Shiatsu is a form of Oriental massage therapy that evolved from a 5000 years of tradition and observation.  Shiatsu utilizes a combination of pressure and assisted-stretching techniques, some of which are common to other therapies, such as Western massage, physiotherapy, acupressure, osteopathy, lymphatic drainage, do-in and others. The treatment is believed to stimulate the circulation, the flow of lymphatic fluid, the release of toxins, and the release of deep muscles tension.  It may stimulate the hormonal system and the immune system It may act on the autonomic nervous system.

Some benefits of shiatsu include:  reduced stress and fatigue; increased circulation; reduced blood pressure; and, improved muscle stiffness.  It claims also to provide increased vitality, stamina and energy (Qi).


Shiatsu is a contemporary therapy with its roots in traditional Asian medicine. It is sometimes described as Japanese physiotherapy. The actual treatment approach and philosophy are similar to acupuncture but its practitioners do not use of needles. Unlike other forms of bodywork, in shiatsu the receiver remains clothed and oil is not used for the massage.

Shiatsu is a Japanese word made up of two written characters meaning finger (shi) and pressure (atsu). Shiatsu is in some respects a variant of accupressure. In addition to the pressure, shiatsu also involves gentle stretching and manipulation. But shiatsu differs from Western massage in technique as well as in theory. While Swedish massage therapists use long, flowing hand movements to knead muscles, shiatsu practitioners apply rhythmic and gradual pressure to specific points. As in acupuncture, there are certain pressure points on the meridians which relate to certain organs, and also to these points known as tsubos.

Shiatsu is said to affect the flow of energy or qi that circulates through our bodies. Traditional Asian medicine suggests that we all have a "life force" which must remain in balance.  The flow of qi (the life force, pronounced chee) can be disturbed bu trauma or internal forces like stress. In shiatsu, touch is used to balance the distribution of qi and to try to correct imbalances.

Concept of Qi, Chi or Ki

Shiatsu acts on the subtle anatomy of the body which described as qi in Chinese or ki in Japanese. Qi is a fundamental concept of the traditional Asian medicine and is considered as the "life essence" which maintains and nurtures our physical body, mind and spirit. In traditional Indian medicine it is described as prana. Qi is everywhere. It moves and changes quickly from moment to moment and can easily be replenished on a day-to-day basis. The human body is a field of continually moving energy, circulating through cells, tissues, muscles and internal organs.

The Chinese word qi translates as "breaths". A Japanese dictionary defines qi as mind, spirit, or heart. The Japanese vocabulary has hundreds of expressions which use the word qi, most of them ordinary ways of talking about human moods, attitudes, or character. Qi itself is often characterized as energy.

The Meridians

The Asians believed that energy circulated and nourished the whole person through specific pathways, or meridians as they are usually called. In Indian medicine, these are called nadi or rivers. Meridians form a crisscross network of interconnected pathways that link the organs, skin, flesh, muscle and bones in a unified body.

Each of twelve organs is linked with a meridian or channel of energy, named according to the internal organ it affects. The meridians, like rivers of energy, ensure proper routing of qi or life force throughout the body.

Along the meridians you will find more highly charged energy points, which are called pressure points in English or tsubo in Japanese. This is where the qi is most easily affected. Stimulating different tsubo will correct the energy imbalance.

The Five Elements

According to traditional Chinese medicine, the universe is composed of five elements-Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. The human body is considered a microcosm of the universe, and so is also composed of these Five Elements. Each element is associated with different organs, meridians, and characteristics. For example, the wood element is connected with anger, and a hostile person would be diagnosed as having an imbalance within that element. To alleviate the anger, appropriate meridians would be treated to restore balance.

Effects after Shiatsu Treatment

The immediate effect of treatments differs with each individual. A sense of well-being is common.

Because of the deep relaxation that usually occurs and the stimulus to the major body systems, you may have some healing reactions. Some people feel cold or flu-like symptoms, aches and pains, or headaches after the first treatment. These symptoms typically only last for a day or so and usually subside with each subsequent treatment.

Shiatsu Exercise For Beginners

This Shiatsu exercise incorporates the elements of deep breathing, meditation, sound therapy, and acupressure. 

Sit quietly on the floor, on a cushion or mat. Place one hand on top of the other, over the navel. Clear your mind and concentrate on deep breathing, focusing on a starting point one-and-a-half inches below the navel. This point is known as "ki-kai" or "ocean of energy." Breathe deeply, and slowly breathe out. You may hum a tune as you breathe out. Music has a soothing effect. For more tips on the proper way to breathe in and breathe out, read the section on yoga breathing.

After a few minutes of deep breathing, lean forward onto your hands as you exhale while humming vibrations. Then inhale slowly as you gently straighten the spine and return to your original sitting position. Repeat five times.

Next clasp both hands, so that they interlock in the V's between the index finger and thumb. Press the thumb, leaning in toward the base of the index finger. Hold the pressure for five seconds, release for five seconds.

This simple form of self-shiatsu is believed to help strengthen your Qi.

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Last modified: 08/07/08