So, What Is Shiatsu?

How do you describe Shiatsu to the ‘uninitiated’? This is a question that I feel many practitioners have, at some point struggled with – a conclusion drawn from observing peers and my own struggles. As students, we are encouraged to read through the literature and come up with a short, yet to-the-point, all-encompassing sentence, however, no one has managed to succinctly enunciate this elusive sentence to me. When asked what Shiatsu is, we can sound a little like Frank Zappa’esk ‘Valley Girls’ due to overuse of the word ‘like’.

Shiatsu is ‘like’ many things and yet it is none of them. It is listed and described by many as a massage, those who have tried Shiatsu will agree with me that it is most definitely not a massage treatment, yet there are elements of massage within it. It is a clothed treatment, unless, of course, moxibustion or cupping techniques are being used – neither fire & clothing nor oil & clothing mix well!

It is widely described as Japanese Physiotherapy. Even though many vets view Equine Shiatsu as such, the acceptance of this in human treatment oddly has some way to go. Shiatsu is extremely good for alignment issues, particularly when techniques, such as Shin Tai and Sotai are employed. There are also elements of Thai Yoga Massage used for mobilising joints and stretching.

It has also been described as Acupuncture but without the needles – that’s Acupressure (which obviously pre-date Acupuncture), and yes, Acupressure is used as part of the overall Shiatsu treatment. So, what is Shiatsu? Well [takes big breath], my understanding of Shiatsu, in its purest form, is treatment of the flow of energy along specific routes (meridians) throughout the body that are aligned to specific organ functions. Shiatsu helps to either calm or boost these flows and thus maintain health, balance and harmony throughout the body. Acupressure, a discipline of Chinese Medicine, works directly with the organ function via specific points along the meridian. Chinese Medicine also brings in other elements, such as dietary, environmental and psychological influences. The treatment of a meridian can take many forms, such as pressure, massage, stretching and mobilising. After a treatment, you may well be given a series of exercises, normally based on Qigong, Tai Chi, Yoga or Makko Ho movements, these are to assist the opening up, and therefore, harmonious flow of Qi (energy) of a particular meridian.

And I have no doubt missed out a whole load of things I could have mentioned but, I think it’s clear, Shiatsu is a holistic body therapy that encompasses many aspects in order to achieve a healthy and balanced body – at ease (not, dis-ease) with itself. It can have a profound impact on some and, at the very least, can be deeply relaxing.