Woman on massage table

Discovering the healing art of shiatsu

In Health and Healing, Health and Nutrition by emily.harrisonLeave a Comment

‘Shiatsu’ literally translates from Japanese as ‘finger pressure.’ It is used to describe a form of bodywork that was originally developed in Japan and has its origins in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).


Shiats-who? And how is it different from massage? Isn’t it a small dog? Well, these are not uncommon questions for those new to this ancient healing art.

Shiatsu is a modality that incorporates the use of a range of techniques to apply pressure over various parts of the body to effect a therapeutic result. The pressure used can be firm or light (but it shouldn’t be painful) and the practitioner may use not only thumbs but also palms, knees, elbows or feet. The treatment is generally given on a futon on the floor with the client remaining fully clothed.

Shiatsu works by stimulating the circulation of qi/ki/chi and blood/xue of the body through the meridian system and acupressure points. Qi is often understood as the life force or energy which helps to support homeostasis of the body-mind. If the circulation of qi within the body is impaired, or stagnated — whether due to stress, illness, injury or lifestyle habits —problems or disease can arise.

With this in mind, shiatsu aims to promote the smooth flow of qi to support health and balance. The practitioner may use diagnostic skills to determine the course of a treatment such as taking the pulse, palpating the hara (abdominal) map and asking some questions. They may also draw on supporting oriental therapies such as moxa, cupping, stretches and lifestyle advice.

Because it affects the internal organs, muscles and joints as well as the systems of the body (such as digestive, endocrine, nervous system), there are vast numbers of conditions that respond well to shiatsu treatment.

A disorder of one part of the body will often have effects throughout, and so it is important to treat the body as a whole. It also helps to explain why the shiatsu practitioner may work on areas of the body that do not seem to relate to the problem.

Some people may come to shiatsu for specific conditions, or to help with seasonal transitions, or just for regular health maintenance.

So shiatsu really is for you, that’s who.

Emily is a shiatsu therapist and also works in the office of the Australian Shiatsu College.

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