely accurate, because the technique looks beyond specific pressure points, incorporating other methods such as stretching, breathing and rotating for a more whole-body approach to restoring energy balance.

Underlying Principles

The main concept behind shiatsu massage is that energy, qu or chi, circulates along channels or meridians in the body. When it flows freely, chi brings fresh, positive yang energy while carrying away negative yin energy, keeping an individual physically, emotionally and spiritually well. Under this view, a nearly infinite number of things can disrupt the delicate balance of yin and yang, and as a result, chi can become diverted, rushed, slowed or blocked, causing problems in wellness. Conditions such as sleeplessness, indigestion, swollen joints, headaches or depression are viewed not as sources of discomfort, but rather as symptoms of hyperactive, under productive, blocked or misdirected chi. Practitioners of shiatsu assert that, by manipulating pressure points along specific meridians and relaxing the body, they can get energy back in balance and, therefore, treat numerous ailments.

The Meridians

In general there are 12 to 14 major channels through which chi is said to flow. These are named for organs, such as heart, lungs and stomach. Therapists associate them not only with the physical functions of these body parts, but also with spiritual, emotional or even social connotations those organs have. If someone told a client her lungs channel needed work, for example, it could refer to breathing, but it also could relate to feeling emotionally choked, overwhelmed or stifled. Supporters of shiatsu massage believe that this multifaceted view of health is necessary because the mind and body are inextricably connected, and that, on a broader level, all things in the world affect each other in some way.

What to Expect In a Session

A major difference between this type of massage and other forms is that clients don’t need to undress for a session. They typically can wear regular clothing, although it should be loose and comfortable. Shiatsu also does not involve the use of oil.

During a session, the therapist usually has a client relax on the floor, a beaded mat, low table or futon, but it is also possible to adapt this to a seated position. Some basic questions are asked to find out about current health conditions or treatments, after which he uses very light massaging and other techniques such as physical observation to figure out where to adjust the chi. Once an assessment is done gentle but firm application of pressure is applied using fingers, knuckles, thumbs, palms, toes, feet or elbows, stretching and rotating the client’s body and guiding deep breathing to get energy to move.

Most people who go through this process describe the manipulation of pressure points as feeling intense, slightly uncomfortable, “good” pain, tender or tickling. Some individuals also say they are a little sore, although not as much as with muscular tissue massage. Reports of elation, emotional release and crying and extreme relaxation are all common.