WHAT IT IS: Shiatsu—which means finger pressure in Japanese—helps loosen energy, which can alleviate pain. "We press on specific points on the body, called tsubos or energy–gathering points, and hold those until you feel them opening and the energy flowing," says Shirley Scranta, of the International School of Shiatstu, in Doylestown, Pa. Practitioners use thumbs, knuckles, forearms, even elbows, for vigorous, deep pressure. "We assess which line of energy is most deficient to determine where we'll work first," says Scranta. "The goal is to help you reconnect to your body."
WHY IT WORKS: By stimulating acupressure points, shiatsu "triggers the body's curative abilities," says Michael Reed Gach, Ph.D., author of Acupressure for Emotional Healing (Bantam, 2004). "External pressure releases internal pressure to improve blood circulation, which further eases pain."
FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE: A year ago, Caitrin Rames, 31, of Iowa City, started weekly shiatsu treatments to help with migraines and lower back pain. "For acute pain, it's better than any medications I've tried," she says
FIND A PRACTITIONER: Visit aobta.org. During a session ($40 to $150 per hour), you lie fully clothed on a low massage table or futon.
WHAT IT IS: Neuromuscular Integrative Action or Nia (pronounced NEE–ah) is a movement practice rooted in martial arts, dance arts, and healing arts. In a one-hour classic Nia class, you practice some of the 52 moves derived from the three arts, all to a wide variety of music. Occasionally you shout an affirmation to relieve stress, ease pain, and re-energize. "We focus on expressiveness, and adapting movement to your body, which is key to dealing with pain," says Debbie Rosas, 57, who, with thenhusband Carlos Rosas, founded Nia some 25 years ago in Marin, Calif.
WHY IT WORKS: The movement helps your muscles relax, taking your body out of its fight-or-flight mode and into a natural "high."
FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE: Three years ago, Kristen Maus, 54, an art therapist in Portland, Ore., suffered severe nerve pain due to a rare cancerous tumor. Several surgeries later, she no longer takes painkillers. "Nia's my drug," says Maus, who takes classes four times per week. "I feel relief right away."
FIND NIA NEAR YOU: Check out nianow.com. Nia classes cost $10 to $15 and are typically held at YMCAs, gyms, and dance studios. Comfortable clothing recommended.
WHAT IT IS: A 3,000-year-old mind-body Chinese discipline, qigong (chee-gong) is said to mitigate pain by clearing energy blockages along invisible pathways called meridians. Most classes begin with ten minutes of meditation and progress to tai chi-like exercises synchronized with relaxed breathing.
WHY IT WORKS: Advocates say the movements help release endorphins in the brain that can bring a sense of peace and a relief from pain. "I've had patients who've had pain for years get better in a few weeks," says Robert Rosenbaum, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif.
FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE: Darcie Gustine, a school teacher in Eden Praire, Minn. was desperate to find relief for her migraines when a friend told her about qigong. At her first class, Gustine felt a tingling of energy. A few days later, she woke in pain and tried an exercise called Breathing the Universe. After an hour, she felt relief. "For the first time in years my pain was gone."
FIND A CLASS: Go to qicentral.org for a class ($10 to $18) nearby.