Could You Define Shiatsu?

May 2nd, 2017

I’m still not able to define Shiatsu in two, three or even four sentences, and maybe if others are having the same struggle that is one of the reasons why it’s not as well known as many of the other physical and emotional therapies. I’ve noticed that this is how I tend to answer when someone asks me what exactly Shiatsu is…

I pause, take a breath, and at the same time try to sense whether they are wanting the short answer (“It’s the meaning of life!”) or the long answer (“Let’s go back to the second century BC…”). So I begin with the standard one… “It’s a Japanese body therapy with its roots in both traditional Chinese medicine and traditional Japanese massage. Shiatsu literally means finger pressure, and you can add in knees, elbows and feet as a way of diagnosing and treating the body through meridian pathways and acupressure points.”

Maybe it’s enough to leave it there, but something in me needs to say more, so I go on to explain meridians: where they are found in the body, how they are paired up; how, even though if they have the name of the stomach meridian, that organ is only a small part of what that meridian is involved with. Acupressure points are visited next as I reel off LI4, KD3, BL13 like a pro, my eyebrows raising as I delight in the juiciness of visiting someone’s GB30! (Yes, I have actually described an acupressure point as juicy!)

By now I’m gaining momentum. Yin and Yang get a look in, and I throw in words like “Ki”, “Hara”, “Kyo”, and “Jitsu”. I feel compelled to mention Masunaga and his work on the meridian extensions. I’m in full flow now as I relish the five transformational elements – Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal – and how they relate to absolutely everything in the entire universe!

And did I mention emotions? I check to see if my enquirer’s eyes have glazed over or if they are still with me, because for me this is the real crux of the matter.

Knowing that this is a hands-on therapy working directly with the body, clients more often come along for Shiatsu displaying physical symptoms. But it also incorporates and explores what is going on at both an emotional level, and the connection between mind and body. We are often only aware of our physical pain and don’t relate it to an emotion. However, the body holds different emotional energies that can effect us physically. For example, unexpressed grief can create a feeling of collapse in the front of the body (as grief is associated with the lungs). If this becomes chronic, breathing difficulties and other lung problems can manifest. Collapse in the front of the body can lead to stress and tension in the back, and so on.

Shiatsu is a way for us to reconnect with our physical body, to wake up dormant energy, acknowledge the tense energy, and encourage movement. It is not done to you, it is a shared experience and while all this wonderful theory and knowledge is buzzing along in the background, it is what is happening in the moment, with the right touch, connection and intention, where real change can occur.

So maybe it is the meaning of life after all?

Kathryn Bibby offers Shiatsu sessions at The Isbourne. See or for more details.