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Shiatsu & Sotai Movement Therapy

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Alex's manual therapy practice is composed of a variety of complimentary methods, each addressing problems from a different angle, but using similar treatment philosophies. Sotai & Shiatsu are both manual therapy modalities, distinct from massage, emerging from Japan.

Shiatsu Manual Therapy

Both methods combine modern medical science with deeply effective traditional healing methods based on the meridian system. They are deeply effective therapies for treating abnormal pain and tension in the body, restoring postural alignment, facilitating healing after an injury, preparing for and recovering from surgery, and as preventative medicine.

The Meridian Framework

Both Sotai & Alex's style of Shiatsu (based on the Masunaga method) focus on the musculotendinous meridians, which is the expression of the meridians used in acupuncture, but as they express themselves in the musculoskeletal system. These lines of tension are functional, longitudinal networks made of muscle and other connective tissues that run along the entire length of the body. They perform key whole-body movement tasks like lifting something up, or running, and tension tends to accumulate along the entire line, not just the area where you feel discomfort. This is one of the things that makes Shiatsu & Sotai stand apart from mainstream manual therapy approaches.

Shiatsu's Distinguishing Features

Unlike massage, Shiatsu doesn't involve any rubbing or kneading in it's techniques, because of this, no oil is used, and it can be performed fully clothed. These treatments can be performed on a table, but treatment on a mat on the floor is better as it allows the therapist to use his bodyweight more naturally.

Shiatsu involves mainly thumb, finger, and palm pressure, not only to a problem area, but also to distal parts of the body that have a connection to the problem. Shiatsu also involves assisted stretching, and techniques where the therapists moves your joints passively through a certain range of motion.

The Roots of Shiatsu

The traditional manual therapies of Japan are Anma (put simply, to press and rub), Ampuku (abdominal massage), and Do-In (an exercise method like yoga or qi gong), all of which came to Japan from China over 1,500 years ago. Shiatsu wasn't developed until the early 20th century, when Tamai Tempaku published a book called Shiatsu-Ho (finger pressure method) that combined aspects of Anma, Ampuku, and Do-In, with western physiology. It wasn't until 1964 that Shiatsu was recognized in Japan as a distinct therapy from Anma, Swedish massage, or any other methods, and today it is a fully integrated part of Japanese healthcare.

The Blending of Traditional Roots​, and Modern Science

In the mid-20th century, traditional therapies in Japan were banned due to a directive of the U.S. Occupational Forces. Only therapies that were solely based on western anatomy and physiology were able to appeal the directive. Tokujiro Namikoshi and his family worked hard to define Shiatsu solely in physiological terms, abandoning any consideration of the traditional meridian system on which the theory of traditional Japanese therapies were based. Katsusuke Serizawa was another leader in the Shiatsu community who successfully proved the existence of Tsubo (acupuncture points) using electrical measurements on the skin. Shiatsu came from traditional roots, and then enveloped itself entirely in Western science.

Shizuto Masunaga Sensei - Shiatsu Master
Shizuto Masunaga

In the latter part of the 20th century, a Shiatsu master and professor of Psychology named Shizuto Masunaga, student of Namikoshi-sensei, performed an overhaul of the system. He reintegrated the meridian theory, and expanding upon it, as well as exploring psycho-somatic connections in his branch of Shiatsu which would be called Zen Shiatsu when it made it's way to the west. Shiatsu began as a traditional therapy, and then adapted a modern scientific framework, later reintegrated the traditional theories. This unique weaving of Western and Eastern wisdom makes it a unique fusion of the two worlds like no other therapy in the world.

Postural Alignment Through Neuromuscular Reeducation - Sotai Therapy

Sotai is an active treatment method. It involves comparing two directions of a movement to determine which is less strenuous, then the recipient moves their body in that direction while the therapist applies gentle resistance. This is all synchronized with respiration, and guided by the therapist, and the result is a reeducation of the neuromuscular system and the improvement of a person's postural alignment and tension patterns.

Sotai can be performed as a therapy by a professional, giving a treatment to a recipient, but it can also be done as a single-person exercise, where slow, controlled movement, synchronization of breath and movement, and deep attention to body awareness makes the difference between this being Sotai, or just moving around. The same principles and approach applies, but when done alone, movement is simply performed without the resistance element that a therapist would be applying.

The Story of Sotai Therapy

Sotai was developed by Dr. Keizo Hashimoto, MD; a Japanese Doctor of Western Medicine who was disheartened with the failings of modern medicine in treating certain health issues. Unable to ignore the success that Japan's traditional therapists experienced when treating the same issues, he observed and integrated these many different traditional healing practices. In his search to discover the secret that they had in common, he developed the Sotai method, which, in a nutshell, involves movement in the direction of least resistance, synchronized with the breathing. This has a profound effect of "reeducating" the way the nervous system is acting on the muscular system, releasing abnormal tension patterns and balancing postural alignment. This effectively relieves pain and strain, among affecting many other systems.

This harmony of both Western & Eastern medicine is what make these modalities stand out from many other approaches, and also what make them work so harmoniously. With Shiatsu and Sotai, there is a strong connection to both modern western anatomy, as well as traditional eastern Meridian theory. Shiatsu tends to relax the nervous system, and relieve stubborn tension in specific places, and Sotai tends to reprogram the habitual patterns that perpetuate the problems, while restoring postural alignment, which only improves the natural internal regulatory function of the body. The two practices utilize compatible theoretical frameworks, while approaching a problem in very different ways, which complement one another perfectly.

Both Shiatsu and Sotai have a self-care element, which means there is a way to do Shiatsu, and Sotai on your own and without a therapist performing the maneuvers on you.

Tendon Alignment - Kenbiki Therapy

Another modality worth mentioning that is part of Alex's practice is Kenbiki Therapy, a method of treatment that addresses the alignment of tendons. This is a very effective compliment for Shiatsu and Sotai, especially when addressing acute injuries such as sprains, but is not something that is necessarily used in most treatments.

Each Method Has it's Place

Shiatsu manually adjusts the musculoskeletal system, while Sotai releases neuromuscular holding patterns, and Kenbiki adjusts misaligned tendons. Together, they each fall in line where another falls short, and compliment each other perfectly. If you would like to book a session with Alex, follow the booking button below, or the contact button if you would like to ask a question.

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