What is Shiatsu? It’s a form of bodywork that originated from Japan and that consists of the combination of a Chinese massage called Anma and more modern physical manipulation techniques. The goal of a shiatsu session is to heal through touch. Its essence is inspired by traditional oriental knowledge and the modern western manipulation techniques are there to “formalize” a bit more the session.

On a smaller scale, it can be used locally to relieve some temporary or chronic localized pains such as in feet. Feet are the bedrock of our body and despite that, are tremendously neglected and ignored. Shiatsu has been proven so well to ease up feet problems that manufacturer tried their best to reproduce its benefits through electric foot massagers. These devices are little technology exploit and help a lot when you are often in need of shiatsu but don’t have the time or budget to go and visit a specialist. 

Shiatsu literally means “finger pressure” and is clearly an art that invites to share more than a simple massage session between two people. Spiritual communication needs to be part of the deal: great and effective shiatsu cannot be achieved simply to knowledge, understanding, and technique. Deep and sincere feelings (spiritual and physical) must be present. 

To master this art requires a lot of dedication and experience, but as a beginning, if you want to deliver a good Shiatsu or you want to make sure you understand the principle of it before becoming a Shiatsu recipient, you can use the below as a guideline to recognize the essentials of proficient shiatsu.

Authenticity

Exercising shiatsu should not be done reluctantly. If a genuine motivation to share, communicate and help the recipient is not present, the benefits of shiatsu won’t occur. As stated before, knowledge itself is not sufficient to a provide good shiatsu: a sincere involvement from the giver is a criterion as important (if not more) as his knowledge. 

Steady Breath

Breathing consistently is an important factor in shiatsu. It’s going to help the giver to have a more consistent and mastered gesture and also it’s going to help him to be more attentive to the recipient’s body reactions to his shiatsu. When you have a deep, focused breathe, your body and your senses are more lively. To give shiatsu you need to be aware of your own body in the first place, and this starts through good, deep, consistent breathing. 

Strong and open tanden

In Japanese, Chinese and Korean tradition, the tanden is considered as the center of gravity of the human body. Physically, it would be located in the lower belly area, somewhere between the belly button and the upper edge of the pubis. It can also be called Hara, which in Japanese can be translated as the stomach (remember Hara-Kiri, this form of Suicide by cutting the belly). In the context of shiatsu, it’s to be considered as the center of spiritual and physical energy. Somebody with a strong and pen hara will have confident energy and will do things with great efficiency and natural (think of the words “guts” and all the images that are associated to it “to have guts”, “to be gut-wrenching”, “listen to your guts”). People with strong and open tanden will use at best and take the maximum out of their bodies. 

Ease of Gesture

Calm, relaxed, and comfortable. That’s how a shiatsu giver should feel. Touch is extremely communicative and the recipient will easily feel any tension the giver might have or any difficulty in the movements. Comfort and ease can be lead through soothing the senses: the sight→ it’s better to be in an environment with soft light, hearing→ a piece of relaxing music and quiet music (silence can be depressing for some), touch→ bare hands, preferably not cold or sweaty for the giver, and comfortable clothes where you can freely move for both; smell→ body odor can make people uncomfortable, be sure to take the necessary actions. 

Sensory Intelligence

This concept is less difficult than it might sound. Sensory intelligence can be assimilated into a performant automatism of the body when the mind is empty and the movements are intuitive. The main idea here is that shiatsu cannot be practiced mechanically without a deep knowledge of it and a sensorial intelligence. The mind needs to be empty as in it should not be thinking mathematically (if I feel this, how should I react? What’s the next step after this? What does this reaction mean? etc..). Once you can get your mind free of any rational thinking form, shiatsu will become natural. 

Support Rather Than Force

For non-initiated people, shiatsu might look like a massage or a simple “medical” physical manipulation where the caregiver repairs the broken parts… when you repair something, you apply the correction chosen as you wish. The idea in Shiatsu is more to help the recipient and to support him in the healing and relaxation process like a sort of guidance in the movement. To guide and direct him without forcing a movement on his body. The recipient must be receptive (hence the importance of communication, open hara and flow of energy) and accept the guidance in order to proceed to the session with no pressure.

Positive Connection

The mind is a crucial element and component of shiatsu. You should be able to get rid of any bad thoughts and be able to establish a positive connection with the subject. Anything else that is negative in your mind could be compared to disturbing and distracting noises that could result in loss of focus and less effective Shiatsu. The balance between mind and body should be respected for you to establish a positive connection where the receiving part is just perfectly at ease with the session and with yourself for the both of you to have a positive connection. 

Perpendicular & Stationary Pressure

The pressure is typically applied 90 degrees angle to the body. It’s a still ( static or stationary) pressure that focuses on applying a calm, yet firm and penetrating pressure on a specific part of your body. The “lean on” factor is very important and must be followed to guarantee the best results. The pressure achieved by leaning on, with the bodyweight transfer (rather than simply pushing) generating a deep penetration, should for a minimum of 2-10 seconds.

Technical Ability

Everyone has already tried giving a massage to their partner or a relative. They then realize that is harder than what it looks, especially if you want it to last more than 10 minutes. Every form of body manipulation requires skills. Skills that can be obtained uniquely by studying, training, and practicing. Shiatsu is no exception and the technical ability of the practitioner has a tremendous role in achieving the wanted results or not. His/her ability to understand the spiritual side of shiatsu but also develop very concrete technical skills is fundamental. 

Continuity & Fluency

This resides in the ability of the practitioner to get you through a whole shiatsu session changing intensity and positions according to your needs without you even noticing! When the movement is continuous and fluid the energy flow is respected helping to achieve better results. The most important is to avoid abrupt changes in positions or pressure that lead to a “break” in the session. A balance has to be found and maintained.

Empathy

This is one of the reasons why Shiatsu is so much more than body therapy. Connecting the dots and understanding that the mind and body unite to create a single human being is absolutely decisive to understand the principles of Shiatsu. To deliver good shiatsu, you should be able to connect with the receiver and try to understand their emotional state just as well as their body condition. You can treat the body but it the empathy for the person inhabiting the body is not present, a step is missed. It’s very important to genuinely care about the receiver and connect with him.

We hope that after reading this very introductory article about Shiatsu you learned a bit more about this ancient art and are eager to discover more about it. The articles, books, websites, and more about it are widely available and cover almost every aspect you can think of. Technical skills, however, only comes with practice. And nothing can replace practice.  You should absorb all the theoretical knowledge you can, investigate, be curious, ask questions, and once you feel ready (both mentally and physically), you can step up to some practice.

It’s flagrant that Shiatsu is a complete art that covers the mind and the body. Understanding this will help you get the right foundations for your Shiatsu journey.