What is Shiatsu?
Shiatsu is a physical therapy that supports and strengthens the body’s natural ability to heal and balance itself. It works on the whole person – not just a physical body, but also a psychological, emotional and spiritual being.
The principles of shiatsu are rooted in the traditions of oriental medicine using similar energy channels and points as acupuncture, but using non-invasive touch, pressure, stretching and mobilisation techniques. Although shiatsu means ‘finger pressure’ in Japanese, in practise a practitioner uses touch, comfortable pressure and manipulative techniques to adjust the body’s physical structure and balance its energy flow. It is a deeply relaxing experience and regular treatments can alleviate stress and illness and maintain health and well-being.
How does Shiatsu diagnosis work?
Diagnosis plays a central role in Shiatsu, but it is framed in terms of oriental medicine (Ki, elements, meridians, etc.) rather than Western physiology and pathology. A Shiatsu practitioner may be able to tell you that you have, say, a Water energy imbalance or an Earth energy imbalance, but not that you have diabetes or high cholesterol. Shiatsu diagnosis is holistic rather than analytical, taking into account a wide range of clues based on what the client says, observation of behaviour patterns and physical appearance, and touch. Many practitioners begin a session with gentle palpation (i.e. diagnostic touch) of the abdominal region. This region, called the Hara in Japanese, is especially important in Shiatsu diagnosis because it is central, soft and relatively unprotected, so that subtle imbalances often reveal themselves more easily here.
What is Ki?
In the oriental tradition the world is described in terms of energy. All things are considered to be manifestations of a vital universal force, called ‘Ki’ in Japanese or ‘Qi’ in Chinese. Ki flows throughout the body like a system of rivers and canals. Things may happen to upset the smooth flow of Ki, causing blockages or dams in some areas, and weaknesses or stagnant pools in others. These blockages or weaknesses in turn may lead to physical symptoms, to psychological or emotional disturbances, or simply to a feeling that things are just not quite right.
What are Meridians?
Ki moves throughout the whole body but in certain defined pathways it flows in a more concentrated manner. These pathways are known as meridians. The meridians form a continuous circuit of channels that allow the flow of different aspects of Ki all over the body. Each meridian is named after a physical organ, for example, the Heart meridian, Lung meridian, and Bladder meridian. Very often, a Shiatsu practitioner will see that the energy along one or more meridians is blocked, such that there is an excess of energy at some points (manifested as tension, tightness or fullness) and a depletion at others (weakness or emptiness). They will work with the energy in these meridians to try to rebalance it. Most acupuncture points lie on meridians, and Shiatsu practitioners will sometimes work on specific points by pressing or holding them. However, Shiatsu differs from acupuncture (and acupressure) in that it is more usual to work on the meridian as a whole rather than isolated points.
The meridians are named after the physical organs in the body. However, the meridian does not just relate to the physical organ, but encompasses a whole constellation of meanings based around a particular function. These functions and associations of a meridian are generally much broader than those of the organ it is named after. So, for example, if your Shiatsu practitioner tells you after a treatment that your Heart meridian needed attention, this does not imply that there is anything wrong with your physical heart organ. In Shiatsu terms, it is much more likely to mean that you need emotional support.
Shiatsu is for Every Body
Shiatsu can be useful for:
- Pregnancy, Childbirth, Post Partum
- Babies & Childhood complaints
- Joint and muscle pain
- Back pain
- Headaches and migraines
- Repetitive motion and other musculoskeletal injuries
- Seasonal affective disorder
- TMJ problems
- Menstrual and peri-menopausal distress
- Depression and anxiety
- Gastrointestinal problems (digestion, IBS, constipation)
What happens during the treatment?
Shiatsu is given with the received fully clothed. A session generally lasts for about an hour and takes place on a futon mat on the floor or a treatment table. At the initial consultation a detailed case history is taken to enable an appropriate treatment for the person receiving. The treatment will be tailored to meet your needs, and is likely to include subtle manipulation and stretching techniques alongside deep tissue work to increase the balance and flow of energy and bring in the awareness of the profound links between mind, spirit and body.
Recommendations for lifestyle, diet and simple exercises may be suggested in order to support the process of healing within. Ultimately the aim is to increase our body’s natural healing capabilities.
To benefit fully from the treatment, avoid alcohol and heavy meals on the day.
If you are have a chronic condition then a series of regular sessions are recommended, the amount of sessions will depend on each individual.
However, shiatsu is deeply relaxing and can be enjoyed as a one off, whenever you feel stressed or when you are holding tension in your body.