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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Eastern Bodywork

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

One thing I find fascinating is how closely mirrored the history of Eastern Bodywork and the history of Western Bodywork are.

The first thing you have to grasp when learning about Eastern disciplines of bodywork is that the human body is viewed in two parts: the Physical and the Energetic. The struggle most western based therapists have when studying eastern concepts is the energetic- most just cannot comprehend how to reconcile “energy work” with the physical protocols they are trained in.

There are many different and distinct forms of bodywork that come from the East; Acupressure, Shiatsu, Thai, and Ayurveda just to name a few. The concepts I will be covering in this blog do NOT apply to all eastern disciplines but can be used as an introduction to the topic and a good reference when exploring more in-depth in these modalities.

Energy or Qi (some pronounce like “Chi”, others pronounce like “key”) is most easily defined as the energy that sustains the life force. This can be thought of in a very narrow sense as an individual’s life force, or on a larger, global scale of the life force of the world and universe. In terms of diagnosis or assessment, Jitsu is used to describe energy that is full (or in a loose western translation, Tense/Tight) and Kyo is used to describe empty or dull energy (in western minds Soft, Spongey, or Weak).

Another key concept to understand is the idea that this Qi “flows” or is supplied throughout the body (similar to blood and lymph) and this flow can become obstructed. This energy flow has channels it follows and access points along those channels to assess and treat. These channels and access points have been named, numbered, and classified. The Meridians are classified as either Yin(Kyo/empty/dull) or Yang(Jitsu/full/tight). In Shiatsu specifically, these channels are called Meridians and the access points along those Meridians are called Tsubos. Yin Meridians start at the individual’s feet and run anterior and medially. Yang Meridians start at an individual’s fingertips and run posterior and laterally. The Meridians are also named after a corresponding body organ and each Meridian has many Tsubos that are numbered.

I encourage many therapists beginning to study these concepts to not get too hung up on the idea of Meridians being named after organs or being classified as Yin or Yang just starting out. Be aware of it, but really focus more on getting a handle on this new language and assessment/treatment system. {For example: when the Qi (energy) is found to be Kyo (empty/weak), treatment should be focused on tonifying. Conversely, when the Qi (energy) is found to be Jitsu (full/tense) treatments should be geared toward sedating or relaxing.}


The similarity that I find so interesting is in the history. Acupressure is the use of finger pressure to assess and treat the access points, this became the dominant form of treatment long ago. Acupressure eventually developed to include the use of needles to puncture the skin for treatment. This became the practice of Acupuncture which used Acupressure as a foundational basis to master before using needles. Acupuncture would go on the become the respected form of healing in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), while Acupressure would come to be seen as purely for relaxation or treatment for the impoverished because it came to not include formal education of clinical knowledge and herbalism. Those practicing Acupressure or Anma lost credibility as western medical and massage practices began to be accepted. Acupressure began to be considered shady employment. Practitioners of true Acupressure and other Asian bodywork sought way to separate themselves from less reputable practitioners. In 1919, Tempaku published a book called Shiatsu Ho which translates to “finger pressure method”. Shiatsu combined Anma and Acupressure with Western anatomy and physiology concepts. By 1955, the Japanese government officially sanctioned Shiatsu and in just two years was recognized as its own modality separate from Anma.

Next week’s blog will cover Western bodywork and you might be able to spot similarities in our separate histories.

Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark Ellis, MMT, BCTMB

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