Day 5-Shiatsu with Tonya Swartzendruber

This was actually the first time I have ever received Shiatsu.  I’ve heard it described, seen it done at Philly Community Wellness, and have even read books on it.  But this was the first time I have tried it, and I must say, I was quite looking forward to it.

Shiatsu is a relatively young Japanese bodywork founded on Ancient  principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which are also the basis for Acupuncture. This system understands energy, called “Chi”, to move through the body by way of channels called “meridians”.  The Meridians begin at the “Hara”.  Located about 1″ below the navel, the Hara is the seat of vital energy within the body, as well as the nervous and muscular systems.

The first mention of the term “Shiatsu” (which literally means “finger pressure”) appears in 1915 in “Shiatsu Ryoho” by Tenpaku Tamai. Its predecessor, Tuina (called Anma in Japan) is still practiced today.  There are many forms of Shiatsu with various ideas on approach.  Tonya practices Zen Shiatsu,a form developed by Shizuto Masunaga.  Masunaga’s system touted the use of two hands as most beneficial contact, and stressed the practitioner’s need to remain natural and friendly.  On a side note, bodywork practitioners in Japan were generally blind, as this was a way for them to make a living and they were thought to be far more sensitive.  It is common to see blind therapists there even today.

The session took place on a floor may similar to a futon mattress, and began with me lying on my back.  Tonya began at my hara, gently working my abdomen.  As the session progressed, Tonya began moving down my legs and feet applying pressure with her thumbs down the body’s meridians.

When Tonya got to my back and shoulders, I was twisted around as she applied pressure and what felt like pulling along my spine.  This was especially wonderful, and reminiscent of  Thai Yoga Therapy.  My head and neck were gently manipulated, and pressure was run along my arms.  It was a peaceful, gentle session and left me feeling light, balanced, and had that shoulder of mine feeling much more relaxed.  My posture seemed to be better as well.

According to Tonya, Shiatsu is especially beneficial for:

  • Stress induced anxiety
  • Sleep Issues (too much or too little)
  • As supportive therapy for HIV and Immune issues
  • If treated over time, muscle tension and range of motion in the joints

She also mentioned that Emotional and Spiritual issues may come up to be addressed.

Tonya stated that the following issues should be discussed with your practitioner ahead of time as it may be best to adjust your session  or even ask your Doctor if you have an active injury, medical condition, back/neck issues, or have had recent surgery.  As always, let your practitioner know if you are pregnant.  She strongly cautioned against getting Shiatsu if you have had blood clots or a stroke, cold or flu, or cancer.

Special thanks to Tonya Swartzendruber for this session. Tonya graduated from Zen Shiatsu Chicago, a previous affiliate of Ohashiatsu in NYC,  in 2007.  Tonya has extensive experience in the Non-Profit world; having worked for organizations that support persons with HIV, Women’s Health, Immigrants and Refugees, Sex Workers, the developmentally disabled, and the elderly.    She is currently working towards her Masters in Counseling Psychology at La Salle and sees clients on an affordable sliding scale in West Philadelphia.  To schedule a session, email her at


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