Shiatsu as a Trauma Therapy

By Corey Bacon

What is Shiatsu?

Whether you experience intense fear, grief, physical and emotional abuse, or are subject to systemic oppression, this is trauma. Unfortunately, it doesn’t simply go away because we want it to. Rather it becomes encoded in our bodies where it will have physical effects until it’s dealt with. Healing trauma requires work on the body, mind and spirit, but as a culture we’ve tended to focus on the mind. Our bodies need just as much help, and often after trauma, it may need to be delivered in a subtle, soft and gentle way. In my experience, helping to move through trauma is one area that Shiatsu really excels at.

Haven’t heard of it? Many aren’t familiar with Shiatsu massage, but this technique has aspects that go above and beyond your typical massage. It originated in Japan using abdominal diagnosis and Chinese Medicine Meridians as a way to go beyond simply working on muscular knots and relieving tension through touch. Rather than using the long strokes or deep still pressure you may be familiar with, Shiatsu uses repetitive, compressive strokes as well as stretching to open up and balance the meridians and relax tight and strained muscles.


Healing Through Gentle Touch

As the parent of two special needs children, it is surprising how compressive pressure helps them. Sometimes, during a breakdown, the best thing would be to give a long extended hug. Throughout my daughter’s elementary years, the one thing that consistently helped her cope with the stress of school was wearing a weighted vest. It turns out, the body feels safe when compressed in a gentle way.

Unlike swedish massage where I work to release a knot by pressing on it firmly, Shiatsu is one of the least painful styles of bodywork I’ve ever practiced. The stretches are slow, gentle and stabilized. Shiatsu is incredibly grounding, even when done on a massage table (I learned Shiatsu on a mat, but practice it on a table). The compressive movements can feel like weaving the body and the spirit together over and over. In a way, it’s as if you are getting the repetitive message, “It’s safe to be in my body, it’s safe to be in my body, it’s safe to be in my body…”.

“It’s safe to be in your body…it’s safe to be in your body, it’s safe to be in your body…”.

Those suffering from sexual trauma or body image problems often find Shiatsu a safer form of bodywork. You wear loose comfortable clothing during Shiatsu, which can eliminate discomfort from being partially exposed, or fears that the draping* will be ineffective when stretched or moved. For anyone who has experienced sexual trauma or body insecurity, being fully clothed can release tension and create a safer environment.

*Draping is the way a massage therapist places the sheet on your body to prevent further exposure.

How Does Shiatsu Help Trauma?

In addition to the safe setting and grounded rhythm, Shiatsu is beneficial to healing trauma in many ways by:

• Providing human touch in a safe and comfortable manner, which is essential to recovering from trauma.

• Accessing emotions and experiences that get trapped in the meridians.

• Using an abdominal diagnosis and treating the Meridians accordingly can effectively focus on the mental-emotional body. Much like acupuncture, but without the needles. Acupuncture can work stronger and more quickly, which definitely has its benefits. Although, sometimes this can be overwhelming for someone who needs a more gentle approach.

Improving mood by reducing anxiety, depression and irritability

• Alleviating chronic pain caused by trauma

We have been through some tough times already, and will be going through more tough times ahead. Often, we are pushed back out into the world whether we’re ready or not. As you navigate holistic healing, consider Shiatsu as a safe, effective tool to help you. We can help you as you re-ground and re-center back into your life and your body.

Find Shiatsu Near Me for Trauma

If you are in Grand Rapids or West Michigan we are here for you. Read more about Massage and Bodywork at Grand Wellness, or schedule an appointment with Corey to see how Shiatsu can help you!


Ready to feel great? Schedule a session and let’s get started!