As a bodywork therapist, I use both Shiatsu & Massage as part of my practice. They are separate distinct therapies, each with their own set of techniques and theories of treatment. Although they are different, these two types of therapy are extremely complementary. The following short article will help to differentiate each one.
SHIATSU (a japanese style of therapeutic massage)
Shiatsu-Anma, like Acupuncture, is based in part on the theory of Qi. Qi may seem like an abstract or made up concept, but it is something we can feel and experience quite easily during these types of treatments.
Qi theory sounds something like this: Our bodies contain an energy that circulates through the body in predictable and functional patterns and without it we would not be alive. This Vital Energy in our bodies, or Qi, can be moved and affected in many ways. It is an unseen force that is in charge of animating our bodies, moving our emotions, keeping our muscles, limbs and joints mobile and the underlying force beneath every physiological function. We can eat foods, do exercises and meditate to move our Qi. We can get acupuncture or massage. Much like swedish or deep tissue massage manipulates soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments) Shiatsu manipulates Qi.
Shiatsu uses Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory and it's own set of massage techniques to restore balance to the body. It directly affects Qi and also activates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps our body into healing mode. This means it can relieve pain AND treat numerous internal imbalances of the body such as chronic fatigue, headaches, digestive disorders, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, insomnia, menstrual disorders and more. Shiatsu can also treat soft tissue and structural imbalances, a benefit that is emphasized when the therapist has Massage Therapy training. Perhaps most importantly, Shiatsu emphasizes preventative care. Regular treatments stop imbalances before they start.
Because Shiatsu focuses on Qi and pressure can be adjusted to be deep or very light, it is very safe for all people, even those with serious health conditions who may not be able to receive Massage or those with fear of needles who may not be open to trying Acupuncture.
More on Shiatsu here.
MASSAGE (western relaxation and therapeutic massage)
Massage applies an in-depth knowledge of Anatomy along with it's own set of techniques to restore balance to the soft tissue and physical structure of the body. It's ability to get very specific with the location of injuries, muscle adhesions and palpation techniques makes it an excellent choice for treating tendonitis, muscle pain & tension, headaches, trigger points and sprains/strains. It's goal of improving circulation make it well suited for promoting overall health and relaxation. Massage can also treat Qi and energetic imbalances when treatments are performed by a therapist with Shiatsu or TCM training.
Most of us are already pretty familiar with the language of Western Biomedicine which is used in Massage. We know about muscles, tendons, ligaments and the circulatory system, at least by name. Massage moves blood and lymph through the body and into injured regions, speeding up the healing process.
It is good to know that there are certain health conditions that are not safe for massage and a Massage Therapist will screen for these conditions during your initial meeting.
WHY USE BOTH?
Sometimes when we have muscle pain, tendonitis, trigger points or sprains (all of the conditions Massage is so well suited to treat) there is also an underlying energetic imbalance that causes us to be more susceptible to those things. That is where Shiatsu or a knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine comes in. By combining Massage techniques (to more quickly resolve the soft tissue problem) with Shiatsu techniques (to treat the underlying imbalance and kick the parasympathetic nervous system into gear for healing) then we can have the best of both worlds and a very powerful combination. This is the advantage of a session that includes both.
When a therapist is trained in both Shiatsu and Massage, they focus on both Qi and soft tissue at the same time, regardless of whether they are using Shiatsu or Massage techniques. It should be noted that Shiatsu therapists are trained in Anatomy and still treat the physical structure of the body, but use different techniques than Massage Therapists.
Some people respond better or simply prefer one style over the other. Some people like sessions that integrate both styles of Bodywork and others like to alternate between the two. Trying them both is a great way to increase awareness of the body and empower yourself to treat your body in the way that works best for you.
~Susie Carlson, dipl. ABT, Certified Shiatsu & Massage Therapist
about the wisdom of Chinese Medicine as applied to Shiatsu & Massage, healthy living, the benefits of Bodywork and simple healthy lifestyle practices.