My Shiatsu Story

Written by Kensen Saito,

"Shiatsu" sounds simple enough. The word "Shiatsu" literally means " Thumb & Finger Pressure", in Japanese. The technique involves a trained Practitioner, pressing with his thumbs and palms, on a pattern of certain points spread over the body. "Shiatsu" relieves Pain, promotes Relaxation; and gives people a wonderful sense of their body.

"Shiatsu" can be especially effective in relieving Back Pain, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Arthritis, Whiplash, Stiff Neck and Shoulders, Headache, and Insomnia. It speeds recovery after illness. It cultivates Mental Focus and Concentration. In some way, "Shiatsu" also stimulates creativity in individuals. I have seen this repeatedly on people at my Clinic. I am about to tell you, how today's "Shiatsu" developed; how I learned to practice it; and how I have become able to help Actors, Singers, Professional Athletes, Members of Parliament, Lawyers, Homemakers and many others. I will also give you my observations on how it works, based on more than twenty five years of experience; as well as sharing a few ideas about how to practice "Shiatsu" on yourself. I will illustrate how "Shiatsu" , as a technique, can have such a wide variety of uses.

"Shiatsu" is not an Oriental form of Medicine. Nor is a Western Medicine. Rather, it has been classified as "Natural and Preventive Health Care" There are so many chemicals and so much pollution these days; but "Shiatsu" , as a Therapy, uses only the body own natural chemicals for healing, causing no pollution at all.

"Shiatsu" works for people of all ages and stages of life. It can soothe an infant; and cease thpain of aging.

"Shiatsu" is pretty amazing; but it is not magic. It is not some spaced-out "New Age" spiritual theory. It has nothing to do with Meridian Lines. There is nothing mystical or incomprehensible about it. "Shiatsu" Therapy is scientifically valid. It is based on sound, concrete, scientific reasons.

"Shiatsu" works where it is needed, because it stimulates the body to use its own forces at its best. It triggers the release of Hormones and body chemicals necessary to heal, to soothe; to allow your body and mind to perform at their peak. This gives it an extraordinary range of operation. It sends its message, to reach the different parts of the body, through the largest sensory organ we have The Skin. Part of its effectiveness comes from the fact, that it uses Skin-to-Skin contact in the form of the human touch. This is a very basic human need, which we have all too often forgotten, in our mad rush towards bigger and better microchips.

Touch is an important kind of communication. We need it in the process of Healing; and we also need it to maintain our Personal Health.

I love to work with "Shiatsu" , because it is completely natural. Its effects come drug-free. There are no Side-Effects. Side-Effects from the drugs which people take, actually make the human body systems weaker. We need to concentrate our energies more on stimulating the body's own Natural Healing Power.

Today, we rely too much on drugs and surgery, in our search for Health. We go looking for Health Care; and get sick care instead. We need to focus more on preventive techniques like "Shiatsu" , rather than waiting until we get sick and then rely on operations and chemicals to address the disease.

Doctors should not be expected to be drug-dealers. They should be taught in Medical School, about the effectiveness of things like Nutrition, Tai Chi, Yoga; and "Shiatsu", as Preventive Health Care.

Since Physicians are not taught about these things, many people are supplementing their doctor-visits by consulting a Naturopath; and with other ways of using Natural Healing. Our whole society needs to spend more money, education and energy on Preventive Health Care.

In days gone by, there were many Natural Medicines and Therapies in use. We are coming through an era devoted almost exclusively to conventional Medicine. The next generation will have the opportunity to use the best of both worlds. It is important for the young generation, to know the natural ways, the alternative approaches to Health as well as the conventional ones.

I learned "Shiatsu" from the man, who developed it as it is practiced in Japan today, namely from Tokujiro Namikoshi. He developed the technique as a child, to ease his mother's pain.

