The history of Shiatsu therapy harkens back to the ancient practice of acupuncture. For centuries, the Chinese had practiced various forms of bodywork, including acupuncture in the form we know it today, but also a variety of stimulation point manipulations that affect the channels or meridians along which life energy, known as chi, flows. By applying pressure or stimulation to these specific points, Chinese doctors manipulated and directed the energy force through the body, stimulating the body's ability to heal itself and maintaining the proper energy balance.
These ideas had spread through China and Japan Tamai Tempaku, now known as the founder of the Shiatsu School of Bodywork in Japan, was born. He combined the ancient techniques of the Chinese and Japanese with some of ideas coming from Europe and the United States to come up with the basic ideas underlying modern Shiatsu therapy as you will experience it today. Several of Tempaku's students have started independent styles of Shiatsu massage therapy.
One of the more famous veins of Japanese Shiatsu therapy comes from Tokujiro Namikoshi, whose mother is rumored to have suffered tremendously from rheumatism. Namikoshi used to massage his mother's joints and back to give her relief from her pain; when he later studied under Tempaku, he married some of the principles he had learned while working on his mother to the ideas Tempaku taught. He studied Western massage as well and eventually developed his own method of Shiatsu massage therapy.
Continuing the development chain, one of Namikoshi's students, Shizuto Masunaga, extended the practice further by adding in consideration of the classical meridians of Chinese Medicine. Masunaga developed a particular method of touch referred to as the mother hand, or hand of compassion, which makes use of a supportive pressure technique. From this root, the practice known today as Zen Shiatsu emerged and is currently taught around the world.
Shiatsu is a form of acupressure massage, that focuses on zoning on key pressure points and tender spots in the body. When performed in a whole-body massage, shiatsu heps to relieve tension, reduce stress, increase joint and muscle flexibility, and unblock energy.