Shiatsu therapy is a type of massage therapy that originated in Japan. It is based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theories. In general, the client remains lightly clothed, and massage oils are seldom used. From the original five-element form, several more types of shiatsu therapies have evolved. These are Zen Shiatsu, ohashiatsu, and ashiatsu massage.
The type of shiatsu therapy known as five-element shiatsu originated in Japan. It is based on the TCM five-element theory. In TCM theory, each of the five elements relates to an organ system, which should be thought of in an energetic, not strictly anatomical, sense. The five elements and their organ systems are wood and gallbladder, fire and lung, water and kidney, earth and spleen, and metal and lung.
An objective of the five-element shiatsu massage therapy is to balance the flow of life energy, also called qi, throughout the energy systems. Neither excess or deficient energy is desirable. The practitioner uses her hands and thumbs to apply pressure along meridian lines, which are energy channels, to allow the clear flow of energy.
Another form of shiatsu massage known as zen shiatsu was developed by Shizuto Masunaga. It is based on the standard five-element shiatsu therapy. This form also focuses on working with the body’s meridians. The practitioner uses his knees, elbows, fists, palms, and thumbs during the massage.
A key feature of this form of zen shiatsu is that the practitioner will strive to remain “present,” in a state of zen. To better sense the presence of qi, zen shiatsu techniques includes the use of both hands. The practitioner will work from the main energy center of the body, called hara. This form is popular in the U.S. and the U.K.
Ohashiatsu massage is a third type of shiatsu massage. This type incorporates hands-on, healing, energetic touch. Stretches and limb rotatations are used in the therapy. It can provide some of the benefits of yoga and pilates to the client, such as improved flexibility, movement, stamina, and increased strength. Ohashiatsu massage reduces the client’s mind and body stress while invigorating her qi and the spirit.
A fourth type of shiatsu therapy, known as ashiatsu massage, uses the practitioner’s feet to apply pressure to the client’s muscles. The practitioner is barefoot and uses props, such as bars attached to the ceiling, for support. This type of massage benefits the practitioner because her arms, hands, and back are used less frequently, which can help increase the practitioner’s massage career longevity. Ashiatsu massage can also benefit clients who would like very deep muscle work. In this form of massage, it is critical that the practitioner be well-trained, or serious injury to the client may result.