Professional-grade shiatsu

There are two national certifications available to shiatsu therapists, offered by independent organizations.

by Brian Skow — 

What do you know about your shiatsu therapist? Do you believe you are receiving authentic shiatsu or do you suspect you are receiving a watered-down version? To ensure you are getting the best shiatsu therapy possible, you want to check that the therapist has two certifications and look for a number of important characteristics of the therapy.

There are two national certifications available to shiatsu therapists, offered by independent organizations. One is a membership organization, and the other is a testing organization.

The membership organization is the American Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia (AOBTA, To obtain the certified practitioner level of membership in AOBTA, the therapist must have completed a 500-hour program consisting of 160 hours of Asian bodywork technique and practice, 100 hours of traditional Chinese medical theory, 70 hours of observed clinical practice, 100 hours of Western anatomy and physiology, and 70 hours of related subject matters, such as qigong, tai chi chuan, first aid, CPR, and business, legal and ethical considerations.

The testing organization is the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM, This is the same organization that certifies therapists in the two other primary branches of Asian medicin — acupuncture and herbology.

To obtain the diplomate in Asian bodywork therapy (ABT) certification from the NCCAOM, the therapist must pass a rigorous exam covering health assessment, analysis and classification of the health assessment, developing and applying a therapy based on the analysis, and legal and professional issues. If your shiatsu therapist is a certified practitioner of AOBTA and a diplomate in Asian bodywork therapy by NCCAOM, you can be assured that he or she has the knowledge necessary to perform an authentic shiatsu therapy.

What does such a therapy entail? Authentic shiatsu therapy has three phases: an assessment, the therapy itself and a reassessment. The assessment is an evaluation of your health, with a focus on energy imbalances. The assessment may include an analysis of information gathered from an intake form and related conversation, and will almost certainly include either a hara (abdominal) or back palpation. The therapy is customized according to the assessment, and most often is performed on a futon rather than a table.

A reassessment is done to discover the results of the therapy, with a focus on how the client’s energy has shifted. If your shiatsu therapist focuses exclusively on stress reduction through use of a standard protocol, rather than on health improvement through the application of comprehensive knowledge of Asian medicine, you are not receiving authentic shiatsu.

Unfortunately, most shiatsu sessions offered in the marketplace are of the spa variety, performed by Western-trained massage therapists who have taken perhaps one course in shiatsu form. While you may feel relaxed after such a session, you will not realize the extraordinary benefits from a therapy performed by a fully qualified ABT. Be an informed consumer, ask questions and receive that which you deserve.


Brian Skow is a certified practitioner of AOBTA and a diplomate in ABT by NCCAOM with a specialty in shiatsu. He also offers Japanese herbal formulas and phytonutrients within his mobile health service, Shiatsu Works, LLC., or 602-770-4331.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 1, February/March 2007.

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