From Amna To Shiatsu: What Is Japanese Massage?


What is traditional Japanese Massage?

Japanese Massage techniques are used around the world, having been on a long journey of development and evolution over thousands of years.

The word for massage in Japanese is “Anma”, which means to press (An) and rub (Ma), and defines not just the massage therapy itself but also practitioners of the method. This therapeutic tradition takes inspiration from techniques developed more than 7000 years ago in China, though some believe it actually has it’s roots in the ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda.

Using a combination of kneading, tapping, pulling and pressure, practitioners target the legs, back, arms and neck. Japanese Massage aims to bring about relaxation and healing not just with the physical body, but also on an emotional and spiritual level.

Who invented Japanese Massage?

This type of massage became popularised in the seventeenth century by Sugiyama Waichi, a prominent blind acupuncturist. He set up many schools for the blind that taught the principles of Anma, in the belief that their heightened sense of touch made the massage more intuitive and effective. This has become an important part of the history of massage in Japan, with blind practitioners becoming part of the tradition and practice.

Anma, while being informed by other therapeutic and relaxation practices, has itself given birth to many other types of massage, including:

  • Shiatsu: literally translated as “finger pressure”, this popular technique aims to restore alignment along the body’s energetic lines.
  • Swedish Massage: More physiological than spiritual, this therapeutic technique uses similar variety of strokes to a tradition Anma.

How does Amna relate to Shiatsu massage?

While Anma continues to be practiced as it’s own school of massage, many of its techniques have been absorbed into the contemporary form of Shiatsu, and in many settings the distinctions between the two have become blurred.

If you decided go for a Japanese Massage which doesn’t specify a type, it’s safe to assume it will be a mix of the two. Both use a combination of pulling, kneading, light tapping and patting, although Shiatsu also may include use of the elbow, and involves more gradual application of pressure.

Swedish Massage also has a number of similarities to Anma, although the crucial difference is the direction of the strokes being applied. Anma moves away from the heart, while Swedish Massage moves towards it. Anma is also typically performed over clothing, while Swedish Massage is done on bare skin and typically includes the use of oils.

Who can benefit from a Japanese or Japanese-inspired massage?

Anma (and by strong association, Shiatsu) has been known to help with a variety of issues, ranging from the physical to the psychological.

With its use of grasping, kneading and pressing, it can be considered to be a rather vigorous massage, with the intention of stimulating blood flow to both your muscles and deep tissue. If that sounds too much, don’t worry – there’s also plenty of light tapping and stroking involved!

It all combines to create an experience that may reduce muscle stiffness and help alleviate stress and anxiety, while generally promoting good health and well-being.

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