What is Shiatsu?

Shiatsu is a form of bodywork that helps encourage health by restoring the free flow of Qi. A shiatsu treatment will probably include some stretching, joint rotations and some static pressure applied with the thumbs, palms, elbows or knees. It can feel a bit like having yoga done to you, or a bit like acupuncture without needles. Someone watching a shiatsu treatment would probably not see very much - some leaning, some pressing, a gentle stretch. However, the apparent simplicity belies shiatsu's effects on the recipient.

Zen Shiatsu (the style we practice) also places great emphasis on the practitioner moving from their hara and "listening" to the recipient's body so that just enough pressure or stretch is applied to release tension, re-align the body and encourage free flow of Qi.

Shiatsu can help with a wide variety of complaints including backache, stiff shoulders, repetitive strain injury, migraines, insomnia, depression, low energy, menstrual problems and digestive problems.

Shiatsu can greatly improve your quality of life by relieving stress and pain, increasing flexibility and strengthening the body. It is deeply relaxing and people usually go away from a treatment feeling calmer and more centred.

Where does shiatsu come from?

Shiatsu literally means "finger pressure" and originated in Japan and is often thought to be based on Tuina (Chinese massage that is usually taught alongside acupuncture). As a result, Shiatsu uses the same Meridians and acupuncture points that exist in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The term shiatsu is said to have been coined by a man named Tenpeki Tamai who published one of the first books on shiatsu called "Shiatsu Ho". The term was later borrowed by Tokujiro Namikoshi who established the first association for shiatsu now known as the Japan Shiatsu Association.

Shizuto Masunaga was a psychology lecturer at Kyoto University who studied shiatsu at the Japan Shiatsu Association and went on to formulate his own system of shiatsu which is called Zen Shiatsu. This is the style of shiatsu we practice. Zen Shiatsu is characterised by its use of hara diagnosis and the concept of treating the whole meridian pathway rather than just specific acupuncture points. Masunaga spent a lot of time researching older manuals of Chinese Medicine, and his expression of shiatsu is an attempt to return to the Traditional Chinese Medicine roots of the art.

One of the key points of Zen Shiatsu is to always move from the hara (much like in tai chi), and to use as little force as possible to encourage the body back to harmony. In fact, Zen Shiatsu practitioners often talk about applying pressure rather than force; we lean into a point, using relaxed body structure and gravity. The aim is never to force our way through tension or pain, but to gently allow the body to return to a more relaxed, re-aligned state. To be truly effective, the Zen Shiatsu practitioner has to be relaxed themselves, and this can really be felt in the treatment. Recipients of Zen Shiatsu often remark that it feels very calming and harmonious, like the treatment worked with their body rather than against it. This is one of shiatsu's great strengths.

What are shiatsu treatments like?

Shiatsu treatments are deeply relaxing. Treatments are received fully clothed, usually while lying or sitting on a futon. One of the great things about a shiatsu treatment is that no two are ever the same. Typically, though, there will be some stretching, joint rotations and various massage techniques ranging from very gentle pressure through to more vigorous bodywork. The practitioner will use a combination of hands, fingers, elbows, knees and feet — shiatsu uses the whole body to treat the whole body!

Shiatsu treatments usually last about forty-five minutes and a booking is one hour long, although the first one may take a little longer. Please wear loose, long-sleeved, comfortable clothes with socks for your treatment. No oils are used.

Can shiatsu help me?

Shiatsu can help many conditions from stress to muscular skeletal complaints to emotional problems to chronic fatigue! Many people find it provides them with valuable "me time" in their busy schedules: a time and place where they can take stock of themselves.

Some common conditions that shiatsu can help to treat are:

Shiatsu has a rich history and draws much of its theory from traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture. In fact some people regard it as acupuncture without the needles! To learn a little more about the theory behind shiatsu, read our sections on Yin and Yang, Meridians or The Five Elements.