What is Shiatsu

Shiatsu is an oriental form of bodywork, which is based on Japanese massage therapy traditions. Shiatsu integrates Chinese medicine theory and Japanese practice with western physiology and anatomy.

Shiatsu was developed in Japan from the techniques of anma, a traditional Japanese massage, which in it’s origins was practised by blind people. Shiatsu merges the western knowledge of anatomy with anma, ampuku (Japanese abdominal massage), acupressure, and Do-In (Japanese breathing and stretching practices).
Shiatsu massage, which deals with alleviating various physical and emotional ailments by working on pressure points, is the counterpart to the Chinese method of acupressure.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) System is based on the concept of ‘Chi’ or in Japanese ‘Ki’, which is energy that flows through the body along various channels, called meridians.

The word ‘Shiatsu’ comes from the Japanese words ‘shi’, which means finger and ‘atsu’, which means pressure. This pressure is created by the practitioners body weight through fingers, thumbs, elbows, forearms, feet and knees in contact with the recipients body.

Shiatsu Principles

As a healing therapy it is based upon acupuncture principles, focusing on clearing the meridian system of blockages to improve well-being.
Acupressure points, which are located just under the skin and along the meridians, are tiny energy structures that affect the flow of ki through the body. When out of balance, ki either stagnates and becomes deflected or accumulates in excess along one of these channels. Stimulation to these points, which are sensitive to pressure, can unblock and regulate the ki flow through toning (activating) or sedative (calming) treatment.

Jitsu and Kyo

Shiatsu practitioners have learned to feel excessive (Jitsu) or deficient (Kyo) energy within the meridians as they control the movement of blood and ki in the body.
A point or an area of Kyo energy, which has the qualities of yin, soft, yielding, empty, cold and resistant, asks to be tonified. Whereas an area or point of jitsu, with it’s hard, tense, yang, out-ward, hot, resilient qualities, wants to be dispersed or sedated where it is in abundance. These physical qualities of Kjo and Jitsu show the shiatsu practitioner the amount of energy present at a particular point.


Shiatsu combines assisted stretching techniques, joint rotation and manipulation and acupressure to restore ki, or energy balance in the body. Through the application of pressure and stretching techniques shiatsu relieves muscle tension, eases joint stiffness and realigns the structure of the body.
Within a Shiatsu treatment the applied pressure may be deep and sensitive and sustained for periods of time. Stroking, holding, rubbing, heating and stretching techniques are used as well. Mostly the full body, including the front, sides and back, is incorporated into the treatment and position changes within the session are common.


Shiatsu works on the hara, which refers to the abdomen, belly – the area around and below our navel. Taoists call the hara ‘the sea of energy’. Within the martial arts and in meditational practices hara is better known as ‘dan tien’. The hara is the centre of the ki body, the entrance to our personal ocean of ki or life-force.
A strong and powerful hara should be soft and relaxed above the navel, and full and firm below it. Most people are sensitive around the hara area. It is seen and experienced by most as a personal area which is seldom touched. Our physical or energetic body likes to be touched.
Touch through Shiatsu allows us to feel our selves and to be there for one another, so change may arise naturally.

Shiatsu is centering. It is an act of mindfulness, balancing guidance, physical, emotional and energetic movement with space to listen and to create self awareness.

