It’s not uncommon for people to see some health care providers with backgrounds in Western medicine and others who trained in Eastern medicine, like visiting an MD physician for respiratory infections and an acupuncturist for headaches. But then there are certain forms of care that integrate both perspectives—like shiatsu massage. Shiatsu, which means finger pressure in Japanese, was developed in the early 20th century as a non-invasive means to address a host of mental and physical conditions.
“It’s a different way to look at the body,” says Spring Saldana, and massage therapist and massage therapy program chair at Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU). “What’s cool about shiatsu is that now we get to assess and treat the body from an Eastern, Chinese medicine perspective as well as a Western medicine perspective.”
Shiatsu has a similar vantage point to traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine—including a focus on qi (energy) and influencing its movement in the body to optimize health and wellbeing. This approach gets paired with the principles of massage therapy from Western medicine. Like with acupuncture, shiatsu practitioners aim to stimulate and manipulate qi at various meridians and acupoints in the body, just with touch instead of needles, Saldana says.
Shiatsu practitioners use manual techniques like tapping, stretching, pressing, and kneading to harmonize the flow of qi along the body’s meridians. Though shiatsu treatments are similar to visiting a massage therapist, sessions do not involve massage oil and clients wear clothing. Shiatsu therapists use their thumbs, fingers, and palms to apply pressure to various parts of the body, aiming to restore the balance of qi.
In addition to serving as a stress reducer and overall preventive therapy to promote wellness, shiatsu addresses numerous conditions, like musculoskeletal pain, fibromyalgia, fatigue, insomnia, digestive disorders, congestion, PMS, stress, anxiety, and more. Therapeutic sessions can be stimulating or calming, depending on what each person needs.
An East-West Certification
NWHSU is launching two new ways for massage therapy students and licensed practitioners to add shiatsu expertise. It will be the only program in Minnesota that offers both Eastern and Western approaches to body work. Starting in January 2023, students can enroll in the school’s East West Therapeutic Massage certificate program. This adds six classes in shiatsu onto its current therapeutic massage programs. Licensed massage therapists will be able to pursue a certificate in shiatsu in order to add the treatment to their menu of services.
The extra education is key. Someone who studies massage therapy alone typically will not learn about traditional Chinese medicine, focusing on anatomy, physiology, pathology, and kinesiology. The new NWSHU programs will bring together these disciplines. “It’s an integration of East and West to treat our patients and clients holistically,” Saldana adds.
“Shiatsu allows us to look at our patients through the lens of Chinese medicine and massage therapy is more based in Western medicine, and we assess the body from both perspectives,” Saldana says. “When you add shiatsu to massage, you are able to use both lenses.”
For massage therapists, having shiatsu expertise allows their clinics to be one-stop-shops of services where clients gain access to the specific treatments they need in the moment. It’s also a way for people to benefit from both Eastern and Western medicine in one therapeutic visit, Saldana adds.
When you are trying to maximize your health, it certainly can’t hurt—and it just might help—to have multiple approaches working in your favor.
Located in Bloomington, Northwestern Health Sciences University is a premier integrative health institution that prepares the next generation of healthcare professionals deliver and advance healthcare, offering 11 areas of study. Its clinics and TruNorth Wellness Hub are open to the public to support healthier, better lives for all. Bloomington Clinic specializes in whole-family care, providing chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, massage therapy, naturopathic medicine, nutrition, and cupping. Sweere Clinic offers comprehensive care for complex pain conditions and trauma. The Biomechanics Lab and Human Performance Center support proper movement and recovery through gait analysis, rehabilitation, and strength and conditioning.
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