Shiatsu Massage – A Truly Holistic Approach

Are you intrigued by holistic therapies, but aren’t sure where to begin? Do you want a massage that realigns your spirit along with your body? Shiatsu, a Japanese form of bodywork based in traditional Chinese medicine, may be the right choice for you.

What is Shiatsu massage?

“Shiatsu” literally translates to “finger pressure” in Japanese. It is term used to denote both a specific type of massage and a general approach to physical therapy. A Shiatsu practitioner uses gentle manipulation, pressure, and touch to correct energy imbalances in their client’s body.

The underlying principle guiding Shiatsu is that life force (or “qi”) flows through every human body. This force is made up of yin and yang components. When a person’s qi flows smoothly, unimpeded by blockages or depletion, they will be in good health. If the qi is disrupted or becomes stagnant, the inevitable result is mental or physical symptoms.

The body’s natural energy pathways are known as “meridians.” According to this paradigm, applying pressure to certain points on the body can treat mental and physical ailments. This is because acupressure unblocks meridians and promotes the flow of qi. Practitioners are trained to manipulate over 150 pressure points.

According to the Shiatsu Society, Shiatsu was formally recognized as a form of therapy in 1964 by the Japanese Government. However, it has a long history. Its roots are in traditional Chinese medicine, which has been practiced for over 2,000 years. Western societies have practiced Shiatsu since the 1970s. Western practitioners study both Western and Oriental medicine.

What are the benefits of Shiatsu massage?

Shiatsu is a deeply relaxing treatment that quickly induces a feeling of wellbeing. It is therefore perfect for anyone suffering from stress, anxiety, or depression. The treatment is energizing and uplifting yet also promotes sound sleep.

Shiatsu is also a powerful form of pain relief. A study published in the World Journal of Plastic Surgery concluded that Shiatsu massage benefits burn patients. Specifically, 20-minute leg and hand massages significantly reduce levels of pain.

Other research shows that Shiatsu is an effective remedy for lower back pain. In an American study of 66 patients, 65 said they would recommend the treatment to others. Shiatsu relieves muscle ache and lowers pain by eliminating spasms and tension. Pressing on acupressure points and rubbing muscles leads to quick, drug-free relief.

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It is a great treatment for migraines, as it enhances blood circulation. Shiatsu is also fantastic for women suffering from severe menstrual cramps. Restoring healthy energy flow and muscle function results in easier menstruation and better hormone balance. Shiatsu massage promotes good immune functioning, reducing the likelihood of infections.

Finally, this treatment benefits the digestive system. It promotes easier absorption of nutrients, which leads to better all-round health. Massage stimulates the intestines and colon, so can also alleviate constipation and flatulence.

The techniques used by Shiatsu massage therapists

Abdominal diagnosis

At the start of a session, the therapist will gently palpate the client’s abdomen. This is to locate any imbalances and blockages in the body. This is a complex process, with temperature, muscle tension, and various other factors all informing diagnosis. This is also known as “Hara” diagnosis.

In this video, you can see a demonstration of abdominal diagnosis, and a few basic shiatsu techniques:

Application of pressure

Therapists rely primary on their fingers and palms to apply pressure. However, they might also use their elbows, knees, or feet. They may simply press down on the skin, or use grabbing, rolling, tapping, and kneading movements. Therapists use their bodyweight rather than physical strength to generate pressure.

Assisted stretching and joint rotation

Stretching the muscles alleviates tension. A practitioner will often extend or flex joints or major muscles to sooth aches and pains. They will gently move their client’s body into yoga positions that target affected muscles.

Synchronized breathing

Shiatsu practitioners believe that a strong energetic connection between client and therapist makes for a more effective treatment. They make a conscious effort to inhale and exhale along with their clients.

What you can expect from a Shiatsu massage session

Your therapist will begin by taking a brief medical history. They will explain the rationale behind Shiatsu treatment, outlining the role of qi and the meridian pathways. Following abdominal diagnosis, they will begin working on restoring your energy balance. Therapists do not provide medical diagnoses; instead, they talk in terms of blocked or stagnant qi in the body.

You will not be asked to remove your clothes for a Shiatsu massage. The treatment is usually give on the floor rather than a table. Your therapist might support your ankles, pelvis, or other parts of your body with foam blocks or rollers. Depending on the area to be treated, you might be asked to lie on your front, back, or side. This type of massage does not use oils.

Depending on your needs and your therapist’s preferred style of working, the session could feel relaxing, invigorating, or somewhere in between. For example, some therapists prefer to use the lightest possible amount of pressure whereas others provide a more intense experience.

Sessions usually last around an hour and cost approximately $60-$120. Wear comfortable, loose clothes that allow you complete freedom of movement. Shiatsu can be used as a preventative treatment, and some people have regular sessions. On the other hand, if you have a specific problem, a few treatments will be sufficient.

Is Shiatsu safe?

Shiatsu is safe for most people with a few exceptions. You should not receive a Shiatsu treatment if you are in the first trimester of pregnancy or have recently undergone surgery. People with breaks and sprains and those who have recently undergone radiation therapy should also avoid it.

Your therapist might request that you gain medical clearance prior to your first session. The treatment is non-invasive and causes no side-effects. Complementary therapies like Shiatsu can also work well in conjunction with standard Western treatments. If you would like to try a safe, flexible, holistic approach to wellbeing, make a Shiatsu appointment today.


Carmen is an entrepreneur and content marketer. In a former life, as a corporate business executive, she relied on yoga, reflexology and other alternative practices to fight stress, anxiety and find balance. She’s on a mission to build healthy habits for a balanced, healthy life, connecting body, mind and spirit.