The Japanese word shiatsu literally means finger pressure. However, the shiatsu practitioner uses not only fingers, but also hands, thumbs, elbows and even knees or feet to achieve the desired depth and strength of massage.
This system of fingertip massage bears some similarities to acupressure; both are based on pressure points along meridian lines associated with the function of the vital organs. Like acupressure, shiatsu is designed to stimulate the body’s own energy levels; however, instead of using the stimulation of energy to relieve pain, shiatsu places the emphasis on freeing or unblocking the energy channels to promote overall health. In other words, it lays emphasis on the prevention of disease rather than on treating specific symptoms.
In Japan, shiatsu is considered to be an effective means of early diagnosis as well as a means of disease prevention. Many people attend regular shiatsu treatments, as often as once a week. Shiatsu is believed to benefit the body, mind, emotions and spirit, all at the same time. Its particular strengths lie in stimulating the body’s immune system, which is invaluable in the treatment of arthritis and a variety of other disorders that have pain as a common feature.
The depth and strength of massage practiced in shiatsu has the effect of improving the circulation and flow of lymphatic fluid, working on the nervous system, helping to release toxins and deep seated tension from the muscles and stimulating the hormone system.
Shiatsu techniques have been known in Japan for many hundreds of years, but became popular in the West much more recently. Shiatsu was introduced to the United Kingdom in the late 1970s, and the Shiatsu society was formed in 1981.
The Shiatsu Consultation
The first Shiatsu session usually begins with the practitioner taking a detailed medical and life history from you. Shiatsu affects all levels of your being, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. Treatment is attuned to your personal health and character. Your practitioner is likely to ask about your diet and some queries about your current lifestyle, he or she may advise you on how to alter your regimes with a view to improving your condition.
As in acupuncture, the therapist will take your pulses, of which there are six at each wrist, each associated with a vital organ of the body. Taking the pulses helps the practitioner to diagnose and treat many different conditions.
The treatment, not unlike a massage, involves pressure being applied in many different ways, and a series of different movements may be executed over a part of the body, rather than over one particular pressure point. Sometimes the pad of the thumb is used, sometimes the fingers, sometimes the palm or the heel of the hand. The practitioner may also use the elbow or perhaps a forearm or knee.
How hard the shiatsu practitioner applies pressure depends on many factors, including where it is to be applied, how you react and whether you require a stimulating or a sedating effect. Pressure is usually applied for a few seconds at a time, sometimes longer, and may be repeated several times at each spot. A session lasts for about an hour.
The shiatsu session is usually carried out on the floor, but if it is not possible for you to have the treatment in this position, your practitioner will still be able to treat you.
The shiatsu society of Great Britain offer the following guidelines before you attend a consultation:
- Take a light meal at least one hour before your session. It is best not to eat heavy meals or drink alcohol on the day of your treatment
- Do not take a long hot bath on the day of treatment
- For the treatment itself, wear loose clothing, preferably cotton, such as a tracksuit or jogging suit
- Have with you details of your current medical diagnosis and a record of any medication you may be taking
- Inform your practitioner in advance if you are pregnant or if you have recently undergone any major procedure such as surgery or radiotherapy
At home after treatment
After a shiatsu treatment, you will probably feel invigorated yet relaxed at the same time. Do not be surprised if you feel little improvement after just one treatment, as shiatsu normally takes a number of sessions to achieve an effect.
The duration and frequency of treatment will vary from person to person and with the degree of severity your arthritis has reached. You may experience headache or mild flulike symptoms for a day or so, but these are the result of the body’s efforts to eliminate toxins and should be regarded as a positive sign.
Shiatsu initially developed as a home treatment, and the techniques have been handed down from one generation to the next. It is possible, therefore, to learn how to apply finger pressure yourself and to do some of the techniques at home.
Arthritis sufferers may also benefit from a related technique, known as do-in, which translated literally means self stimulation. This is a form of self acupressure massage of muscles and points that also includes movement, stretching and breathing exercises.