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A History of Zen Shiatsu: Bridging Ancient Wisdom for Emotional Balance



Shiastu , gentle healing touch therapy
Taken from the book cover of Shiatsu: The Healing Art of Finger Pressure by Saul Goodman

I'm biased I love Shiatsu! Anyone who is passionate about their particular therapy will think it's the best go-to therapy of them all; so I'm shouting out the benefits of receiving Shiatsu. Today I'm looking at how my therapy came about, how it's been built on, to become a powerful and complete mind body spirit treatment and how it encompasses other modalities to give the client a well-rounded truly holistic way of not only getting healthier but a way of leading life that is a lot less stressful emotionally; leading to just being happier. Today's blog: A History of Zen Shiatsu: Bridging Ancient Wisdom for Emotional Balance.



A History of Zen Shiatsu: Bridging Ancient Wisdom for Emotional Balance


To understand the complex evolution of Zen Shiatsu, the origins lie in the significant influence of Chinese medicine on Japanese healing practices. Chinese medicine, which dates back over 2,500 years, introduced the concepts of Qi (pronounced "chee") and meridians to the world.


Zen Shiatsu (shiatsu means finger touch) originated in Japan drawing upon Traditional Chinese medicine, it uses the energy laylines of the body, on which lay the acu-points, Zen Shiatsu has evolved over centuries to become a better known physical therapy but not so recognised as to how it promotes emotional well-being. This is where Shizuto Masunaga steps in, in the 1970s and links the body imbalances to emotional dis-ease.



Qi is the vital energy that flows through the body, and meridians are the pathways through which this energy circulates.


Japanese scholars and healers, eager to deepen their understanding of these concepts, imported Chinese medical texts and integrated them into their own traditions. This cross-cultural exchange laid the foundation for the development of Shiatsu as we know it today. Over time, Japanese practitioners began to refine and adapt these techniques, emphasising the use of finger and palm pressure to balance the body's Qi and promote healing.


While Shiatsu had already established itself as a respected healing practice in Japan, it wasn't until Shizuto Masunaga a prominent Japanese figure in the field of psychology and therapy took it to another level. Born on April 17 1925, in Osaka, Japan, Masunaga's childhood and early life were marked by a deep curiosity about the human body and mind. This fascination with the interconnectedness of physical and psychological well-being would later become the foundation of his groundbreaking work.

Masunaga's academic journey was marked by impressive qualifications, reflecting his commitment to understanding the holistic nature of health. He obtained a degree in psychology from Kyoto University, where he began to explore the relationship between Eastern philosophies, such as Zen Buddhism, and Western psychological theories. His desire to bridge these two worlds led him to travel extensively, studying psychology and psychotherapy in Europe and the United States.

Upon his return to Japan, Masunaga embarked on a journey to integrate his findings into a practical form of therapy, which he later termed "Zen Shiatsu." Drawing from Zen principles, Chinese medicine, and his deep psychological insights, he developed a unique approach to bodywork that aimed to balance the body's energy, or "ki," to promote physical and mental well-being.




Shizuto Masunaga the creator of Zen Shiatsu

Masunaga's key insight was that the mind and body were not separate entities but rather an interconnected whole. He believed that by working on the body's physical imbalances, one could simultaneously address emotional and psychological issues. Through Zen Shiatsu, he aimed to create harmony and balance in both the physical and emotional aspects of a person's being; promoting overall well-being.


Masunaga's approach linked emotional dis-ease to imbalances in the body by recognizing that unresolved emotions could disrupt the flow of energy in the body's meridians, leading to physical symptoms. His holistic approach to healing through Zen Shiatsu remains influential, as it acknowledges the complex relationship between our emotional and physical states and offers a means to restore balance and harmony to both aspects of our being.



This fusion of Eastern and Western influences, along with his academic background, positioned him as a trailblazer in the world of holistic health and alternative therapies. Shizuto Masunaga's legacy lives on through the continued practice and study of Zen Shiatsu, as it continues to offer a unique and effective approach to healing and self-awareness.



Incorporating the Five Elements into Shiatsu

Masunaga further enriched Zen Shiatsu by incorporating the Five Elements a concept borrowed from Chinese medicine. These elements, known as Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water, represent different phases of energy and correspond to specific organs and emotions. By identifying imbalances in these elemental energies within the body, Masunaga could address not only physical symptoms but also the emotional root causes of his clients' discomfort.

For example, an excess of Wood energy may be associated with anger and frustration, while a deficiency of Water energy might manifest as fear or insecurity. By using Shiatsu techniques to balance these energies, Masunaga believed he could help individuals achieve a harmonious state of physical and emotional well-being. Wood though is a very important element in how it can affect your moods but is not one of the 4 elements of the zodiac.



The four elements of the zodia

How Shiatsu affects your star sign


I used to think that once someone came for a shiatsu they would be committed, and it was a while before I understood why some people didn't come for a second shiatsu; it was too powerful, too challenging without the person understanding why. The lesson I learned from this was to draw back on my energetic impact as it was creating too much change for a person to feel, too quickly with understanding why.


