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"Shiatsu" is a Japanese word, literally meaning "finger pressure". It is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine and is a form of massage administered by the thumbs, fingers, palms, forearms, elbows, and feet, to apply pressure along the skin of the energetic Organ Meridian system, encouraging the free flow of Qi, Blood and Emotions. The goal of shiatsu is to rectify internal malfunctioning, to promote and maintain health, to prevent disease, and to enhance the body's natural regenerative powers and immunity. It is my preferred treatment modality for stress relief and general balancing of the energetic system. Periodic shiatsu promotes a person's sensitivity to their body/mind, acting as a health barometer, alerting the person to minor imbalances that can then be corrected before they become major health concerns.

The Japanese Ministry of Health attributes seven interrelated effects to Shiatsu.
These interrelated effects stimulate the body to function optimally and maintain good health.

  1. Invigorates the skin.
  2. Stimulates the circulation of body fluids.
  3. Promotes suppleness in the muscular tissues.
  4. Helps correct faults in the skeletal system.
  5. Promotes the harmonious functioning of the nervous system.
  6. Helps regulate the operation of the ductless endocrine glands.
  7. Stimulates the normal functioning of the internal organs.

A Brief History:

"Shiatsu" originated in Japan as a blend of traditional Japanese massage (Amma), and Traditional Chinese Medical theory (TCM). Amma uses rubbing, pressing, stretching, and manipulations to restore suppleness to the body and remove "blocked" areas. Traditionally the seeing impaired were recruited as Amma practitioners, as they were thought to have more sensitivity to the sense of touch. In the early 1940's Shizuto Masunaga, trained as an oriental medical practitioner, blended Amma techniques with an understanding of the meridian system, an integral part of TCM, and called this "Shiatsu". Since then, "Shiatsu" has been used as a generic name for many different styles of massage that employ the meridian system: Acupressure, Chi Nei Tsang, Five Element Shiatsu, Integrative Eclectic Shiatsu, Japanese Shiatsu, Jin Shin Do, Macrobiotic Shiatsu, Shiatsu Amma, Zen Shiatsu.

As mentioned, Shiatsu is theoretically based on the "meridian" system of Traditional Chinese medical theory (TCM). Discussions of the "meridians" are found in classical Chinese medical texts dated back 2500+ years. All traditional Oriental medical modalities employ use of Meridian theory. Simplistically, the meridians are defined as "invisible energy lines".

There are many legends about the origins of the meridian system and the points found along the meridians. One story is that the meridians were discovered by observing soldiers who were wounded by arrows and spears and recovered from ailments in other parts of their bodies. Trial and error over many centuries evolved into a refined and detailed clinical methodology based on this system of correspondences. Another tale holds that sages were able to map the pathways of energy transmission in the body while they were in heightened states of meditation.

Whatever the origins, the observations, and the recording of these observations over the centuries by the Chinese, has led to a very sophisticated mapping of an "energy grid", the meridians, on the body.

Shiatsu is theoretically based on Traditional Chinese Medical Theory (TCM):

Traditional Chinese Medical theories are based on the observation of natural cycles found in nature. TCM views life as a dynamic process involving the interaction of forces and energies within and outside of the organism.

External forces include the climate, pathogenic agents, and the total environment outside of our bodies.

Internal forces include our genetic background, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects.

Well-being is seen as a dynamic balance (homeostasis) between these internal and external forces. Well-being is dependent on the organisms' ability to adapt appropriately to the various physical, mental and psychological stressors present in daily life.

Illness is seen as an inability to adapt appropriately to these challenges resulting in a disharmony in the system itself. For Shiatsu practitioners, this disharmony presents as a disruption in the flow of "Qi". When the flow of Qi is disrupted the processes of elimination and regeneration deteriorate, constituting the basic condition underlying most forms of illness.

Whereas Western medicine takes a structural view of the human system, TCM emphasizes a functional approach. The traditional Oriental view of human physiology is based on a concept of energy fields, a view comparable to the modern concept of an energy field that has arisen in contemporary physics.

According to this idea, matter and energy are inseparable, dependent on each other and defined by each other. The separation of matter and energy, inner and outer, physical and mental is not realistic as they are the same phenomena viewed from different perspectives. We use these opposing concepts merely to enable us to conceptualize the dynamic interplay, or cosmic dance, constantly going on around and within us, and with which we are intricately involved.

Chinese theories and principles are based on empirical (observed) clinical data gathered over 2000+ years. TCM principles and theories are not absolutes, but are tools to help us organize our thinking and treat disharmonies in the system.

The goal of oriental medicine is to return the individual to a state of dynamic balance, enabling him or her to achieve their optimal level of well being.

The Oriental concept of the body as an energy field defines this balance, or adaptive ability, as the free and smooth flow of energy through the body. This concept of an energy, "Qi", which flows through our bodies and pervades the universe, is the fundamental principle of TCM. Very simply, a blockage in the flow or a deficiency of Qi, leads to illness.

Qi: Variously translated as "energy", "matter-energy", "vital force", or "life force", Qi may be thought of as matter on the verge of becoming energy, or energy on the verge of materializing. Manifestations of Qi include Blood, Fluids, Spirit, Emotions, Electro-magnetic current.