Tokujiro was born in 1905, joining a family of four children. His father had an Umbrella Business on Shikoku Island, in the southern part of Japan. One year, the weather was so rainy and wet, that the glue would not dry on the umbrellas in time to meet the deadline for some large orders from China, forcing his father into bankruptcy. His father decided to restart his life; and the family moved to Hokkaido, the northern Japanese Island.

It was a long, tough trip in late autumn; from the hot weather in their old home, to extremely cold, harsh weather at their destination. When the family reached the end of their journey, they found that it was a wild place; only a hut, with no heat or running water. The parents and their five children settled in as best they could in these stressful circumstances; but soon Tokujiro's mother was suffering terrible from aches and pains in all her joints. She had developed Rheumatoid Arthritis.

They had moved to such a small village, into such a primitive area, that there was no Doctor. Nothing could be done for her; so the five children took turns rubbing her painful joins, in an effort to do something to help. After some experience with this, their mother said, that Tokujiro's hands were the best at relieving her pains. He took on the job as her physical therapist, while his brothers and sisters divided up their mother's chores as it concerns cooking and cleaning.

Tokujiro's mother told him, that it felt better when he pressed on her body, rather than stroking or rubbing. So he concentrated on doing exactly that. One day he was pressing different areas, when he found a point, which was very cold and stiff to his touch. He spent some time and effort to press on that point. His mother said that this eased her pain. He pressed that point daily; and the more this hard spot softened under his finger pressure, the more pain was relieved; and the faster his mother recovered.

Eventually, with the help to Tokujiro's treatment, his mother's Rheumatoid Arthritis was gone. She lived to be 88, in good Health.

It evidently came naturally to Tokujiro, to be a therapist. In his small village, the message spread quickly through word of mouth, that this boy was something special. When his school principal's wife, who had recently given birth, found that she was unable to produce milk to nurse her baby, the principal asked Tokujiro to help. He used his pressure technique; and the woman was freely able to produce milk for her child.

During a special assembly at the school, when the principal spoke in public about the wonderful job Tokujiro had done, in helping his mother and the principal's family, the body felt proud and happy. He decided at that moment, that he would spend his life using the pressure technique to help people.

A Buddhist Monk living in the village, became aware of Tokujiro's deeds; and after meeting him, said that this boy is the reincarnation of a high ranking Buddhist Monk who healed many people. He began to take Tokujiro on his rounds to visit villagers who were having problems with aches and pains. Tokujiro used his pressing technique; and used his natural skill at locating and working out stiff points; to great and good effect.

When Tokujiro was in his late teens, the Monk went with him to the nearest City, where they planned to have him try his pressing technique on City dwellers. They were soon arrested by Police, for practicing without a License. They stayed overnight in jail; then returned to their own village.

Tokujiro told his family about his experience. His older brother suggested, that he go to Tokyo; and get a License to use his technique. He decided that his brother's advice was good; and he followed it.

In those days, there were only two kinds of natural therapy in Japan. A "western-style" (Swedish) massage; and an ancient Chinese (Acupressure) massage technique called "Anma" . Tokujiro studied Anma under an expert; and earned his License. He then returned to Hokkaido; and opened his first Clinic, offering neither Anma, nor Massage; but the pressing technique, which had developed by himself.

As he practiced in his own way, he wondered what he should call his Method. He saw the word "Shiatsu" in a magazine article, referring to "finger pressure" . He liked it. Although he was mostly using his thumbs for pressure at the time, in Japan, the thumbs are called "fingers" just the same. Thus, the word "Shiatsu" described very well what he was doing. Therefore, he decided to call his technique "Shiatsu" .

As he practiced "Shiatsu" , Tokujiro studied Anatomy; and developed a scientific theory, which explains "Shiatsu". He learned that when he pressed certain points on his mother's body, it was like giving her natural cortisone shots, because he was stimulating her adrenal glands. On other results, he found out, that they have similar scientific explanations.

