A beginner's guide to shiatsu massage

What is shiatsu massage? It’s a method of manipulating energy flow in the body with a history that links to the ancient medical practices of the Far East.
For those who need it, massages deliver a feeling of well-being and relaxation, and provide an effective therapy for a variety of ailments.

While it usually involves skillful manipulation of muscle and connective tissue, shiatsu massage seeks to manipulate your intrinsic energy, what the Chinese call qi and the Japanese callki.

Shiatsu involves the same energy meridians and acupoints as acupuncture, but patients won’t need to be stuck with needles. Instead, their energy pathways are kneaded with thumb pressure and other manipulations, clearing health-damaging blockages to the energy flow. The name shiatsu, in Japanese, means “finger pressure.”

A beginner's guide to shiatsu massage


Shiatsu originated in Japan, an offshoot of traditional anma massage merged with knowledge of Western anatomy, acupressure, specialized breathing practices, and other techniques.

In 1940, Tokujiro Namikoshi (1905–2000) founded the first shiatsu college, and is credited with inventing modern shiatsu. However, the term was already in use and earlier, in 1925, the Shiatsu Therapists Association was launched, trying to distance shiatsu from anma massage.

How it works

Shiatsu is a holistic system where a therapist applies sustained pressure with their fingers or thumbs in a rhythmic sequence along acupuncture points and meridians, with the aim of unblocking the energy flow. It helps to calm an overactive sympathetic nervous system, improving circulation, relieving stiff muscles and reducing stress.

Treatment is usually done on a low table or the floor. Since no massage oils are applied, patients can stay clothed and are usually advised to wear something comfortable. Thin, natural garments are preferred, so the therapist’s fingers (or their palms, knuckles, elbows, knees and sometimes even feet) can do their work.

What it claims to help

As already noted, shiatsu relaxes and promotes a sense of well-being, like other kinds of massages. It is believed to improve circulation, boost the immune system, and relieve nausea and vomiting.

It’s also used to treat diarrhea, indigestion, constipation, and other disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, menstrual and menopausal problems, chronic pain, migraine, arthritis, toothache, anxiety and depression and other conditions.

West versus East

Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of shiatsu, not a lot of hard evidence exists in Western science to support this.

While acupuncture points and meridians, and the practice of promoting ki flow to improve health, have thousands of years of history in the Far East, the modern Western medical establishment remains skeptical.

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