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What does a Shiatsu Therapist do?

By T. Doucette
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A shiatsu therapist is a practitioner who works to treat various imbalances in the body through the use of traditional Japanese shiatsu massage. In shiatsu massage therapy, the fingers, thumbs, and palms of the hand are used to locate pressure points on the client's body. Shiatsu, which means "finger pressure" in Japanese, is used to create balance in the body and maintain overall health, rather than focusing on specific pain. A shiatsu therapist will use his fingers and palms to detect temperature changes in the client's skin and muscles, and apply energy to these pathways through pressure.

Founded by Tokujiro Namikoshi, shiatsu applies the idea that abnormalities in energy flow are directly related to the body's muscular, digestive, respiratory, skeletal, and circulatory systems, as well as the condition of the organs. In order to locate the client's energy pathways, the shiatsu therapist will apply solid, localized pressure to the client with his thumbs, fingers, and palms. The client will typically be clothed during a massage, and will most often lie on the floor.

The shiatsu therapist will work by moving around the client, and may stretch or compress areas of the body. Although there are different styles of shiatsu, one common form that is frequently practiced is Zen shiatsu. In this form, the therapist will first spend time assessing the client's energy through discussions of his health and an examination of his vital signs and overall physical appearance. Shiatsu therapists will also ask for a complete medical history prior to the massage.

Shiatsu therapists work with the client to administer the correct amount of pressure during treatment. While pressure used is always localized, the therapist will decide how much pressure to apply based on a client's medical history, areas of pain, or other indications that may come into play. Shiatsu therapy can be practiced on individuals of all ages, provided they don't have other health concerns that would prohibit the application of muscle massage.

Often used to complement Western medicine, shiatsu also applies the energy focused benefits of Japanese massage. Shiatsu therapists often study for years, and in Japan the practice is highly regulated, as a practitioner must be licensed by the Ministry of Health. While the main goal of the Shiatsu therapist is to stimulate the client's well being and balance of body, the end result of shiatsu massage, as with other massage therapies, is that the client will experience relieved stress as well as the release of endorphins throughout the body.

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