How Often Should I Come for Shiatsu?

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This is a common question put to many bodyworkers… particularly from those new to receiving bodywork - and doubly so for those new to shiatsu, who aren't quite sure what to make of it at first.

My less-than-simple answer is: It depends on the role you want bodywork to play in your "wellness" journey. (Yeah, I just used one of my pet peeve phrases...)

While shiatsu was developed in a culture that saw bodywork - along with diet, exercise, and meditation - as part of their health care plan, in ours, people may turn to shiatsu for a variety of reasons:

  • For regular or occasional relaxation, a mini-vacation, to just-get-away-from-it-all-for-an-hour
  • Relief of a current issue … pain, stress, difficult life transition
  • Regaining a sense of 'balance', when feeling ungrounded and out-of-sorts - a means of getting back into one's own body
  • In tandem with other modalities or protocols: yoga, qigong, massage, chiropractic, psychological counseling, etc.

In the cultures where shiatsu and similar modalities developed (Japan and China, for example), the idea of 'vital energy', or Qi (or Ki) underscores the medical philosophy. This 'vital energy' - or bioelectric current as our western minds may better understand it - governs all or our life processes, and not only affects and connects all of our internal organs, but is evident outwardly through our physical structure and emotions.

Through internal pathways, the condition of the visceral organs can be palpated through the skin (I believe via the fascia, or network of connective tissue), and likewise can be affected through pressure on the skin, or with needles, as in the case of acupuncture.

So, manual therapies, such as shiatsu, amma, tui-na, or even Thai massage, are employed to keep the condition of the body open and supple, and allow for the release of restriction to this flow of Qi.

Obviously, this is an abbreviated version of the overall philosophy, but I think it may help to begin understanding the context in which people have traditionally used shiatsu - not just for relaxation, but for health care: both for general maintenance and for specific conditions.

So, back to the original question and a roundabout answer.

It's a challenge to 'prescribe' a protocol when most of us are not used to thinking of bodywork as a form of health care ... especially a form that is different than the more familiar 'western massage' and deals primarily with 'energy'.

I can understand how many folks may not readily see the practicality or effectiveness of this, without getting the philosophy. It's also a challenge to suggest a regular routine when time and money are at a premium.

So, again, it helps to determine what you are hoping to get out if it.

My own 'rules' of thumb, based on typical situations:

~ Newbie. For those who are new to shiatsu, but for whatever reason, decided to try it in order to resolve some current issue, I suggest sticking with it for at least three sessions, no more than two weeks apart. For some people, it clicks right away. For others, who are 'tight', or protective, or have expectations based on past experiences of other forms of massage, it may take a few sessions for the body to develop trust, open up, and 'get it', thereby allowing the work to, well, work.

Also, shiatsu is mostly about creating balance in the body and getting your own innate healing abilities to kick in. As such, your body in its wisdom will attend to the greatest need first, which may not necessarily be what you came in for. This can be mistaken for, "Shiatsu doesn't work". Therefore, giving it a few sessions may be worth it. (Not to say that shiatsu is the answer to everyone's thing, but it may help to keep this in mind before writing it off after one session.)

~ Acute issues. As in, pain from a recent or repetitive injury, or angst :), or going through a difficult and stressful time. Again, I would suggest a handful of sessions no more than two weeks apart... until a sense of relief is felt, and the body and mind feel stabilized. The effects tend to be cumulative, and if the root of the imbalance is addressed, usually the body's own abilities can then take over.

~ Chronic issues. This may depend on how long something has been going on. If an issue has been going on for weeks or months (or longer) it probably wouldn't be resolved in a session or two. I would say three to five close-together sessions to get some relief and momentum, and then keeping up with regular treatments for a while. Every two weeks would be ideal, but again, understanding time and money restraints, at the very least, once a month.

"Stress" and all of it's glorious manifestations can be filed here, as it's a matter of retraining the body/mind/nervous system matrix to disengage from the 'fight-or-flight' mode, and relearn the experience of relaxation. This, as you can imagine, could take some time. :)

~ Maintenance. Shiatsu can be quite effective for many specific issues, those as seen above, and more. But where it really shines is as a means of keeping the body 'in sync' with life. if it's going to be used as first-aid, that's great... but it's not a drug. It doesn't make things happen. It's a means of supporting the body, and as such, it can take some time to resolve certain issues to the point of them being non-issues.

Ideally, once getting to that place, keeping shiatsu going - especially along with other lifestyle practices of diet and exercise - once a month, or at least once a season, can help keep the body tuned and flexible and able to navigate shifts in the seasons, or even life transitions (moving, job changes, relationship changes, hormonal milestones, etc).

Having said all that, many bodyworkers will answer this question with, "When your body needs the work, it will tell you."

I have often said this myself - and some folks are quite familiar with that nagging 'ick' feeling that prompts them to call me - but many of us (even us 'bodywork' junkies') can overlook the body's persistent call until it becomes pain. Still, yes, I encourage you to listen to your body, and again, regular shiatsu will improve your 'hearing' and awareness.

I hope these guidelines help. If you have questions regarding your specific situation, drop me a line!