As a certified Shiatsu therapist, I present to you this complete guide to understanding shiatsu massage.
What is Shiatsu Massage?
Shiatsu massage is a type of therapeutic massage originating from Japan. The word “Shiatsu” literally means “finger pressure” in Japanese. It involves the use of finger pressure, as well as other techniques such as stretching, kneading, and tapping, to stimulate pressure points on the body in order to improve the flow of energy (known as “ki” or “qi”) and promote healing.
Shiatsu Massage releases tension, improves circulation, and restores balance using the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which believes that the body contains energy pathways called meridians and energy points called pressure points.
Benefits of Shiatsu Massage
Shiatsu massage therapy has a range of potential benefits for both physical and mental health. Here are some of the most commonly reported benefits:
Relieves stress and promotes relaxation
Shiatsu massage is designed to stimulate the body’s natural healing processes and promote relaxation by improving circulation and reducing tension in muscles and connective tissues.
This study about work stress in health care providers shows that after receiving Shiatsu therapy, stress levels decreased significantly in 60% of individuals, while 90% reported considerable improvement in emotional and physical well-being. The study concludes that Shiatsu therapy can effectively improve the ability to cope with stress and enhance well-being.
Alleviates pain and stiffness
Shiatsu can help relieve pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints, making it a popular choice for individuals with chronic pain conditions.
The results of a lower back pain study showed that shiatsu significantly reduced both pain and anxiety levels over time, and extraneous variables did not affect the results. Participants recommended shiatsu massage for others with lower back pain, and the treatments were found to reduce the major inconveniences associated with the condition.
Boosts immune function
Shiatsu has been shown to stimulate the body’s immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells and other immune factors.
Demonstrating the effectiveness of complementary therapies in improving immunity is challenging due to the complex and dynamic nature of the immune system, individual differences in immune responses, and small sample sizes in studies. Accurately measuring immune function is also difficult. Therefore, more extensive and well-designed studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of these therapies in improving immunity.
Reduces anxiety and depression
Shiatsu therapy has a calming effect on the nervous system, which can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
This study evaluating the efficacy of Shiatsu in treating depression in Alzheimer’s patients found that Shiatsu combined with physical activity was more effective in reducing depression than physical activity alone. The study concluded that Shiatsu is a safe, non-invasive, and cost-effective technique to alleviate depressive symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients, but larger clinical trials are needed to confirm the applicability of the findings to other groups.
It can stimulate the digestive system and help alleviate symptoms of indigestion, constipation, and other digestive issues.
This systematic review aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of Shiatsu and acupressure in treating a range of symptoms, including digestive disorders and bowel trouble. The findings suggest that while more research is needed, the available evidence suggests that Shiatsu may provide benefits for individuals experiencing such conditions.
Enhances mental clarity and focus
Another benefit is that it can help improve mental clarity and focus by reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
This study on shiatsu therapy found that the benefits included immediate and long-term effects such as improvements in symptoms, relaxation, sleep, posture, and body experiences. Negative effects were rare, with clients reporting only a few instances of negative physical or emotional reactions.
Increases energy and vitality
Improves the flow of energy (ki or qi) throughout the body, which can increase overall energy levels and vitality.
This systematic review and meta-analysis evaluating the effects of acupressure on sleep quality found that it can improve sleep quality in adult patients, including elderly and dialysis patients, without adverse effects.
How is Shiatsu Therapy different from regular massages?
Shiatsu massage and regular massage differ in their approach and techniques. Here are some of the main differences:
Focus – Shiatsu massage focuses on stimulating the body’s pressure points and energy meridians to improve energy flow and promote healing. Regular massage, on the other hand, typically focuses on relaxing the muscles and improving circulation.
Techniques – Shiatsu massage uses a variety of techniques, including finger pressure, stretching, and joint mobilization, while regular massage typically involves kneading, rubbing, and other types of pressure. It may also involve the use of the therapist’s elbows, knees, or feet to apply pressure, whereas regular massage is usually performed using the hands. It may also incorporate stretches and other techniques to release tension and promote relaxation.
Client positioning – This japanese technique is often performed with the client lying on a mat or cushion on the floor, whereas regular massage is usually performed on a massage table.
Clothing – Shiatsu is typically performed with the client fully clothed, while regular massage is usually performed with the client undressed and covered with a sheet, towel or blanket.
Benefits – While both types of massage can provide relaxation and relief from tension and pain, shiatsu massage is particularly well-suited for treating certain conditions such as headaches, digestive problems, insomnia and anxiety, while regular massage may be more effective for treating muscle stiffness and improving overall circulation.