I also realised that certain types of people take to it, if you like certain star signs. The one Earth sign that loves shiatsu is Virgo! It's great for them as it physically helps their Ki shift as Earth peeps can tend to get physically sluggish; I'm an Earth sign so I know! The shame is that the other Earth signs (Taurus, Capricorn) are too sceptical to even try, if it can't be proven on a spreadsheet they don't believe it!


Shiatsu is marmite to Fire signs (Leo, Aries, Sagittarius), some embrace it and for some it's too much; as you may not realise it but they are incredibly sensitive bunch! If a Fire sign falls in love with shiatsu they will normally shout about it and may become leaders in this field; Masunaga was an Aries himself.


Water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) tend to go for therapies that are more mind-related, less likely to choose a physical touch as therapy, but Air signs this is the set of humans that Shiatsu is invaluable for!!


Air signs (Aquarius, Libra, Gemini) struggle to ground themselves, and a lot of emotional turmoil can extend from this. Shiatsu puts an Air sign back in their body and their inquisitive nature, especially Aquarians leads them to want to know more about how Chinese Medicine can help them live their lives better. Then there is another group of people, where life becomes complex and emotionally turbulent- the Cuspians!


Cuspians are people born around the 21st of the month, give or take 5 days-ish. They feel the push and pull of a pair of elements and there are some tough pairings out there, for example: Fire/Earth, Earth/Air, Water/Fire and Air/Water being the toughest combination. I tend to find my clients who understand the emotionally grounding benefits of shiatsu and feel the relief that it brings into their everyday lives are Cuspians; and I'm one myself (Fire/Earth), as was Masunaga.


But it's not just your physical birthdate that can determine this push and pull of elements, being born early or late has an effect too as does trauma from childhood as this significanly imbalances the elements within.


When we're in balance the chinese elements of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal are in harmony. However when one character set of symptoms is too or weak, this upsets the whole apple cart and you'll experience this as emotional and physical symptoms; or you just may find life is an uphill struggle and you just don't know why.



When I first started training I almost scoffed at how can a person be wood or metal? Now I live by the set of characteristics that these elemental titles define. It's powerful in my work, in helping my clients transformation and in my everyday life.


In the world of holistic healing practices, Zen Shiatsu stands out as a profound therapeutic modality, this can make it challenging if you're not quite ready and life-changing if you embrace it!




Zen Shiatsu - It's way more than a physical therapy


In understanding how Masunaga created the bridge from ancient chinese wisdom to modern western psychology and linked it through the power of touch opens this holistic therapy up to supporting you in more ways that you can even imagine. I'm 20 odd years in and still finding out how wondrous this therapy is every day, exploring new links with clients, and strengthening my own understanding.


I see more and more books, therapies and coaches appearing, mainly from the US who claim to have unearthed these links, and I do always check them out to see if I can learn something new, invariably I can but I also have to chuckle when it's been around as part of Chinese Medicine and Shiatsu for many years already. However it is very encouraging that in advertising these new modalities they are spreading awareness and making what many think of as too esoteric more main stream and acceptable.


Isn't it crazy that a lot of people think that mind and body are separated and that you can't heal one from the other? It seems to me to be stating the obvious that they are intrisically linked and that you can't create real change within until you accept and work with this.


The beauty of shiatsu is that you don't have to understand or even know this to receive incredibly beneficial treatment, but accepting and being open to it will help you make change for the better. Fight it and you fight the natural order of healing, which sadly many people do.


Shiatsu is so pleasant to receive, you'll feel like you've had a full body massage, and you don't even have to take your clothes off! Shiatsu touch listens to internal issues in the body as we work and supports change; you feel this as relaxing, energising, a pleasant heaviness or a lightness. Who's know what you will feel on the day, but ultimately you will feel better!




Traditional image of shiatsu

Book a shiatsu for your health, energy and vitality!


You don't need an excuse to ever book a shiatsu for your health, just book one for your health! Shiatsu resolves your current ailments but aims to get ahead of the curve to be truly preventative. If you're sat reading this and you're not feeling that your health is at it's best, your energy is low or your sleep is rubbish reach out and get some treatment. It's going to be the start of an amazing journey where you reconnect with your body, clarify your mind and feel calmer and more in control of you.


Shiatsu is fully clothed, but you'll leave feeling like you've had a full body massage. If you would like the focus of your treatment to be specifically for your neck, back, shoulders, knees or anything, you just need to say!


Book a 15 min free chat with me or return to main site to read more.




About Andrea at Shiatsu Bodyworks Cheltenham



Andrea is a qualified zen shiatsu and chinese medicine practitioner with over 20 years immersed in holistic therapies and the energetics of mind and body. Based in Cheltenham, UK she offers in house clinic and online shiatsu sessions to help people with midlife health issues and also offers online consultations as she is a menopause specialist too.


If you're ready to get started you can book in here!


Woman receiving Shiatsu | Shiatsu Bodyworks Cheltenham




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