The more he studied and thought about it, the more Tokujiro came to realize, that the human body has everything it needs: It produces all the chemicals it needs to heal itself. Under stress, the body is put into a state of imbalance, when it does not produce the right kind and amount of chemicals. Instead, it can produce destructive substances. "Shiatsu" can reduce the effects of stress on the body; and nudge it back towards a healthy state of balance.

Tokujiro took the following words as a Slogan for Shiatsu: "The heart of Shiatsu is a mother's love." This sets out the importance of the caring, healing attitude of the person who performs "Shiatsu" on someone else.

He said, that modern society depends too much on drugs and surgery. It is possible, through "Shiatsu", for a person to develop tremendous Health and Strength. "Shiatsu" stimulates a person's inner healing power, so that the body can work to heal itself. It is like a switch by which the body's healing power is turned on.

When Tokujiro was in his mid twenties, practicing at his Sapporo Clinic, a famous philosopher called Gohei Ishimaru, came to Hokkaido by train one day, to deliver a lecture to a sold-out audience of 2,000 people; an event, sponsored by the local newspaper. Ishimaru was in a weakened condition; and would deliver his lecture sitting down, instead of standing.

When he arrived at the Sapporo railway station, he collapsed on the platform. His assistant had to help to the Inn; and a Doctor was called. The Doctor recommended that he cancel his speech for that evening. The sponsors from the newspaper were in panic, but one writer had heard of Tokujiro Namikoshi's reputation, so they called on him to help.

Tokujiro came to the inn where the philosopher was staying; did "Shiatsu" on him until he appeared to be much better. On that evening, instead of canceling, Ishimaru presented a two-hour speech, standing up. He was amazed himself, at his heightened physical strength and well being, after Tokujiro's treatment.

Your hands are very precious, he said to Tokujiro. I want to insure your thumbs.

He insured Tokujiro's thumbs for 100,000 yen. In today's Dollars, this would be $10 million. This was a tremendous amount of insurance. In those days, in Japan, the highest amount of disability insurance was carried by a famous baseball pitcher, Miyataka, who had his right arm insured for 20,000 yen. So, 100,000 yen for Tokujiro's thumbs, was a tremendous amount of insurance. Needless to say, this story made the national newspaper.

Ishimaru urged Tokujiro, to practice his "Shiatsu" in Tokyo, where a large number and variety of people could benefit from it. By that time, Tokujiro was married; and had children; but he took the philosopher's advice. He left his Hokkaido Clinic; and moved his family to Tokyo, at the age of 28. Ishimaru introduced him to many important people; but "Shiatsu" was so new and unknown, that it took many years before he successfully established his expanded practice.

He had to move seven times, usually because he could not pay the rent. When he moved the eighth time, he told himself: "This is where I stay, fail or succeed, I will not move again." His "Shiatsu Collage" of today is still in that very place. This is where I studied "Shiatsu" myself, years ago.

In his early years of practice, Tokujiro did mostly house-calls; and was thus limited to helping only seven or eight people a day; but he had come to Tokyo, to spread the practice of his method; to help people. In 1940, he established his school; and began to train "Shiatsu Practitioners". Eventually, the practitioners got together and approached the Government, asking for legal recognition of "Shiatsu".

After World-War II, U.S.-General Douglas McArthur directed the Japanese Health Ministry. There were more than 300 unregulated therapies in Japan at that time. McArthur ordered all 300 to be researched by scientists at the Universities, to document which ones had scientific proof of merit; and which did not.

At the end of eight years, the Universities reported back; and "Shiatsu" was the only one therapeutic practice, which received scientific approval. In 1955, the Japanese Health Ministry legally recognized "Shiatsu" and it became a licensed therapy.

Unfortunately, massage, "Shiatsu" and traditional Anma massage, come under one license Japan, which is very confusing. It enables people who get a license in one of the therapies, to hang out a "Shiatsu" sign, when they have no "Shiatsu" training at all.

