Shiatsu - an ancient technique for the 21st century

Shiatsu in Japanese derives from the words finger and pressure. A Shiatsu practitioner is able to deliver a massage that is claimed to improve your well being. Shiatsu massages use a range of contact techniques such as tapping, squeezing and rubbing to stimulate healing in the recipient. The Shiatsu practitioner can utilise Shiatsu to improve joint pain, muscle pain and other problems such as stress

How Does It Work?

Although shiatsu massage has much in common with traditional Chinese medicine, like working in harmony with the energy lines believed to run throughout the body, it’s more closely associated with relaxation in the West. However, the techniques used in shiatsu massage are still based on the theory that manipulating and applying pressure to these energy lines enables life force energy to flow freely through the body and that free-flowing energy is the key to good health

This life force energy-often referred to as chi, qi or ki-is believed to be responsible for maintaining the body’s balance of yin and yang, opposite energies that cannot exist without the other. An imbalance between yin and yang are thought to contribute to the development of any number of health issues or illnesses; this belief system includes the idea that the body’s systems and internal organs are associated with different qualities of yin and yang. Like Thai massage and acupuncture, the primary goal of shiatsu is to maintain the flow of life force energy, so balancing yin and yang

Shiatsu Massage Techniques
Shiatsu massage techniques are similar to Thai massage in that they’re performed while the recipient is positioned on a mat on the floor versus the massage tables used in, for example, Swedish massage. Instead of the long, gliding strokes and superficial muscle stimulation that might come to mind when you think of massage, shiatsu techniques are almost entirely limited to applied pressure and stretching

Shiatsu practitioners use their fingers and thumbs, but may also their knuckles, elbows, knees or even their feet to apply pressure to the area being worked on. Each point where pressure is applied is believed to clear blocked energy and restore the flow so that any areas where energy is lacking are brought back into balance

Although shiatsu is a hands-on method of healing, recipients sometimes experience benefits that go beyond the physical. Some people report intense emotional reactions during or following treatment-reactions like crying, laughing, feeling of intense relief or deep peace. How you react, if you do, will relate to what kind of work you have done and any energy that’s released during the session

Benefits of Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu massage is best known for its relief of stress-related ailments like headaches, back aches and general muscle tension. Stress reduction and relaxation are the main reasons people choose shiatsu massage. Shiatsu techniques can also be directed toward relieving symptoms of specific health conditions; respiratory ailments such as asthma, digestive complaints and chronic conditions like arthritis may be targeted. Proponents of this form of massage say regular treatments promote relaxation, muscle and organ health, and an overall sense of well-being

Getting a Shiatsu Massage

Before your appointment, spend time thinking about your condition and what you expect to achieve with shiatsu. Make some notes before you attend about your expectations and concerns. If you have a few conditions, put them in order so the shiatsu practitioner can address the most severe first. Secondary problems can then be addressed later

It’s advisable not to drink alcohol on the day of your appointment and to drink plenty of water instead. Have a light meal (nothing spicy or fatty) a couple of hours before you see the practitioner as they may apply pressure to your stomach which would prove uncomfortable after a heavy or undigested meal. Avoid any activity that requires too much exertion and don’t take a hot bath on the day of your appointment

A shiatsu massage typically lasts about an hour. When you get a shiatsu massage, it’s recommended that you wear loose-fitting clothes made from natural fibres. You may also be given the option of changing into a robe when you arrive. Shiatsu massage doesn’t incorporate the use of oils, so you’ll remain clothed with the exception of your feet. At the beginning of your session, you may be led through a series of passive or active stretches by the therapist

You may be asked if you have specific results you hope to experience during the massage and your practitioner will adjust or tailor his or her technique to meet those needs. During your session, you’ll be asked periodically to comment on the pressure being applied and any pain or discomfort you’re experiencing

The pressure used during the massage will be localized, that is limited to the specific area being treated. It will be applied in a rhythmic manner and it may vary from gentle to intense. If it becomes painful at any time, tell your therapist and he or she will reduce the amount of pressure. Pressure points are typically held for only a few seconds, though the amount of time pressure is held may vary according to how big the energy block is that therapist perceives

After the treatment, many people feel relaxed and energised with increased mobility in their muscles and joints. There can be mild side effects like headaches, muscle soreness and a feeling of tiredness but this is normal and will usually pass after a few hours. Should they continue beyond a day or two then consult your GP


Treatment times vary and your first appointment will usually take a little longer while the shiatsu practitioner gains an idea of your condition and explains the therapy to you. Expect your first session to last up to an hour and a half. Subsequent sessions will usually be an hour in length with some practitioners offering 30 minute sessions

As a general guide, a first session can cost from £30 - £60 with subsequent sessions slightly lower but be aware that prices vary from town to town and practitioner’s overheads vary so check first before making an appointment. Home visits will usually incur an extra charge

You may find that you feel the benefits of shiatsu from your first treatment and after your first two or three appointments you and your shiatsu practitioner will have a good idea of its effectiveness. It’s recommended that a course last between six and ten treatments but will often be based on your progress. Many people continue with the therapy even when their condition has cleared up

Is it for you?

Shiatsu is a safe and effective therapy when practised by a trained shiatsu practitioner and is widely used for a number of conditions. It’s important to check training and membership to an approved association before making an appointment

Shiatsu is not recommended for people who have just had surgery or have open wounds and skin disorders. Anyone suffering with heart disease or osteoporosis should consult their GP before making an appointment and those with blood clot problems should avoid the therapy as there is a risk of the clot being dislodged

Pregnant women have benefited from the therapy but certain pressure points on the body should be avoided so make sure you find a practitioner who has experience in this area

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