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The Way of Shiatsu Therapy

Finger Pressure & Assisted Stretching

Shiatsu Treatment

Shiatsu therapy is a Japanese method of therapeutic manipulation using the thumbs, fingers, and palms to apply pressure to the human body in order to correct internal disorder, treat specific issues, and promote and maintain health.

What Distinguishes Shiatsu?

Shiatsu, modern massage, and other forms of manual therapies can be distinguished by the method in which stimulation is given. Shiatsu can be described as the application of deep, soothing perpendicular pressure with many rhythmical changes to stimulation. The purpose of manual therapy is to work with a person’s natural healing force to correct any internal malfunctioning. Shiatsu was a name created to distinguish the practice of manual therapy from popular forms of bodywork only received for pleasure. Unlike them, the intention for Shiatsu is medicinal rather than recreational.

Whole-body Treatment

European and most Asian massage methods directly stimulate blood circulation to emphasize the release of stagnant blood in the skin and muscles. This goal is to release tension and stiffness resulting from circulatory congestion. Shiatsu, on the other hand emphasized correction and maintenance of bone alignment, joints, tendons, muscles, and meridian lines. The malfunctioning of these components distorts the body’s energy and autonomic nervous system, which in turn leads to all sorts of disease.

Effective Self-Treatment Method

Shiatsu is possible to practice as a home remedy, though accurate evaluation is necessary for a professional results. It is impossible for the layman to pick up acupuncture, or chiropractic manipulation, and try to use it to help themselves, friends, and family, but Shiatsu is safe, effective, and simple to apply for anyone.

Four Characteristics of Shiatsu

The Japanese Government define Shiatsu based on three characteristics. Shizuto Masunaga stressed that a fourth characteristic was also vital. The three original characteristics include: Perpendicular Pressure; Stationary Pressure; and Holding Pressure. Perpendicular pressure means that the pressure is delivered at a ninety degree angle from the skin, not diagonally. Stationary pressure means that the pressure is delivered without rubbing or kneading, or any kind of friction on the skin. This is a major distinguishing feature from massage, and vital for parasympathetic nerve stimulation. Holding pressure means that the pressure is held for a few seconds, rather than just pressed and released.

The late master, Shizuto Masunaga had a problem with the way the average Shiatsu therapist was practicing, and suggested another characteristic to define Shiatsu, and this is Concentration. Concentration means that the practitioner isn't chatting away, or daydreaming about what they are going to do on the weekend, but rather they maintain an active focus on the moment to moment of the treatment.

In Shiatsu, the practitioner and recipient's bodies are having a conversation, every point pressed expresses vital information that guides the practitioner toward the source of the problem. In Shiatsu treatment is diagnosis, and diagnosis is treatment, and there is no diagnosis without active presence and awareness.

Assisted Stretching and Mobilization

Shiatsu therapy is about more than just finger and palm pressure. Shiatsu also employs techniques to manually mobilize joints, and bring recipients into gentle assisted stretches. Sometimes gentle stretches are used to create access to a certain area for Shiatsu pressure, and mobilizations can be used before and after certain manipulations to assess improvements to range of motion. The result is that Shiatsu can be quite a dynamic treatment if many stretches and mobilizations are used.

The Difference Between The Eastern and Western Approach

Western medical techniques were developed to fight epidemic diseases like the plague in the middle ages, & treat viral and bacterial infections in modern times. Surgical devices and procedures were developed to save lives in war times. Conventional medical practices were born from life-or-death emergencies. This is why there are so many minor illnesses that leave modern doctors playing a guessing game. Their methods were not concerned with prevention, but rather developed to detect and treat very advanced conditions. Shiatsu is not a replacement for such interventions, but it’s stimulation of the body’s natural healing force makes it the perfect compliment to any treatment, and an excellent form of preventative medicine.

Abnormal tension in the muscles and distortion of the frame, can result in a restriction in circulation to the internal organs, blood vessels, and other systems. This can contribute to all kinds of illnesses and issues, especially when neglected in the long term. These contributions to our illnesses are very rarely recognized by western medicine. Shiatsu functions to restore balance in the structure and relieve chronic tension in the muscles of the body. Relieving this stagnation helps prevent "young" problems from maturing to the point where it is diagnosable by Western Medicine, making it an invaluable form of preventative medicine.

