Shiatsu is the pressure based bodywork system that has been popular in the UK since the eighties. Though different styles exist they are typically characterised by the use of pressure, usually from the thumb or palm to elicit a relaxation response in the body of the patient. With body in a more relaxed state it is better able to repair it self, thus shiatsu can contribute to the longer term health of the person receiving it. From an oriental perspective this comes about when the meridian system is balanced, though more recent explanations have pointed to the involvement of the autonomic nervous system and the role of the parasympathetic system in the repair of the body.
Though initial consultation in shiatsu begins with all four traditional diagnostic methods (asking, looking, listening, touching) it is touching/palpation that is mainstay as the treatment unfolds. It was the case in Japan in the past that both acupuncture and massage were protected professions of the blind. It is still the case that blind practitioners are among the most skilled and respected as their sensitivity and technique are not held back by the distraction of sight in a predominantly touch orientated field.
One of the pioneers of Shiatsu in the 20th century was Shizuto Masunaga, he popularised the zen system of shiatsu which has become especially important for the growth of shiatsu in the west. The characteristic of this system is the use of two hands, the active hand and the supporting hand. The thinking behind this is rooted in traditional Asian ideas of illness and imbalance. When the body/mind gets out of balance symptoms appear in the meridian system on the surface of the body in two ways.
One expression is through symptoms of a full nature, these are the ones we notice – typically pain, stiff shoulders, headache etc, the other way imbalance is expressed is through signs of an empty nature. These we don’t notice so much- lowering of muscle tension, cooling the skin surface etc. In acupuncture theory the aim is to balance the meridians both full and empty, but in body work/massage/some shiatsu systems the focus is often only on the full/tight areas. In the zen system the aim is to work both areas simultaneously using two hands to encourage a deeper level of relaxation and healing.