Shiatsu - Part 2

by Tatu
August 2001

Shiatsu - What is it?

Shiatsu is the Japanese  healing therapy of physical and energy rebalance. Normally it is thought of as oriental "massage" but there is a lot more to it than that. It is done by asserting pressure with fingers, thumbs or palms to certain areas of the human body to correct bodily disease and encourage general health.

The Japanese word for Shiatsu is word made up of two written characters meaning finger (shi) and pressure (atsu).

Shiatsu is not simply accupressure. Accupressure is asserting pressure at certain pressure points. Shiatsu involves the application of pressure but more so massaging a wider area.

Shiatsu also uses stretching techniques. Shiatsu is different from Western massage in theory and technique. Swedish massage involves large flowing hand movements to knead muscles, shiatsu therapists use rhythmic and gradual pressure to the meridians and tsubos. There is also light 'holding' techniques like the laying on of hands as in western spiritual healing.

Among the diverse benefits that SHIATSU presents to the organism, it will be able to be distinguished:

It is believed  to improve the circulatory system, increase flexibility to the skin and muscular system. It helps with a better digestive system, improve the nervous system, and strengthen the body's own immune system.

The theory of Shiatsu is based on the oriental belief that health is a matter of balance of the human body. The idea is not to heal directly , but by balancing the vital energies of the patient bringing vital healing to the point of disease.

"Given harmony, the body knows how to revitalize and regenerate itself."
-The Yellow Emperor

According to The Shiatsu Society in England, the benefits are generally believed to be:

  • Relaxation of mind and body
  • Restoration and Balancing of energy
  • It eases tension and stiffness
  • It improves breathing
  • It improves posture
  • It improves circulation
  • It enhances well being

The Shiatsu Association of British Columbia share with us that in Asian culture and philosophy, there are "Four Classical approaches to medicine which were developed in specific geographical regions:

In the South, where it was warmer, lots of vegetation grew, making herbal remedies readily available.

The coldness of the North fostered moxibustion , which is the burning of mugwort on acupuncture points.

In the East where the diet was based on fish and salt, stomach ulcers were a problem. This condition responded well to the stone flint needling of precise points on the body (acupuncture) .

In the Centre of China, many physical techniques, such as massage , breathing and exercises evolved."

Shiatsu is based in Taoism. Dow (pronounced "dow") literally means "way" or "path". It teaches a "journey" metaphor common to all oriental cultures. Taoism is a philosophy of life and longevity. It has been around for some 6000 years. Tai Chi is another facet of the active practice of Taoism using certain exercises and a meditative thought process.

Taoism is learning to balance the feeling and thinking. It teaches one to think of life as a flow rather than a struggle, showing one how to relax at anytime. It teaches to rid one's self of the barriers of life with an enlightened awareness. It helps one to eliminate toxic patterns and begin healthier ones.

This energy is known as "Ki" in Japan ("Chi in china). It is believed that "Ki" to be the basic flow of energy in all living things. The flow of "Ki" through the body is done through a system of energy flow channels in the body called "meridians" or simply "pathways".

An imbalance or a hindrance of the flow of "Ki"  through these meridians is believed to be the cause of disease.

A shiatsu therapist's role therefore is to open up these meridians and allow the free flow of "Ki", by using pressure points called "Tsubos" in Japan.

This idea is also foundational to the practice of acupuncture (use of needles) and moxibustion (use of heat over certain points)

Meridians are numbered from 1-12 according to the flow of energy through them.

All meridians start or finish in the head, chest, hands or feet.

  1. Lung - Starts on chest in front of shoulder, finishes in thumb
  2. Large Intestine - Starts in index finger, finishes at side of nostril
  3. Stomach - Starts under eye, finishes in second toe
  4. Spleen - Starts in big toe, finishes at side of chest
  5. Heart - Starts under armpit, finishes in little finger
  6. Small Intestine - Starts in little finger, finishes in front of ear
  7. Urinary Bladder - Starts at inside corner of eye, finishes in little toe
  8. Kidney - Starts on sole of foot, finishes at top of chest
  9. Heart Constrictor - Starts beside nipple, finishes in middle finger
  10. Triple Heater - Starts in fourth finger, finishes by outside corner of eyebrow
  11. Gall Bladder - Starts at outside corner of eye, finishes in fourth toe
  12. Liver - Starts in big toe, finishes on front of chest or below

The Chakras

Chakras are also a belief in several disciplines of alternative medicine and traditional Oriental medicine. A chakra is an energy center which functions in several ways. Each chakra is the center of a particular organ or group of organs.

The idea of chakras are very important in the theory and practice of several oriental dicipllines such as , meditation, reikitherapeutic touch, yoga, aura, etc.

The word "chakra" is a Sanskrit word that means "wheel". It is seen as a cone with its point inserted into the spinal cord. At these connections energy is received and the cone has its opening about 3-5 inches from your body.

The body has seven basic body chakras and a number of minor chakras. These are from the lowest to the highest:

There are seven main chakras that are located from the crown of the head to the base of the spine. This channel is called the "sushumna", and is thought of as a spiritual channel. The theory is that "energy" enters the channel from both either end.

When meditating, one should sit of stand or lie with their back straight so as to not hinder the flow of energy.

Zang and fu organs: Energy storage and production
(source: holistic online)

According to traditional oriental therapies, organs have two functions. One is the physical one. The other function is concerned with the use of energy and is sometimes called an 'energetic function'. The twelve organs mentioned in the traditional therapies are split into two groups known as zang and fu.

Zang organs store energy. The fu organs produce energy and control the removal of waste matter. The organs can be listed in pairs, each zang matched by a fu with a similar function. Although the pancreas is not specifically mentioned, it is usually included with the spleen. The same applies to the 'triple heater' or 'triple burner', which is connected with the solar plexus, lower abdomen and the thorax.

  • The lungs (zang) assimilate energy from the air. This energy relates to mental alertness and positive attitude. This is paired with the fu organ of the large intestine, which takes sustenance from the small intestine, absorbs necessary liquids and excretes waste material via the feces. It is also concerned with self-confidence.
  • The spleen is a zang organ and changes the food into energy that is needed by the body. It is concerned with the mental functions of concentration, thinking and analyzing. This is paired with the fu organ of the stomach, which prepares food so that nutrients can be extracted and also any energy, or ki, can be taken. It also provides 'food for thought'.
  • The zang organ of the heart assists blood formation from ki and controls the flow of blood and the blood vessels. It is where the mind is housed and therefore affects awareness, belief, long-term memory and feelings. This is paired with the fu organ of the small intestine, which divides food into necessary and unnecessary parts, the latter passing to the large intestine. It is also concerned with the making of decisions.
  • The kidneys are a zang organ and they produce basic energy, or ki, for the other five paired organs and also for reproduction, birth, development and maturity. They sustain the skeleton and brain and provide willpower and 'get up and go'. Kidneys are paired with the fu organ of the bladder, which stores waste fluids until they are passed as urine. Bladder also gives strength or courage.
  • The zang organ of the 'heart governor' is concerned with the flow of blood throughout the body. It is a protector and help for the heart and has a bearing on relationships with other. This is paired with the 'triple heater' or 'burner', which passes ki around the body and allows an emotional exchange with others.
  • The liver is a zang organ that assists with a regular flow of ki to achieve the most favorable physiological effects and emotional calmness. Positive feelings, humor, planning and creativity are also connected with it. It is paired with the fu organ the gall bladder. This keeps bile from the liver and passes it to the intestines. It concerns decision-making and forward thinking.