The Practice of Shiatsu

I recently came across this book “The Practice of Shiatsu” by Sandra K Anderson. I had been asked to describe Shiatsu to a person who has never heard of it before… Something I literally do every single day.

But as this was for a newspaper, I thought I would do a little research and see how others describe it.
I found this book and whilst quite lengthy, I thought perhaps some of you might be interested in understanding a little more about this amazing craft.


What is Shiatsu?
Exert from the above mentioned book

Shiatsu is a wonderful and unique type of body work.
It was born of the human need to touch others and to make others feel better by being touched.
It grew out of the ancient connection of human beings to the earth, to the universe, and to each other. It combines art and science, theory and practice, strength and softness, intellect and intuition.
It is about supporting and it is about letting go, and knowing when to do which.
Shiatsu can be performed as a dance, and like any dance done well, many hours of study and practice go into making it look and feel effortless.

Shiatsu is a relatively young body work practice. Its roots, however, extend deep into the millennia of traditional Chinese medicine. It’s techniques come from systems developed by common folk, Imperial physicians, blind practitioners, and physicians for the samurai.
Having learned these historical techniques, contemporary practitioners also combined their own unique methods and ideas. The beauty of Shiatsu is its ability to retain foundational principles and evolve at the same time. Although it is of the past, it is also a living bodywork form that adapts, changes, and grows.
Although it does have certain elements in common with western massage therapy and many other types of body work, Shiatsu should not be mistaken for massage.
Occasionally the term “Shiatsu massage” is used, which is in reality a combination of two different types of bodywork.
Western massage therapy is based in western views of the body – namely the scientific study of anatomy, physiology and kinesiology. The massage practitioner assesses the clients physical needs by observing, listening to the client, palpating soft tissue, and performing active and passive stretches with the client. Massage therapy typically is performed on massage table, with the clothes removed and the client draped by sheets…
…Techniques are performed, physical manipulation of the clients body to increase blood flow into tissues, release muscle tension and elongate the fascia around the muscles…

Modern Shiatsu includes knowledge of western sciences but has a foundation in ancient Asian medicine; certain types of shiatsu also incorporate Asian philosophies.
The basis of Shiatsu is the concept that the clients “energy”, which can be thought of as vitality or vigour, is out of balance in someway, resulting in pain, discomfort, or other disorders.
The goal of Shiatsu is to help re-balance the clients energy and alleviate discomfort.
To assist the clients needs, the shiatsu practitioner observes, listens, palpates the client, and uses intuition.
Shiatsu typically is performed on the futon on the floor, with the client wearing comfortable, loose fitting clothes. The shiatsu practitioner uses palpation, physical manipulation techniques, stretches and a range of motion movement to equilibriate the clients energy and to assist moving it more evenly through the clients body.
…The practitioner strength comes from the centre of their body, their Hara (belly and hips) and is transmitted out through the extremities.

Shiatsu is a Japanese form of body work and such embodies and reflects the culture of Japan. It is firmly rooted in tradition yet is constantly melding and reinventing as new ideas, methods, and viewpoints are encounted.
The ability to be both flexible and unyielding has enabled Japan to survive and flourish for thousands of years. This uniqueness of Japan is the same uniqueness of Shiatsu.
Like all bodywork therapies, Shiatsu has a rich and interesting history.
As in all bodywork therapies, it developed from an accumulation of knowledge, experience, expertise, and trial and error.
The result is interesting compilation of principles that may seem to contradict each other. However, as in the general culture of Japan, the dichotomies of Shiatsu are it’s strengths. They provide the framework for the flexibility necessary to perform Shiatsu successfully.
The seeming contradictions of Shiatsu can be seen even in its definition. In Japanese, shi means finger and atsu means pressure, so Shiatsu is literally “finger pressure”.
However this definition is overly simplistic. The implication is that all a practitioner needs to do to perform Shiatsu is press their fingers on to another person’s body, which is not the case.
Shiatsu treatment involves physicality but practitioners use their intuition as well. In fact the physical movements practitioners use are guided by their perceptions and insights gained through trusting their intuition…


This is only a small section of the distinction of Shiatsu from other body therapies.
I hope it provides you with just a little more insight into the connectivity and special-ness of Shiatsu

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