What is Shiatsu?
“Shiatsu” 指圧 is a Japanese word meaning “finger pressure”. It is a traditional Japanese acupressure massage. The Japanese have long had a tradition of giving acupressure to each other within the family, for relaxation and maintaining health while also encouraging bonding. The techniques of acupressure were passed down through generations and developed into Shiatsu as a traditional healing art. Now Shiatsu in Japan is a legalised profession. To become a professional practitioner in Japan, one must learn Shiatsu as defined by the Japanese Ministry of Health.
Origin of Shiatsu
Since ancient times, humans have instinctively known the beneficial effect of placing their hands on areas affected by pain. It was in this way that Shiatsu and other hands-on therapies emerged. Shiatsu has its origin in Anma (meaning “press ad rub”), a traditional remedial massage which was developed and passed down among families over many generations. Anma became part of formal medical treatment when Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) was at the heart of medical care in Japan. Therefore most of the theory and techniques of Anma were based on TCM. However, the therapeutic use of Anma started to fade gradually from the Edo era (17th -19th centries), when the government encouraged blind people to work as Anma masseurs. Nowadays, the art of Anma as therapy has almost been lost and is mostly used only for relaxation and comfort. To revive the therapeutic quality of acupressure, Shiatsu was separated from Anma and developed for the treatment of specific illnesses.
Different branches of Shiatsu
There are many different styles of Shiatsu currently practised all over the world. The standard form of Shiatsu, commonly known in Japan today, is often called “Namikoshi style”. It was developed by Tokujiro Namikoshi, known as the father of Shiatsu. He initiated legalisation of Shiatsu in Japan and established the Japan Shiatsu College, which gained recognition by the Japanese Ministry of Health for the licensing of professional practitioners. The characteristic of Namikoshi Shiatsu is the use of only the fingers, palms and especially the thumbs and it does not have much influence from Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM), but it is based more on modern western anatomy and physiology. This method is different from Keiraku Shiatsu which has derived its theory from TCM.
Here are some of the other styles of Shiatsu practised both in Japan and in the west today:
Keiraku (Meridian) Shiatsu
Keiraku (Ioh kai) Shiatsu (also called Zen Shiatsu)
Keiraku Shiatsu was developed by Shizuto Masunaga and is the practice that combines Shiatsu with Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) theory. Keiraku Shiatsu is the origin of what is now called Zen Shiatsu in the West (however, Keiraku Shiatsu and Zen Shiatsu are now very different as Shiatsu practitioners and teachers in the West have developed their styles to suit westerners). Masunaga was a former psychology professor at the university, and after that, he studied Shiatsu directly from Namikoshi at the Japan Shiatsu College. Combining his understanding of western psychology with TCM, he developed his theory and practices of Keiraku Shiatsu. Keiraku Shiatsu is also called Iokai Shiatsu as Iokai is the name of the institute Masunaga founded.
Keiraku and Meridian Therapy
Keiraku means “meridian,” an energy channel. Meridians are like lines that run just below the skin, and they are spread all over the body. What flows through the meridians is called Ki in Japanese and Qi in Chinese. It is the life force or vital energy that drives all physiological, mental and emotional functions.
There are 12 meridians in total, and each meridian has a close relation to a corresponding internal organ (which gives the meridian its name) such as Heart, Spleen, Kidneys, etc. Each of these meridians is not only related to the physiological function of the organ, but it also has a psychological, emotional, intellectual and spiritual function that controls and influences all the activities of living human beings.
Keiraku Shiatsu is the hands-on therapy that helps heal and prevent disease, correct imbalances, and promote health by stimulating good energy flow in the meridians.
Kyo and Jitsu diagnosis and treatment
In Masunaga's theory, all symptoms are categorised as conditions of either Jitsu (excess) or Kyo (lack/emptiness) in the meridians and can be treated accordingly. The practitioner uses various hands-on techniques to transfer the excessive Ki/energy (Jitsu), to the area (meridian) that is weak or lacking in Ki (Kyo).
Jitsu and Kyo can be felt by the hands, and they can be described as follows:
Jitsu 実 - fullness, tension, bunched-up, heat, knot, bulging musculature, buzzy, resistance when pressed
Kyo 虚 - lack, emptiness, hollow-feeling, weak musculature, quiet, no resistance when pressed
To identify Kyo and Jitsu, the practitioner tries to feel the receiver's Ki through the surface of the receiver’s body where the meridians run, also their back and stomach (Back and Hara diagnosis).
The practitioner can apply various techniques to disperse Jitsu and tonify Kyo using both hands simultaneously. This is called two hands-technique: one is the supportive and listening hand (Yin), and the other is the working hand (Yang). Usually, diagnosis and treatment take place simultaneously. By applying the right level of pressure along the meridians, the distortion is corrected, and the receiver goes back to a healthy, balanced state.
Vertical, sustained and supportive pressure
Although the practitioner of Keiraku Shiatsu uses various techniques, the direction of the acupressure is always vertical. According to Masunaga’s theory, the application of vertical pressure is similar to the force of gravity, atmospheric and water pressure that is always present in the natural environment and is, therefore, most healing to a living body. Deep vertical acupressure can efficiently transmit through the muscle, fat and connective tissue and stimulate the internal organs.
Three principles of acupressure in Keiraku Shiatsu:
Sustained pressure (3-7seconds or 1 to 2 breaths per pressure)
Supported pressure (the practitioner never relies on their muscle strength to apply pressure but by leaning on the receiver using their body weight)
Benefits of Keiraku Shiatsu
Based on the theory of oriental medicine, the purpose of Keiraku Shiatsu is not about curing disease as isolated entities, but it aims to make the sick get back to their optimum health so that their body can heal on its own. Keiraku Shiatsu is also one of the safest therapies, and it is simple yet has a reliable effect when applied correctly. Keiraku Shiatsu can be effective to numerous physical, psychological and emotional conditions.
Full-body 60 min / 90 min
The treatment is usually performed on a Futon mattress on the floor with the receiver fully clothed. The practitioner applies pressure with their own hands, thumbs, fingers, palms, elbows, and knees to treat the whole area of the receiver’s body including, feet, face, and head. Some stretching is incorporated.
Home visit in southwest, southeast, west and central London
Full body treatment
60 min / 90 min
From £65 - / £85 -
Home visit in southwest, southeast, west and central London