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Passive Stretching in Shiatsu

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Stretching Gallbladder Channel

It is common to see various stretching techniques within a Shiatsu treatment. There are a few reasons that passive stretching is beneficial in Shiatsu, and I would like to share these with you.

When I was in my late 20s, which is some years ago now. I began learning a martial art called Southern Shaolin Kung Fu. To be able to carry out some of the moves and postures that were in the forms, flexibility was important–well absolutely necessary. This meant the warm-ups were long and focused. When I began training, each session would be between 3 and 5 hours long, giving us plenty of time to do a thorough warm-up.

One of the stretching exercises we had to do was called the three-man stretch. As the name suggests, we would break up into groups of three, with one person that is going to be stretched and one person holding the limb of that individual in position while the other person moved the leg or back to implement the stretch. It sounds horrific, and at times it was, but through this type of passive stretching, doing kicks and some of the more demanding moves within the forms became easier to do.

Shiatsu and Passive Stretching

Let's first take a look at what distinguishes active from passive stretching.

Active stretching does not involve any external assistance, like doing lunges or sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you and bending forward. With this, one group of muscles is active, helping another group of muscles stretch. The mind is also engaged and is very aware of the body's limits; going beyond that limit can be harder, and tension can build in other parts of the body as it resists.

Passive stretching is managed with external help. As an example, you are in a relaxed position, and your leg is being eased into a stretch by another person or with the use of a support and gravity.

During a Shiatsu treatment, there are a few reasons that passive stretching is applied by the practitioner. It is used to stretch the channels/meridians, invigorating them and easing the pathways for the flow of Qi, enhancing the communication throughout the body. It also helps to stretch the muscles and fascia across the body, increasing the receiver's flexibility. There is a study that shows a greater improvement in flexibility is accomplished with passive stretching, but it is better used post-exercise or in a therapy session to help with stiffness and joint issues.

Click 'More Info' for the study on passive stretching.

Get the Best From Passive Stretching

One of the great things about Zen Shiatsu is that the receiver is fully dressed. The only requirement is that you wear comfortable, flexible clothing. This will make sure you benefit from the stretches. If, for example, you wore jeans or any material that restricts your movement, the clothes may reach their limit of stretching and feel uncomfortable before you reach your true limit of stretching.

Throughout a Shiatsu treatment, as a receiver, there is very little for you to do. Actually, you gain more from the treatment and the stretches if you do nothing; how great is that?!

As you relax into the stretch that is being gently applied by the practitioner, think of your whole body softening, releasing any tension you may be holding onto, and having a calm, steady breath. This helps to downregulate the nervous system, moving it away from fight or flight mode into rest and digest. When you are no longer holding by tightening your muscles, your stretch will go a little bit further than if you were to do an active stretch. This is how your flexibility can be increased.

Seated arm stretch

Glucose Levels

Regular, prolonged stretching can be helpful in controlling blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetes. Here is a paragraph taken from the Diabetes Care Community website.

If you have diabetes, there are other important reasons to stretch. People with diabetes have a higher incidence of joint issues – including carpal tunnel syndrome, frozen shoulder, arthritis and limited joint mobility syndrome.
Elevated blood sugar levels cause collagen (the rubbery stuff in joints that helps them move) to become “glycated.” Glycated means coated with sugar. Glycation causes collagen to form sticky nets, causing joints to lose flexibility. Stretching can help break up some of the glycation, thus improving joint mobility. Limited joint mobility can lead to injury and substantially lower quality of life. While blood glucose management is the key to improving limited joint mobility syndrome, daily stretching may help prevent or delay its progression.
Some studies show that stretching can also help improve blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It has been suggested that stretching can help improve circulation in the small blood vessels in the muscles and joints, allowing glucose to enter cells more easily. Daily stretching is strongly recommended to improve health and quality of life.

As you can see, it is a good idea to keep in mind that a regular combination of passive and active stretching can strengthen muscles, increase flexibility, help with the distribution of glucose in the body, increase blood flow, relax the nervous system, and lower the risk of injuries.

Always make sure that any exercise you do is done within your comfort zone.


Nishikawa Y, Aizawa J, Kanemura N, Takahashi T, Hosomi N, Maruyama H, Kimura H, Matsumoto M, Takayanagi K. Immediate effect of passive and active stretching on hamstrings flexibility: a single-blinded randomized control trial. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Oct;27(10):3167-70. doi: 10.1589/jpts.27.3167. Epub 2015 Oct 30. PMID: 26644667; PMCID: PMC4668158.

Zen Shiatsu helps to support and regulate your system.
While working with the physical, It is helping the psycho-emotional
While working on the flow, It is helping to restore
Zen Shiatsu has a holistic approach to maintaining your wellbeing.

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