Shiatsu refers generally to a Japanese pressure therapy used to relieve a variety of problems including back pain, neck and shoulder problems, stress, insomnia, digestive problems, and fatigue. It is based on traditional Chinese medicine techniques, particularly massage therapy that has been recommended since ancient tmes, with certain Japanese innovations
Consistent with the basic concepts of traditional Chinese medicine, Zen Shiatsu is grounded in the theory that health problems are attributed to, or at least involve:
imbalances in yin and yang;
disharmonies between the internal organs; and
blockages to the circulation of ki (in Chinese: qi; in English: chi) through the meridians.
The unique features of Zen Shiatsu, compared to traditional Chinese medicine techniques such as acupuncture or other shiatsu techniques, are these:
For diagnosis, abdominal palpation is the primary technique used. Abdominal diagnosis (in Japan: hara diagnosis) is an ancient Chinese technique that had been largely abandoned in China, but became important in the practice of Kampo (the Japanese practice of Chinese medicine) around the beginning of the 18th century. Abdominal diagnosis is used in Japan for herbal medicine prescribing, acupuncture, and Zen Shiatsu. The diagnosis is primarily aimed at determining whether each meridian is relatively empty (Japanese: kyo, Chinese: xu) or relatively full (Japanese: jitsu; Chinese: shi). At the end of the treatment, the abdominal diagnosis is performed again to ascertain changes (improvements) that have occurred.
Pressure is applied at intervals along the meridians that were described by Masunaga. He presented 12 meridians, corresponding to the 12 basic organ-affiliated meridians of the Chinese system. The meridian pathways are similar to, but not the same as, the Chinese ones; the main difference being an extension of each meridian to range from legs to arms, passing through the associated diagnostic region of the abdomen.
The treatment involves brief contact with each point, in a somewhat rhythmic pattern as a portion of a meridian is traced. The contact is with fairly strong pressure that is applied using the movement of the practitioners body, fingers, elbows, and other parts of the body.
To attain the proper combination of pressure and movement along the meridian, the practitioner may move frequently around the recipient's body and may even move the recipient (who is instructed to remain passive), such as lifting the head or arms. The actions may include turning or bending the recipient's body parts with the purposes of gaining access to essential points, stretching the meridians, and using gravity or leverage to attain the needed pressure at certain points. The therapy does not focus on one part of the body, even if the health problem is localized; the whole body becomes involved.
The practitioner works within a meditative state, focusing on the responses of the recipient so as to properly direct the therapy, as opposed to focusing on selection of pressure points by a theoretical system. To develop this condition of heightened awareness and clear intention, the practitioner practices meditation regularly.