What is Five-Element Shiatsu?

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  • Written By: P. Matz
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 15 January 2020
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Five-Element shiatsu, or 5-Element shiatsu, is form of shiatsu — the Japanese art of acupressure. Practitioners of this therapy use their finger tips to manipulate pressure points on the human body in order to facilitate the flow of chi, or vital energy. Five-Element shiatsu is different than regular shiatsu in that it seeks to enhance the effectiveness of traditional shiatsu by incorporating aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

In TCM, human health is achieved through balancing the five elemental manifestations: earth, fire, water, wood, and metal. Each of these elements correspond to different parts of the human anatomy. Employing this approach, a shiatsu practitioner may be able to discern a variety of different ailments in a patient ranging from purely physical disorders such as a poor diet, to more subtle disturbances in a person’s health resulting from stress or traumatic events.

Once the practitioner has assessed the likely source of a patient’s outward symptoms, a treatment program can be determined. For instance, if a patient complains of discomfort in the stomach area, TCM would associate this type of ailment with the earth element, and, accordingly, a diagnosis could be attained that would address the potential imbalance in this aspect of a person’s system. Counterbalancing the negative earth aspect would often be approached by bringing other corresponding elements into play that would provide a salutary effect on the particular ailment.


The relationships between the five elements of TCM are quite complex. A practitioner of this medical philosophy relies strongly upon their understanding and intuitive ability to not only diagnose the particular source of the elemental imbalance, but to, subsequently, adjust the energy flow within the body of the patient. This can be accomplished either through the strengthening of the weak aspect, or diminishing that which is excessive.

In certain cases, an imbalance in the body occurs due to a blockage that prohibits the natural flow of energy. A blockage of energy can result from any number of factors, including stress, disease, physical trauma, or infection. Once the blockage is removed, the body will, ostensibly, recuperate.

In TCM, balancing the five elements, and restoring the body’s natural energy flow is often achieved by herbal remedies, developed and discovered over time, to treat specific ailments. Five-Element shiatsu, rather than employing herbal treatments to restore the chi energy flow, relies upon the application of acupressure to accomplish this. By administering direct pressure on specific nerves and meridians critical to the flow of chi, the Five-Element shiatsu practitioner simply utilizes a different methodology to achieve the same harmonious balance.

Since TCM views human health in a holistic manner, where a person’s well being is based on the harmony between not only one’s physical aspects, but also one’s mental and emotional environment, Five-Element shiatsu, thus, combines the diagnostic philosophy of TCM, while applying the Japanese shiatsu techniques in the treatment phase. By embracing some of the philosophies of TCM, particularly the Five Element approach, the shiatsu practtiioner seeks to expand the scope of treatment and diagnosis by generating a more comprehensive perspective on a patient’s health than basic shiatsu alone could provide.


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