It’s worth noting that many massage therapists incorporate elements of shiatsu massage into their regular massage practice, so the two modalities are not necessarily mutually exclusive. However, a trained and certified Shiatsu therapist will have a much deeper knowledge of the theory and techniques of shiatsu.
Shiatsu Massage Techniques you can do at home
While shiatsu is typically performed by a trained therapist, there are some simple techniques that you can do at home to help relieve tension and promote relaxation. Here are a few examples:
- Pressure points: Shiatsu massage is based on the concept of pressure points, or specific areas on the body that correspond to different organs and systems. You can try using your fingers to apply pressure to these points to help relieve tension and promote relaxation. Some common pressure points include the base of the skull, the temples, and the webbing between the thumb and index finger.
- Palm and finger presses: Another simple shiatsu technique you can try at home is palm and finger presses. Using your palms or fingers, apply gentle pressure to different areas of the body, such as the back, legs, or feet. Hold the pressure for a few seconds, then release.
- Kneading: Kneading is a common massage technique that can be used in shiatsu massage as well. Using your fingers or palms, gently knead the muscles in a circular motion to help release tension and promote relaxation.
- Stretching: Shiatsu massage often incorporates stretching to help improve flexibility and range of motion. You can try some simple stretches at home, such as gently pulling your knee towards your chest or reaching your arms overhead and stretching your whole body.
- Foot massage: Foot massage is an important part of shiatsu massage, as the feet contain many pressure points that correspond to different organs and systems in the body. You can try using your fingers or a small ball to massage the soles of your feet, paying attention to any areas that feel particularly tense or sore.
Remember to listen to your body and work within your own comfort level. If you have any underlying medical conditions or concerns, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider before trying any new massage techniques at home.
Frequently Ask Questions
How does Shiatsu massage work?
Shiatsu massage works by applying pressure to specific points on the body, known as acupressure points, which are believed to correspond to different organs and systems within the body. By stimulating these points, the therapist can help to balance the flow of energy and improve overall health and well-being.
What can I expect during a Shiatsu massage session?
During a Shiatsu massage session, you will typically remain fully clothed and lie down on a mat or massage table. The therapist will then apply pressure to specific points on your body, using their fingers, thumbs, palms, elbows, and even their feet. They may also use stretching and other techniques to help improve your flexibility and range of motion.
Is Shiatsu massage painful?
Shiatsu massage should not be painful, although you may experience some discomfort or sensitivity as the therapist applies pressure to certain points on your body. It is important to communicate with your therapist throughout the session to ensure that the pressure is comfortable for you.
Who can benefit from Shiatsu massage?
Shiatsu massage is generally safe and beneficial for most people, although it may not be suitable for individuals with certain health conditions or injuries. It is best to consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any new form of therapy.
How often should I receive Shiatsu massage?
The frequency of Shiatsu massage sessions can vary depending on your individual needs and goals. Some people may benefit from weekly sessions, while others may only need occasional treatments. It is best to discuss your options with your therapist to determine the best course of treatment for you.
What is Japanese Shiatsu massage?
Japanese Shiatsu massage is a form of massage therapy that originated in Japan based on Traditional Chinese Medicine principles. It applies pressure to energy channels or meridians to relax and balance energy, reduce stress, and treat conditions such as back pain and headaches.
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Cohen, R., et al. "Management of work stress in health care providers at the haematology division using Shiatsu (alternative treatment approach)." Bone Marrow Transplantation, vol. 43, no. S1, Mar. 2009, p. S324. link.gale.com/apps/doc/A198170851/AONE?u=null&sid=googleScholar.
Brady LH, Henry K, Luth JF, Casper-Bruett KK. The Effects of Shiatsu on Lower Back Pain. Journal of Holistic Nursing. 2001;19(1):57-70. doi:10.1177/089801010101900106 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/089801010101900106
Lanza, G., Centonze, S. S., Destro, G., Vella, V., Bellomo, M., Pennisi, M., Bella, R., & Ciavardelli, D. (2018). Shiatsu as an adjuvant therapy for depression in patients with Alzheimer's disease: A pilot study. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 38, 74-78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2018.04.013
Robinson, N., Lorenc, A., & Liao, X. (2011). The evidence for Shiatsu: a systematic review of Shiatsu and acupressure. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 11(1), 88. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-11-88
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Waits A, Tang YR, Cheng HM, Tai CJ, Chien LY. Acupressure effect on sleep quality: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med Rev. 2018 Feb;37:24-34. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2016.12.004. Epub 2016 Dec 22. PMID: 28089414. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28089414/