Tokujiro is not a big person; but his thumbs are unusually large; almost twice the size of the thumbs of a person with average-size hands. He says, that the hands are very important; and that touch is one of the crucial elements, which make "Shiatsu" so powerful. I know that this is true, from my own experience with thousands of "Shiatsu" patients over the years.

When we practice "Shiatsu" regularly, the tips of the thumbs and fingers get really soft. This is good, because they need to be extremely sensitive, to pick up messages from the patient?fs body. Our thumbs are the best place on our body, from which to release energy. When we practice "Shiatsu" , we release something from ourselves; and we absorb something from the other person.

Since my hands are so sensitive and so important in my work, I have given them a lot of thought. I have often wondered what fingerprints are made for. Why do we have these little twirls of skin on our fingertips? My own ideas are that these twirls can release invisible energy particles; and absorb others.

There is something there; I feel it in my work. After a treatment, I have some discomfort; an irritable sensation in may hands, if I fail to wash them within three minutes of finishing a treatment. I know, that our skin breathes; but there is more than this. There is more coming in and going out, than the mere breathing of the skin.

The human hand is a wondrous thing. It is the most sensitive part of the body. There are many sense receptors in the fingers, thumbs and palm area.

It is important, that "Shiatsu" is not performed with any mechanical devices, but only by human hands. When someone, in practicing "Shiatsu" , finds a point of tightness, pressure from the elbows would not ease it. Pushing with a pen or stick would not be useful. Our hand is sensitive and precise enough, to provide exactly what is needed. They can unknot little muscles, tendons and ligaments, one by one.

To get a good result, the patient needs to be relaxed. Our hands; and a proper amount of pressure, can keep a patient relaxed. It is only the hands, which can do this. The amount of pressure in a "Shiatsu" treatment has to be comfortable for the patient and the practitioner.

Nothing is forced, in a "Shiatsu" treatment. The pressure is gentle and comfortable. It took me almost seven years to understand the right level of pressure in "Shiatsu" . The practitioner has to give exactly the right amount of pressure, in exactly the right place. If the pressure is too strong, it is uncomfortable. It is too soft, it does not work. It has to be very precise. The placement of thumbs and hands has to be just right. There are many important nerves and arteries running through our body. Pressing on the right point will encourage production of the appropriate body chemicals, to help with a particular problem. This is also true, in a "Shiatsu" treatment for someone who does not feel any particular physical discomfort. The proper amount of pressure in the right places, will help the patient to relax into a positive and healthy state of mind and being. Thus, "Shiatsu" can be a key to preventive Personal Health Care.

It can be similar to a state of good meditation, or a 'runner's high.' Positive chemical changes in the body can make you feel good; "Shiatsu" can put you in that state. This is useful and pleasant, not only to people who are already in excellent Health. Being relaxed, is a key to human Health and Recovery? Research shows that when people are relaxed, their immune system is stronger.

When someone is under heavy stress, such as is brought about through divorce or a death in the family, the functions of the immune system are lowered. The cardio-vascular system is affected, likely resulting in higher blood pressure. Such people probably have more digestive upsets and stomach problems; and are more at risk of developing an illness.

Stress and discomfort are the direct opposite to that good, relaxed feeling, which is the key to the healthy functioning of the body.

For an effective "Shiatsu" treatment, the mind of the practitioner needs to be concentrated on the treatment. Giving "Shiatsu" is not something, which you can do while you are watching your favored Sit-com on TV it is very important to focus on helping this person, who is presently your patient.

There is a trust between the practitioner and the person who is receiving the treatment. Your hands and your mind are connected. This is crucial to the effectiveness of the treatment. If your mind is not with your hands during treatment, the patient can feel that.

It can be difficult for a "Shiatsu" practitioner, if he is worrying about his own personal problems, or is thinking about what to have for dinner; such is no good. You really need that concentration on the patient's well being.

"Shiatsu" is a Science, because everyone can learn it. "Shiatsu" is also a real Art, because it depends on the personality and personal ability of the practitioner. "Shiatsu" is a great boon to the person who decides to get the treatment.