History of Shiatsu

The development of Shiatsu Styles

Shiatsu is an offshoot of anma, a traditional Japanese massage, which was brought to Japan from China about AD 710 to 794. In China it was then known as Tui Na. Anma was to be practised, for some time, solely by the blind and is based on a kneading technique rather then applying pressure as in Shiatsu. Many of the techniques of anma like kneading, rubbing, tapping and shaking were integrated into Shiatsu and western massage.
During the 20th century Shiatsu distinguished itself from Anma through it’s merging with the western knowledge of anatomy, ampuku (Japanese abdominal massage), acupressure, and Do-In techniques. Do-In exercises are techniques to stretch the meridians as well as breathing techniques, which can be practised independently.
Tamai Tempaku first used the term Shiatsu with the attempt to provide some scientific relevance and to distinguish Shiatsu from other oriental therapies.
One of his students was Tokujiro Namikoshi who was also trained in western medicine and who developed his own style of Shiatsu. 1925 Namikoshi founded the first Shiatsu school in Japan. Today the Namikoshi style is Japan’s most widely practised shiatsu style. Namikoshi Shiatsu has more of a scientific approach than other Shiatsu styles and is more focussed on the stimulation of acupressure points as opposed to stretching and joint manipulation.
Due to Namikoshi’s influence, Shiatsu was officially recognised as a therapy by the Japanese Government in 1964.
Shizuto Masunaga, the son of a teacher at Namikoshi’s School for Shiatsu, developed what is now known as Zen Shiatsu. Masunaga was a professor of psychology at Tokyo University. In the 1970’s he combined his understanding of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and psychology with conventional Shiatsu (Namikoshi style) and brought Zen Shiatsu to the United States.
Since Masunaga brought Shiatsu to the west, several different Shiatsu styles have developed and are being practised around the world.
Some of the Shiatsu styles today are barefoot (macrobiotic) Shiatsu, Namikoshi Shiatsu (or Nippon Shiatsu), Zen Shiatsu, Ohashiatsu, Quantum Shiatsu, Tao Shiatsu, Tsubo Therapy and Watsu (Shiatsu in the water).

Namikoshi Shiatsu (or Nippon Shiatsu)

Emphasis more on points than on energy channels, includes stretches and can be quite vigorous. Additional focus is on the anatomical structure of the body, the muscles and bones and the nervous system.

Zen Shiatsu (by Masunaga)

Reintroduces more traditional roots of Shiatsu, includes energy channels (meridians) and the Five Element Theory. The meridians can be worked on strong or gentle.
It strives to maintain a meditative, intuitive state, that allows to connect deeply.
Client and practitioner can use Zen Shiatsu for growth of their own personal development, mentally and physically. Master Masunaga modified and extended the traditional meridian system and those extended meridians are called Zen extensions. He also developed the Makko-Ho stretching excerises to help to correct imbalances in the ki-flow and to strenghten the internal organs.

Ohashiatsu (by master Ohashi)

It is a method of healing touch, meditation and self-development, for giver and receiver. It was orignally developed to keep the ‘givers body’ healthy, more relaxed and therefore it could be more comfortable for the receiver.
Ohashiatsu is like an energetic dance between Shiatsu practitioner and recipient. It combines hands-on touch techniques, limb rotations and stretches.

Tsubo Shiatsu

Tsubo Shiatsu was developed by Katsusuke Serizawa, who focused his studies more on acupoints (in japanese called Tsubos) and their scientific physical relevance. Today Tsubo Shiatsu is better known as Acupressure.

Barefoot (macrobiotic) Shiatsu

Is a style of shiatsu that incorporates barefoot techniques to apply pressure or to stretch the body with the help of the feet. It combines those techniques with the macrobiotic (means ‘long-life’) diet which is a plant based diet, with a little fish or meat sometimes, and seasoning, locally grown and organic vegetables. The macrobiotic diet is a low-fat, high fiber diet and emphasizes in eating whole grains and vegetables and is rich in phyto-estrogens from soy products. Diet practices are eating slowly and chewing thoroughly. Foods are paired on their sour, sharp, salty, sweet or bitter characteristics.

Tao Shiatsu

Tao Shiatsu founded by Ryokyu Endo takes traditional Shiatsu principles and adds new methodology and modern beliefs to integrate Shiatsu practice into 21st century lifestyle.

Quantum Shiatsu

Is based on the work of Pauline Sasaki who was trained by Masunaga and Akinobu Kishi. Her approach in Shiatsu is on the energetic body, though the physical body forms its core. Quantum Shiatsu goes a step further than Chinese Medicine, and incorporates concepts from Quantum physics. Our physical body can work as ‘ an expanding and contracting field of energetic vibrations’. And the energy around us can be infused back into our physical body. It incorporates meridians, pressure points and chakras.

