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Holistic Health: The Basics of Zen Shiatsu Massage

Updated on July 5, 2011


The massage technique known as Shiatsu, though only now becoming popular, has in fact been in existence for a century. After the Japanese developed it based on thousands of years of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shiatsu was first brought to the United States in the early 1970's, and is fast becoming a force to rival the more traditionally popular Swedish modality. Three schools of Shiatsu were founded: that of Namikoshi (who used Western anatomy and terms to describe the method), that of Serizawa (who did not include much softening or energy work, but stuck to certain "tsubo" points), and that of Masunaga (who gives what we would consider the most holistic and complete view of Shiatsu practice and theory, as we have learned it).


The word Shiatsu comes from the Japanese for "finger pressure", describing the characterizing method of sinking into specific points on the back, neck, and limbs with fingertips, thumbs, or elbows, synchronized with the client's breath. In addition to this point work, done along the energy pathways or "meridians" in the body, Shiatsu also utilizes softening strokes (applying pressure with a soft fist or palm, pressing muscle tissue away from bone), percussion (rhythmic beating, hacking, cupping, pillowing or chopping), assisted stretches, joint mobilization and passive range of motion exercises (where the therapist bears the weight of the client's relaxed limb). No lubrication is needed, as the whole massage is performed on a fully-clothed client, either on the floor or a mat (though adaptations for less mobile clients may be done on a chair or massage table as well).

A Basic Tutorial


In the past there have been skeptics about the benefits of Shiatsu, a more mystic approach to massage, verses those of Swedish, which is based completely on Western medicine. Holistic health practitioners have long maintained that this type of treatment increases one's sense of well-being, balances energy, or "chi" in the body, and helps in the prevention of disease by maintaining the even flow of this chi. However, Shiatsu is quickly becoming widely accepted as a modality that yields wonderful physical results, including increased circulation, decreased pain and tension, increased range of motion, and aid in flushing out of toxins and metabolic waste, as well as the alleviation of such conditions as sinus congestion or chronic headaches.

There is no controversy over the fact that Shiatsu decreases stress levels. Recipients commonly report an intense feeling of relaxation, while at the same time becoming more invigorated and refreshed. In the end, however, the most convincing reason to get a Shiatsu massage is not one of the benefits above, but much simpler: it just plain feels good.


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    • restrelax profile image


      9 years ago from Los angeles CA

      Great stuff regarding massage. keep on sharing.

    • SamboRambo profile image

      Samuel E. Richardson 

      10 years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah

      I'm going to check this out thanks for writing it.

    • profile image

      Massage Therapist 

      11 years ago

      Thanks for this post! It is very informative! I really want to go get a shiatsu massage now.




    • massagetherapy profile image


      13 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      Yeah, I've only had 1 shiatsu massage and I experienced similar benefits.

      My neck and shoulders felt so loose after the session and my entire body felt like it had a warm glow.

      Gee, that was many years ago now. I should go and book in for another one.

      Hmmm, what was that practitioner's name?

      Anyway, another great hub Maddie!

    • Jewels profile image


      14 years ago from Australia

      I've experienced shiatsu massage and it was fabulous. Deep blocks in my energy were released as a result. I would make sure the practitioner was very reputable and knew what he/she was doing.

      I will definitely go back for more.

    • mailboxmoney profile image


      14 years ago from SPAIN

      thanks for this tutorial and explanation of shiatsu massage i'll be linking to it and using it in a holisitic therapy and massage post on my blog at


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