Japanese Shiatsu Massage

Though the roots of Shiatsu massage go back centuries, the practice first became widely popular around the beginning of the 20th century. Then in 1940, the Shiatsu style of massage got a big boost with the founding of the Japan Shiatsu College.

Shiatsu differs from traditional Western (typically Swedish) massage in its emphasis on focused pressure, rather than the long strokes of Swedish massage. In Shiatsu, the fingers and palms apply pressure to specific sections of the body, concentrating on one part at a time. Eventually, the whole of the body can be covered, but a good Shiatsu will take a long time to complete.

Though, as with many forms of massage therapy, the theory is dubious – emphasizing ‘energy’ points, ‘imbalances’ and so forth for which there is no scientific evidence – there’s no question that Shiatsu has a healing effect. A good Shiatsu practitioner can make a client feel relaxed, relieved of stress and full of genuine energy.

The way this is achieved is sound enough. The skilled Shiatsu massage therapist detects stiffness and other muscle and joint problems, then applies pressure to those areas. Experience is required to do it correctly, since excessive pressure can do more harm than good. But with training, most therapists will achieve this level.

There are several variations on the practice, most coming under the heading of acupressure. Jin Shin Jyutsu, for example, is based on the theory that pressure can change the direction of energy flowing through the body. Here again the theory is without foundation, but the practice has real benefits. Using a light touch, held for several minutes, knotted muscles can be stimulated to release.

When a muscle tenses, it can go too far. It can tense up to the point of causing pain. This is a form of ‘protection’ in which the muscle proteins ‘clamp together’ to reduce additional movement that would cause further injury. Loosening that ‘knot’ helps the muscle regain a healthful state.

Focusing pressure, using the thumb, finger tips and palms on specific areas can loosen stiff muscles, limber joints and stimulate good circulation. All those have real, positive health effects.

There is ample evidence to show that increased blood flow, decreased muscle tension and proper joint movement have actual health benefits. Those suffering from arthritis, tendonitis and even just ordinary muscle ache commonly report feeling better after a good Shiatsu session. Nothing could be clearer proof than that.

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