What is Shiatsu?

Shi-atsu’, literally finger-pressure’, is a Japanese finger-pressure technique derived from the theories and principles of ancient old Chinese medicine. In Oriental medicine disease is the result of an imbalance or a blockage of the Qi energy in the complex network of energy pathways (meridians) cris-crossing the entire body. Shiatsu, by applying comfortable pressure on selected meridians and points dispels those blockages and normalizes the flow of energy in the entire body, thereby restoring balance, wellness and vitality to the client.

Shiatsu, however, goes beyond merely applying pressure. A compassionate dialogue also takes place energetically between therapist and client, and through that energetic communication the therapist entrains, realigns and invigorates the client’s own healing energies.

Oriental medicine also considers the individual as one indivisible whole without division between body, mind and spirit. All the parts of the mind-body resonate, impact and support each other. Thus, while focusing on specific physical issues, the Shiatsu therapist equally addresses stress and other emotional problems which are inevitably embedded in that indivisible whole. Often emotional traumas are directly related to and even cause those very physical ailments. This makes Shiatsu one of the most holistic body-work therapy, capable to restore harmony to the whole person in a most simple and natural fashion.

From a Western medical perspective, Shiatsu brings calm to the defensive mode of the overactive sympathetic branch of the nervous system which, over time, leads to stress, physical or mental illness, and switches on the growth mode of the parasympathetic branch which activates the body’s natural healing and nurturing capacities.

Historical Overview

There is much speculation about when Shiatsu began and how it developed. Chinese medical practices came to Japan at around the 6th century A.D. and have constantly evolved to become, in the past 100 years, something typically Japanese. In the 1920s, psychologist Shizuto Masunaga from Tokyo University developed Zen Shiatsu‘ – a blend of traditional Shiatsu and western psychology.

In 1955, Shiatsu was for the first time officially recognized in Japan as a distinct finger-pressure technique in its own right and, in 1964, it was regulated by the Japanese Ministry of Health and incorporated into the Japanese health care system where it has been playing a prominent role ever since in preventative and rehabilitative health care.

Students of the great masters brought their techniques to the West. Among the many health practices finding acceptance in the West nowadays, Shiatsu stands out as one of the most popular, simple, practical and effective natural therapies.

In Canada, Master Tetsuro Saito first introduced Shiatsu to Toronto in 1971. Several schools since developed throughout the country, such as Kaz Kamiya’s Shiatsu School of Canada Inc.(www.ShiatsuCanada.com) which offers the most comprehensive Shiatsu training available in the world, outside Japan. The Shiatsu Therapy Association of Ontario (STAO) (www.shiatsuassociation.com) was formed in 1983 which currently sets the standards of practice for CST’s (Certified Shiatsu Therapists).

What Happens During the Treatment?

Every effort is made to ensure that the client is relaxed, comfortable and safe. Shiatsu can be performed on the floor on a futon-type mat or on a low treatment table. Since no oils are used the client usually remains clothed or is properly draped with a sheet. At the first visit a medical history is taken to better understand the client’s complaints and the related circumstances. The therapist will also explain what Shiatsu is, what effects can be expected, and answer all the questions.

The therapist then proceeds with the treatment. In the Zen style or meridian-based

Shiatsu, appropriate pressure is applied to the body with thumbs, elbows, knees and even feet depending on the constitution, sensitivity and physical condition of the client. Stretching and a variety of joint manipulations are also integral part of Zen Shiatsu and sometimes, auxiliary methods such as cupping, moxibustion or Tui-Na massage [provide links for those 3] may also be used in the treatment.

It is recommended that the client wear loose, comfortable clothing (preferably no jeans or big belts), and not be under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. It is also advisable not to eat large meals prior to a treatment.

Basic treatments usually last one hour but may be extended to one and a half hour.


Shiatsu is not indicated in the following conditions:

  • Acute illnesses (high fever, flu, shock, etc.)
  • Acute inflammations (peritonitis, appendicitis, severe arthritis, etc.)
  • Advanced aggressive cancers (fast metastasizing)
  • Acute poisoning (food, snake bites, etc.)
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Bleeding illnesses (stroke, thrombosis, hematemesis, etc.)
  • Fresh external injuries (scars, open wounds, fractures, etc.)
  • Advanced internal diseases (kidney failure, nephritis, respiratory failure, etc.)
  • Contagious Diseases (syphilis, active T.B., etc.