Treatment & Diagnosis as One

“In shiatsu, treatment is diagnosis, diagnosis is treatment” -Shizuto Masunaga

The difference between amateur and professional shiatsu is accurate evaluation in order to formulate the best treatment for each individual. Oriental medicine applies four methods of observation for diagnosis are practiced: bo-shin is diagnosis through visual observation; bun-shin is diagnosis through auditory observation; mon-shin is diagnosis through asking questions; and finally setsu-shin, diagnosis through touch, is the final method to determine each person’s condition and identify a treatment path.

Unlike modern medical palpation, which involves examining isolated parts of the body, setsu-shin is about evaluating the body as a whole, and determining the overall imbalances that perpetuate the given problems. This type of diagnosis is for discovering the patterns of distortion in the whole body. Some common methods that apply setsu-shin are pulse diagnosis, and abdominal diagnosis which both reveal the condition of the twelve major meridians, their related organ and bodily functions.

Shiatsu's Effect on the Autonomic Nervous System

Shiatsu also very deeply effects the autonomous nervous system. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work together to regulate the activities and responses of the body. The sympathetic nervous system is that sudden reaction, alertness, and readiness to move when we get startled; the parasympathetic nervous system is what makes you feel tired and relaxed before falling asleep.

Sharp changes in skin stimulation tend to engage the sympathetic nervous system, increasing heart-rate, which is the purpose of mainstream massage. Conversely, through the application of continuous, steady pressure, the reaction of the sympathetic nerves can remain at ease, allowing shiatsu therapists to bring patients into parasympathetic nervous dominance where healing takes place. Our healing and growth takes place when we are in parasympathetic nerve dominance. When in sympathetic nerve dominance, our natural healing process is stunted.

An example of this is an observation of deer in a forest that is overpopulated with wolves. The deer are always on alert, never having an extended period of rest. As a result of being in constant sympathetic nerve dominance, the males often do not grow their antlers. Like the growth of a deer's antlers, our natural healing process is interrupted by overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, and in our modern society, most of what our daily lives imposed on us, drive us into a low grade fight or flight. Worst is that we are so accustomed to this, that we don't even notice.

Shiatsu strives to affect deeper systems, such as internal organ function, and the habitual patterns of neuromuscular connections. In order to affect these systems, the parasympathetic nervous system must remain dominant, and the sympathetic system must be at ease.

In shiatsu, the therapist is not only actively working, but at the same time paying attention to negative reactions from the autonomic nervous system. Those negative reactions are felt as a resistance to the pressure, guiding the practitioner. Thus any incorrect quality or quantity of pressure is immediately felt mutually by the recipient and therapist. This kind of awareness allows the therapist to constantly adjust, and that is what is meant by the previous statement: “treatment is diagnosis…” Of course, there are some circumstances, where a strong and even uncomfortable amount of pressure may be helpful, in most cases, pressure is strong, but not uncomfortably so.

Setsu-shin is the key that separates shiatsu from superficial fingertip techniques and massage for pleasure and recreation.

The Meridian System

Some styles of Shiatsu do not address the meridian system, but Shizuto Masunaga's lineage developed this theoretical model very deeply. Meridians are like channels of energy that can be expressed in different ways if we look at different systems of the body. In Shiatsu, the primary system we work through is the musculoskeletal system. Our muscles do not act independently, and every type of movement we make involves a chain of tension that runs longitudinally along the length of the body. A membrane called fascia connects and aids in synchronizing the coordinated effort of these muscles.

In Shiatsu, when there is a problem, we determine which meridian is affected, and then focus our treatment on that entire head-to-toe line. Often times, the solution to the problem is not in the same place as the problem is felt, and knowledge of the meridian system can guide a practitioner to finding seemingly unrelated areas of tension that can balance the meridian as a whole, including the distal problem areas.

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