Although shiatsu has evolved out of centuries of bodywork, Japan is essentially the birthplace of shiatsu as it is known today.
Many early Japanese shiatsu practitioners developed their own style and some, such as Tokujiro Namikoshi and Shizuto Masunaga, founded schools in Japan that helped establish shiatsu as a therapy in its own right.
Today, there are many different styles of shiatsu practiced and therapists all around the world are constantly evolving new approaches to treatment. Some approaches concentrate on the stimulation of 'acupressure (acupuncture) points', while some emphasise more general work on the body or on the energy channels to influence the flow of ki within them. Other forms highlight diagnostic systems, yet all of these different approaches inherently come from the same underlying theoretical approach.
What all the different styles have in common is the manipulation of ki, and the use of body weight in one way or another in performing a shiatsu treatment. Many of these forms can be studied in accordance with the Standards and Guidelines set by the Association at the accredited colleges listed in the Shiatsu colleges page.
Barefoot (Macrobiotic) Shiatsu
Founded by Shizuko Yamamoto and based on George Ohsawa's philosophy that each individual is an integral part of nature, Macrobiotic Shiatsu supports a natural lifestyle and heightened instincts for improving health. Assessments are through visual, verbal, and touch techniques (including pulses) and the Five Transformations. Treatment involves non-invasive touch and pressure using hand and barefoot techniques and stretches to facilitate the flow of ki and to strengthen the body-mind. Dietary guidance, medicinal plant foods, breathing techniques and home remedies are emphasised, corrective exercises, postural rebalancing, palm healing, self shiatsu and Qi gong are included in Macrobiotic Shiatsu.
Healing-Shiatsu Touch is an approach of shiatsu developed over the years by Sonia Moriceau which applies the practice of Mindfulness Meditation and Loving Kindness to the shiatsu form.
Jin Shin Do
Jin Shin Do combines gentle yet deep finger pressure on acu-points with simple body focusing techniques, to help release physical and emotional tension. It promotes a pleasurable trance state during which the recipient can get in touch with the body and access feelings or emotions related to the physical condition. This bodymind approach is a unique synthesis of a traditional Japanese acupressure technique, classic Chinese acupuncture theory, Taoist yogic philosophy, breathing methods and Reichian segmental theory. Jin Shin Do Bodymind Acupressure was developed by psychotherapist Iona Marsaa Teeguarden.
Namikoshi (or Nippon Shiatsu)
This is the form most often found in Japan, developed by Tokujiro Namikoshi in the 1920s. It involves a very thorough whole body treatment, but perhaps due to Namikoshi’s focus on getting Shiatsu legally recognised in Japan by appealing to Western medical theories, he does not incorporate meridian theory into his style. The emphasis is more on the points than the meridians and the style requires a thorough knowledge of the musculo-skeletal structure of the body, and the nervous system, emphasising neuro-muscular points. It can be more vigorous.
Ohashiatsu is a nurturing method of touch developed by Wataru Ohashi. The emphasis of Ohashiatsu is on communication and synergism between giver and receiver and the self-development of the giver, as well as the receiver, and on the true physical, psychological and spiritual harmony for both.
Quantum Shiatsu is a style of shiatsu based on the work of Pauline Sasaki. It is an approach to bodywork that focuses on the Energetic Body. The Energetic Body is much more expansive than the physical body, though the physical body forms its core. Quantum Shiatsu developed into a system under the influence of Quantum Physics and in particular, the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics and its relevance to human healing. By applying quantum principles to shiatsu, contact with faster, more expansive energy became possible. This resulted in the inclusion of chakras as well as meridians into a shiatsu framework.
Tao Shiatsu, founded by Ryokyu Endo, represents an expansion of both the technical and theoretical bases of previous styles of shiatsu from two decades of clinical practice and research. With a clear concern for both the receiver of treatment and the well-being of the practitioner, Endo has sought to make shiatsu responsive to contemporary needs. He has noted that rapid changes to the natural and social environment cause reactive physical and mental changes: increasingly, patients appear with chronic ‘empty’ conditions, against which in his view traditional meridian-based shiatsu is less effective.While remaining profoundly rooted in the holistic spirit of Oriental treatment, its methodology is revolutionary. Tao Shiatsu introduces five new elements to shiatsu: ki training, the Ki method, the Super Vessel & Super Vessel Specific Tsubos (SST), the basic 24 meridians, and an improved, systematic methodology of diagnosis and treatment.
The third noteworthy figure, alongside Masunaga and Namikoshi, in the development of shiatsu in Japan over the last century is Katsusuke Serizawa, who concentrated on the tsubos (effective points on the meridians). He was able to prove the existence of tsubos using modern electrical measurements of the skin. He called his system Tsubo therapy and advocated the use of any kind of stimulation of the Tsubos, from moxibustion to acupuncture or acupressure. A style of shiatsu known as Acupressure Shiatsu is a Western derivative of Tsubo Therapy.
Watsu (Water Shiatsu) began in 1980 when a man named Harold Dull started floating people while applying the stretches and principles of the Zen Shiatsu he had studied in Japan. Stretching strengthens muscle and increases flexibility. Warm water, which many associate with the body's deepest states of waking relaxation, is the ideal medium. The support of water takes weight off the vertebrae and allows the spine to be moved in ways impossible on land. Gentle, gradual twists and pulls relieve the pressure a rigid spine can place on the nerves and helps undo any dysfunction this pressure can cause to the organs serviced by those nerves.
Zen Shiatsu was established by a Shizuto Masunaga (1925-1981). After initially studying psychology, he decided to pursue shiatsu as well, training under Namikoshi, before going on to research the ancient roots of the art. He eventually forged his own version of shiatsu which incorporated his experience of shiatsu into his studies of Western psychology and Chinese medicine theories, while still maintaining Western anatomy and physiology. Masunaga went on to became a professor of psychology at Tokyo University and, at the same time he taught at Namikoshi’s Japan Shiatsu School for 10 years before opening his own school known as the Iokai Shiatsu Centre in Tokyo.
The emphasis in Zen shiatsu is more on the meridians, and it can be either strong or gentle. Intuition and connecting with the clients ki is important. Zen Shiatsu introduces a theoretical model known as kyo and jitsu, to explain energy imbalances within the meridians.
The kyo being the deep underlying need, or under active ki, and the jitsu being the external action the body takes in trying to fulfill the need, or the over active ki. It uses as the basis of its diagnosis, a form of abdominal palpation known as hara diagnosis to determine the most kyo and jitsu energies. Masunaga also modified and extended the traditional meridian system, with the extensions commonly known as the Masunaga or Zen extensions. He also developed his own set of stretching exercises called Makko-Ho designed to help correct imbalances in the flow of ki and strengthen the internal organs.
Zen Shiatsu is viewed by some as shiatsu having been properly reunited with its ancient Chinese heritage and most of the styles of shiatsu practiced in the west today will probably be somewhat based on Zen Shiatsu.