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There are several ways to learn shiatsu massage, depending on the level of facility one wishes to achieve as a practitioner of shiatsu. Full professional programs can take as long as three years, while weekend courses can offer a quick orientation in the basics of shiatsu massage, along with a few simple skills. As with any massage style, people should plan on receiving several shiatsu massages before they start to study this style, to determine whether or not it is an approach to massage which works for them.
Shiatsu is a style of massage which originated in Japan in the 1800s. It is derived from older massage traditions rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine. During a shiatsu session, the practitioner uses targeted pressure with the fingers, palms, and sometimes elbows to stimulate specific pressure points on the body for the purpose of releasing pain and intense emotions, and contributing to general physical health. In Japan, shiatsu is a recognized and highly respected form of medical therapy; the Japanese government both encourages citizens to receive shiatsu, and licenses and certifies practitioners. People who learn shiatsu massage can be trained by professionals who are steeped in healing traditions which are hundreds of years old.
A traditional professional program in shiatsu lasts three years, and only a handful of massage schools around the world offer this level of training to people who want to learn shiatsu massage. The instructors are usually from Japan or from schools certified in the Japanese tradition, and they cover a wide range of topics including anatomy, pressure points, and ethics in massage. Schools in Japan offer some of the best instruction, although students will be expected to know Japanese. After completing a professional program, students can apply for licensure from the Japanese government if they have studied in Japan, or a professional certification from a massage organization in other countries.
It is also possible to learn shiatsu massage in an apprenticeship with an experienced practitioner. Many practitioners in Japan offer this service, and they may provide instruction in English or other languages to Westerners. It is also possible to find this type of learning environment outside of Japan, although students should take care to select a fully trained and licensed teacher. A reputable shiatsu practitioner will happily provide information about where he or she trained and for how long.
Finally, many massage schools offer a shiatsu program in which students can learn shiatsu massage in a weekend intensive or longer course. These types of programs are aimed at people who have already trained as massage therapists, and wish to expand their repertoire with shiatsu. They do not offer professional-level certification to people who wish to work as shiatsu practitioners, although many massage therapists who graduate from such programs do advertise “shiatsu massage” as part of their offerings.