by Nick Lakoff, CMT
Today in the Western world there is a movement promoting the return of a preventative approach to health rather than a reactionary one that relies heavily on pharmacologically based Western or Modern Medicine. Massage has been one of the complementary approaches to health that has gained some of the greatest acceptance with the general public. Other than Swedish (Classical) massage there are a number of wonderful styles of massages from around the world that are worth trying out. One of my favorites is definitely Shiatsu massage.
Modern Shiatsu evolved from traditional Japanese massage called Amma (Which the Japanese spell Anma since the n is silent). There are varying opinions but as far as most historians can tell, Amma techniques were imported to Japan from China in the Nara Period (710-793 CE) by way of the Korean Peninsula. Historical documentation being incomplete at best, Anma or Amma seems to have evolved from the massage component of Traditional Chinese Medicine called Anmo, (Chinese for “to calm by rubbing”). The word Shiatsu, meaning “Finger pressure” in Japanese had been in use related to massage in prior historical periods in Japan but are were not related to the system of modern Shiatsu elaborated by Tokujiro Namikoshi who established the first Shiatsu College in Tokyo in 1940. After the surrender of Japan at the end of WWII, General Douglas MacArthur (Supreme Commander Allied Powers) had orders from President Truman to lead Japans reconstruction and bring it firmly into the 20th Century. In an effort to break with the past and favor Western medical practices, General MacArthur banned the practice of traditional Japanese healing arts of Kempo, Amma and Shiatsu among others. This decision was later reversed by President Truman after Helen Keller brought to his attention the rash of suicides within the ranks of former healing arts practitioners in Japan. In 1957 Namikoshi’s Shiatsu College was officially certified by the Japanese government and in 1964 it was officially recognized as a separate massage style from Amma. Because of Namikoshi and his son Toru bringing Shiatsu to the US in the early 1950’s, it is today the most recognized form of Japanese massage around the world. Many offshoot of Shiatsu have developed since then including; Amma Shiatsu, Zen Shiatsu, Barefoot Shiatsu and Ohashiatsu.
Shiatsu is an acupressure massage that uses pressure points based on acupressure points (Tsubos) and meridians (energy lines). Pressure is applied using thumbs, finger tips, heel of the palm, forearm, elbows, knees and feet along the meridian energy lines in the body. Some forms of Shiatsu include stretching and other massage techniques such as brushing, kneading, rolling/pressing and rubbing. Shiatsu is usually performed on the floor on Tatami mats or a padded floor mat akin to a thick padded comforter. There are normally no gels, oils or creams used with this style of massage. Shiatsu can be adapted for work on a table but the practitioner is limited in what they can do compared to doing floor work. You are fully clothed but shoes and often socks are removed when receiving the massage. It is recommended that you wear flexible pants such as sweat pants so the practitioner may move you with greater ease and avoid over stretching your clothing. If your clothes are too tight some maneuvers cannot be performed. It is also recommended that women not wear a bra for this massage for the same reasons.
This type of massage is excellent when you are looking to get a boost of energy from being run down. You can also seek a Shiatsu massage for relief of therapeutic issues such as headaches, injuries, back and muscle pain and chronic illness such as arthritis for example. One of the aspects I most enjoy with Shiatsu is the pressure used skillfully by the practitioner using weight transfer and stretches that are choreographed in their routine. Generally you arise from this massage refreshed, alert, your body tingling with new and vibrant energy.