Qi is said to flow through specific pathways in the body. Over the centuries, these pathways have come to be known as meridians. The twelve "organ" meridians are:

The 12 Energetic Organ Meridians:


"A Western Liver is not an Oriental Liver".

These meridians make up an energy grid which continuously circulates Qi through the body. Although these meridians have Western names, they are not the same as Western organs: Shiatsu practitioners do not know if an organ is structurally diseased or damaged. A "Lung disharmony" refers to the energetic functions associated with the Lung meridian system, not to the Lung organ itself. Before treating many conditions, shiatsu practitioners will ask their clients if the appropriate Western medical diagnostic tests have been run to rule out identifiable structural damage.

As stated, these meridians or channels are the pathways where Qi travels. These channels are partly inside the body and partly near the surface of the body. The twelve organ meridians have their own "points", and are named according to the organs they pass through. A further eight Extraordinary Vessels are also recognised, with only two of these having their own points. Additionally, there are meridian sub-systems, including Tendino-muscular, Luo, and Distinct meridians, each influencing a particular area or field of the flow of Qi.

The "points" along these meridians, called acupoints, acupuncture points or tsubos, are areas of natural imbalance, where Qi, circulating in the meridians, is most likely to become "blocked". Western research has shown that approximately 85% of the classical acupoints have a higher level of electro-magnetic resistance than the immediate surrounding areas. This implies that they are areas where electro-magnetic current, our "information highway", is most likely to be disrupted.

There are 364 traditional acupoints, with another few thousand "extra points" of which about 50 are used with frequency. There are also "Ashi" points (local blockages of energy) that may or may not be located on specific meridians.

These acupuncture points are used for both diagnostic and treatment. Soreness, pain or emptiness may indicate an imbalance. They may also be pressed/held/manipulated to unblock stuck energy or to encourage the flow of Qi/Blood/Fluids to the area.

Besides being areas where Qi is most likely to become stagnant, many acupoints have specific energetic functions. By manipulating/activating them we are communicating with the body/ mind. By pressing on specific acupoints, we inform the body to: Drain Heat in the Lungs, Open the Throat, Harmonise the Spleen/Stomach, Open Nasal Passages, Stop Pain, Calm the Spirit, Smooth Emotions, Release the Exterior, Build Blood, Boost Immunity, etc.

"Visiting a Physician after one becomes ill,
Is like beginning to dig a well after one becomes thirsty,
Or beginning to manufacture weapons after one declares war."

What does Shiatsu treat?

Shiatsu is effective in treating many disorders including musculoskelatel concerns, digestive disorders, menstrual disorders, emotional and mental stress, but its true strength lies in it its ability to promote vitality, maintain health, and prevent illness. Shiatsu practitioners believe in the innate healing power of the body/mind/spirit. "It" wants to perform optimally, but sometimes the external forces (cold/damp/bacteria/viruses...) or the internal factors (our emotions or our genetic/constitutional deficiencies) cause a blockage in our system, disrupting the flow of energy and causing an imbalance in the system which will lead to disease if not corrected.

Shiatsu is my preferred treatment modality for stress relief and general balancing of the energetic system. This is especially appropriate for clients who present as stressed, fragile or weak.

The person who undergoes regular Shiatsu develops sensitivity to their body and mind, which can work as a health barometer, knowing when the body needs rest and nurturing, activity and challenge. Periodic Shiatsu alerts the person to minor imbalances, which can then be corrected before they become major health concerns.

As implied in the quote above, there is no need to wait until you are ill to seek out a shiatsu practitioner: Generally, prevention is much more cost and time effective than "cure".

How should I prepare for a shiatsu session?

As shiatsu does not employ any oils, lubricants, or mechanical devices, it is not necessary to undress during a session. The shiatsu practitioner will usually ask the client to wear loose slacks such as gym pants and a light, natural fiber T-shirt or blouse, or you may bring these with you and change when you arrive

The shiatsu practitioner will also request that the client arrive neither too hungry nor too full (ie: if one is hungry, they should eat; if one is full, they should digest). If you are coming immediately after work, it would be appropriate to have a small snack mid-afternoon, or a hour before arriving.

Shiatsu may be performed either on a padded mat on the floor, or on a massage table.

How often and how many shiatsu treatments are necessary?

This varies greatly, depending primarily on the condition of the client. If a client has had very little or no recent bodywork, I'll often suggest a course of 5-10 sessions at 1 per week or every other week, then once a month for maintenance.

If the client's primary concern is health maintenance, I will usually suggest a session on a monthly, or every 6 weeks, basis. Over 50% of my Shiatsu/Tui Na massage clientele come every 3, 4, or 6 weeks for maintenance and preventative treatment.

Cost: $80
Treatment time: 1.5 hour

Please note: As a courtesy, please allow 48 hours notice to cancel or reschedule an appointment; this allows us to reschedule the time for another client. A cancellation or rescheduling of less than 24 hours may result in the full rate being charged.


Calvin Dale Smith, BA, MSc, R-TCMP, R-Ac
Registered Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioner
Riverside Acupuncture and Wellness Centre
2211 Riverside Dr., Suite 106
Ottawa, ON K1H 7X5