November 10, 2013

Complementary medicine

Complementary medicine is an increasingly popular form of health care in the Western world. Millions of consultations take place every year, and according to some surveys, almost one in three people have tried it. People with chronic conditions, such as long-term pain, make use of complementary medicine particularly frequently.

Gradually, acceptance of complementary medicine is increasing in orthodox medical circles with more and more doctors training in, or referring patients for, complementary therapies or incorporating complementary practitioners into their practices. You can find complementary medicine in hospitals, specialist clinics, hospices, schools, beauty clinics, and gyms.

At the same time, people are becoming more discerning about the complementary therapies that they use and asking for proof of effectiveness and safety. Practitioners are increasingly well trained and many of their professional associations have been working hard to raise standards.

Aside its questioned effectiveness and safety, the underlying concern for these things are their cost. Is it cost-worthy? But it’s definitely up to you and how fast your body responds to these ways of treating yourself. To have a full grasp of the same gives you more options on the thing at stake: your health.

To name a few of these, let us take you to the land of the rising sun, Japan. It was there where the Japanese massage techniques (including shiatsu and anma) started.

Anma, shiatsu, and Western massage are the three most commonly practiced types of massage in Japanese medicine nowadays. These three massage approaches have all been licensed as forms of therapy by the Japanese government since 1955. Although they share some similarities, their underlying theories and practice and their common usage today are quite different:

Anma is used to treat general discomfort and to release tension or stress. This therapy is most commonly practiced amongst blind practitioners in Japan or amongst shiatsu practitioners in the West.

Shiatsu, based on meridian theory, is used for both diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of disorders. It has become a very successful and popular therapy in many Western countries. Shiatsu is also quite widely used for stress relief.

Western massage is most widely used in the treatment of muscular and skeletal problems, often in medical settings.


Anma is the oldest of the massage traditions, having reportedly been brought over from China more than 1,500 years ago. It was once part of the mainstream of Japanese medicine but fell out of favour as Western massage approaches became more popular. Anma then became almost exclusively the preserve of blind massage practitioners. (Massage has long been an accepted occupation amongst blind people in Japan.) These practitioners kept the therapy alive and it is now once again popular in Japan and taught to sighted practitioners as well.

Anma is quite a vigorous form of massage designed more for therapy than for relaxation or pleasure. It involves gripping techniques where tense muscles are held and then released to ease muscle tension and promote blood circulation.

Anma also involves direct stimulation of acupoints along the meridian channels using mainly the fingers, thumbs, knuckles, and sometimes the elbows. Pressure is applied quite firmly and deeply, and the treatment is carried out fully clothed with no oil being used.

Anma is ideal for treating tension-related ailments, muscular pain and stiffness, muscle strains, sports injuries, neck and shoulder problems, back problems, headaches, sinus problems, and so on.


The term shiatsu, literally ‘finger pressure’, is a therapy that Tokujiro Namikoshi developed in the early 1900, when he was just nine years old, using finger pressure massage to relieve his mother’s painful rheumatism.

Namikoshi’s shiatsu involves using the fingers, thumbs, and palms to apply pressure to the surfaces of the body in order to correct imbalances and promote health. Namikoshi believed that this type of therapy could stimulate the body’s natural healing mechanisms.

Various other forms of shiatsu have been developed by other Japanese masters over the years. One of the most well known is Zen-shiatsu, developed by the great master practitioner, Shizuto Masunaga, which also employs the knees and elbows to apply firmer pressure and uses stretches to balance and realign the body.

Shiatsu can be performed through clothing or directly onto the skin. As shiatsu is a form of pressure therapy, oil isn’t used.

Western massage

Western massage was introduced to Japan by visiting European doctors in the early 1900s, and is based on Western anatomy and physiology. This massage involves vigorous kneading, grasping, and rubbing techniques designed to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and release muscle tension.

Most moves are directed from the extremities towards the heart in order to promote the return of circulating blood to the heart. Western massage is performed directly onto the skin and oil may be used.

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