An introduction to Kiatsu

Kiatsu uses the principles of Aikido to help facilitate the healing of injuries. I first learned to do Kiatsu on my dog. She had a joint in one front paw that was hurting her and making it difficult for her to walk. So after reading Koichi Tohei’s book, Kiatsu, I began practicing on her. I don’t know if it really helped or not. But she didn’t seem to mind. Perhaps she was just trying to help out her strange master.
Kiatsu is the part of Aikido that focuses on the healing of injuries. It involves the application of pressure – usually from the thumb, or with three fingers (excluding the pinky) – onto that part of the body that is causing problems. As you press, you send positive energy, or ki, into the recipient’s body.

If you spent 10 years studying Aikido before learning Kiatsu, you would still learn much of what you needed to know. Because the relaxed and gentle feeling you develop on the self-defense side of Aikido is also critical for Kiatsu.
That this is true becomes quite clear if some well-meaning person rubs your shoulders, only to make them feel worse instead of better. That’s what happens when someone uses too much muscle. The feeling we develop in Aikido, and the feeling you need for Kiatsu, is relaxed and gentle, and should never create additional stiffness.

Here are a few basics to get you started with Kiatsu:

The feeling for Kiatsu is like unbendable arm. Your arm should be relaxed, with a feeling of energy running through it. Extend this feeling all the way down and through your thumb.

Correct thumb position.

Incorrect thumb position.

Make contact with your thumb to a surface of your body, like the top of your thigh. Position your thumb so that it is perpendicular to that surface. This way, as you press, you will feel like you are softening the underlying muscle, without repositioning it. This is very important.
Use only the very tip of your thumb or fingers. Don’t press with the pads of your fingers. Pressing with the tips will more effectively direct your pressure into the muscle, without moving the muscle around.

When you do Kiatsu, you should follow the lines of the body. This is different than acupressure, which activates certain points. With Kiatsu, you generally start at a point on the body that doesn’t hurt, then gradually move along the body (a finger width at a time) until you work through the affected area, and then continue beyond it. Finding many of the lines in the body is quite intuitive – for example, the lines that follow the muscles in the arms, legs, or back – but some of them are not. To learn more about the specifics of where these lines are, talk to someone who has experience in Kiatsu. Or, look for Tohei’s book, in which he goes into detail on the lines of the body.

Keep one-point while you do Kiatsu. This will help you press with the correct gentle feeling, rather than with strength.

In his book, Tohei talks about how one-point should feel like it is steadily getting smaller and smaller. In a similar way, Tohei says, you can imagine that the tip of your finger which is doing Kiatsu is getting smaller and smaller. This often helps to give you the correct feeling, and maintain correct concentration.

Find a comfortable posture when doing Kiatsu, and try to position yourself so that you can use the power of one-point to help. If you are working on someone’s shoulders, for example, have that person sit while you stand.

There are two good ways to develop your skills in Kiatsu. First, try practicing on yourself. You don’t even need to have an injury or a sore muscle. Just try pressing with your thumb or fingertips on, say, your thigh. Follow a line that runs from your hip down to your knee. Press for ten to fifteen seconds on one point, then move down a fingers width and repeat, until you’ve done the whole line. How does it feel in comparison to the other leg? Is it more relaxed now? Does it feel better? If so, you’re probably using the correct feeling.

The other good way to develop your Kiatsu skills is by doing it to someone who is already good at it. They can then tell you if you are doing it correctly, and what you might need to change.

When you do Kiatsu, you are helping out another person. It is usually quite rewarding. But one of the best measures of whether you are doing Kiatsu correctly to someone else is how it feels to you. Like Aikido technique, when Kiatsu is done correctly, a good feeling comes to you. You will feel more focused and clear, and enjoy a good sense of calmness and peacefulness. And while Aikido training may be the best way to develop the right feeling for Kiatsu, Kiatsu helps you develop the right feeling for Aikido, too.

One of the other ways to know that you are doing Kiatsu correctly? People who’ve felt your Kiatsu before will ask for more.