Stephen Brown does us a great service of explaining the history of the Japanese styles of acupuncture in his translation of Shudo Denmai’s Introduction to Meridian Therapy. Originating from China, Acupuncture spread across the globe over the centuries and has evolved into different styles of practices based on the culture of where it landed. Vietnamese acupuncture, Korean acupuncture, Japanese acupuncture, Chinese acupuncture, American acupuncture etc. all have their specific styles of this medicine. Furthermore, each country has a style within that style! To add another layer, each practitioner develops their own unique style based on where and with whom they have studied. In the modern world it’s exceptionally easy to study with all different types of masters (we are lucky in this sense) and thus develop a style personal to each practitioner.
Without diving into a vast history lesson, it is interesting to note that Japanese acupuncture & herbal medicine were studied in depth by various Buddhist monks as well as blind practitioners (Denmai, 2).
It was perhaps the blind practitioners that emphasized the significance of palpation and touch as part of both diagnosis and treatment. Rather than seeing and reading the location of an acupuncture point as written in a text, this information was instead used to guide the practitioner to the approximate ‘area code’ of an acupuncture point. Palpation was then used in order to hone in on each patient’s specific acupuncture point. Touch, not sight, was the key to this style of treatment. Therefore acupuncture and bodywork were not separate entities in various Japanese styles of acupuncture, but complements of one another.
Japanese acupuncture also developed the infamous guide tube (the tube which guides the needle into the skin of the body). Some practitioners, mostly Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, insert needles free hand. In the Japanese style, however, we tend to use both smaller needles and guide tubes to both direct and soften the insertion of the acupuncture needles.
Bodywork has been around since before the wellness industry was a thing. Touch is a natural way to communicate with one another. I live by the theory that the body can indeed heal itself. At times, it will need support or even a reminder on how to do such healing, but it is your body that does the healing. The bodyworker is simply one who ushers you into your best state of health. One method that encourages such recovery would be via structural integration, a method originally developed by Ida Rolf. Infamously now referred to as “Rolfing”, this is merely a subcategory under the umbrella term structural integration. Personally, I have studied with Tom Myers (a student of Ida Rolf and Moshe Feldenkrais) since 2010, and will continue to do so. Through his mentors and in depth studies of the body, Myers developed Kinesis Myofascial Integration (KMI). KMI is a subcategory of structural integration involving a fair amount of movement on the table. For example, you may be asked to point and flex your foot while I manually work on your calves or shins.
There are so many different styles of “ bodywork” it’s hard to pinpoint a time line detailing its evolution. There are definite styles of bodywork: the classic feels good delicious or Swedish style, physical therapy, deep tissue, sports massage, structural integration, etc. The most important thing is to find the right style as well as the right practitioner for you.
Shudō Denmei, & Brown, S. (1990). Introduction to meridian therapy: Japanese classical acupuncture. Eastland Press.