Watsu (Shiatsu in the water)

Named by Harold Dull 1980 who studied Shiatsu in Japan. The weightlessness of water and a body being moved in it, allows the spine to loosen up and to be moved differently. The muscles of the body can be stretched more easily and flexibility can be improved.

Benefits of Shiatsu

Shiatsu is a deeply relaxing experience, that brings awareness to your whole body and your mind. Shiatsu reconnects you with your breath.
Through a Shiatsu treatment and the applied pressure on the meridians, stagnant energy is moved and energy blocks cleared, which can bring the body back into balance.

Clients who come with specific ailments like chronic back or joint pain, may feel relief of symptoms for 2-4 days after only one Shiatsu session. But it is recommended for chronic conditions to come weekly for an agreed period of time, to give the body the chance to feel pain free longer. Conditions that have developed over a period of months to years, will need time to show a stable improvement. This is best achieved through repeated treatments and self care.
Clients with acute conditions may find relief after just a few treatments. From the beginning of a Shiatsu treatment immediate positive effects should be noticeable.

After a Shiatsu treatment physical flare-ups such as muscular soreness or tiredness are possible too and can last from a couple of hours to two days before improvements occur. Unexpected reactions such as headaches or heavy menstrual flow may be part of a so called ‘healing crisis’ which can appear as tensions or imbalances work their way out of your body. If such symptoms last longer than 48 hours, please inform your Shiatsu practitioner.

Individually created treatment plans, including lifestyle changes, diet recommendations, daily body exercises and possible herbal supplementation, can be put together when working on specific symptoms, ailments or health goals.

Shiatsu can be positive for people with depression. Regular Shiatsu treatments can lead to a state of being where body and mind are integrated and supported. The mind can become the observer of perceptions, sensations, thoughts and feelings. In this way Shiatsu can support emotional, mental and spiritual health and healing.

Conditions that respond well to Shiatsu include:

  • back-and neck pain
  • sciatica
  • shoulder tension or old injuries
  • stiffness of the joints (Arthritis)
  • muscle pain (Fibromyalgia)
  • insomnia
  • anxiety & depression
  • low energy
  • fatigue
  • headaches and migraines
  • OOS (occupational overuse syndrome),
  • premenstrual and menopausal problems
  • pregnancy (pre-/postnatal) – during conception/IVF treatment
  • digestion / irritable bowel syndrome

Shiatsu is great in pregnancy and can help the mother with overall stamina, promote relaxation and help relieve the common symptoms that often occur, such as morning sickness, lower back pain, sciatica, leg pain, constipation, heartburn, bloating and swelling. Shiatsu can be very positive for the mother child relationship before and after birth and may let you cope better with the birthing process and help reduce the pain during labour.

Treatment positions and areas being treated are flexible, safe and beneficial, and it is ensured that you are comfortable at all times. Shiatsu can also be used to stimulate labour, if certain points are treated.

Regular Shiatsu treatments fortnightly or monthly can improve your self awareness, energy levels, reduce pain, keep you in a physically and emotionally balanced state. Regular Shiatsu can be an integrated part of your health maintenance programme.

Shiatsu Treatment

Before and during a Shiatsu treatment the ki flow is diagnosed through the pulse, tongue and examination of hara or the back. Questions about specific ailments or diet choices may be addressed before and after the treatment.

A Shiatsu treatment takes place on a futon (Japanese mattress) on the floor. During a Shiatsu treatment you are fully clothed and the Shiatsu room is warm, which allows you to deepen your experience. You are massaged through your clothes and without the use of oils.

Within the Shiatsu treatment bolsters, blankets or scarves might be used to prop your body up, keep you warm, cover your eyes or to hold your body.

Learn Shiatsu