The object of most massage is to relax and let stress melt away. In alternative medicine, shiatsu massage is actually used to align and balance the different meridians in the body, through specific pressure points. This practice of balancing the meridians makes it like acupuncture, but without needles. shiatsu is actually older than acupuncture.
A shiatsu massage differs from other types of massage in several ways. This type of massage originates in Japan. shiatsu actually means "finger pressure" in Japanese. The meridians that the shiatsu massage therapist focuses on are the pathways that bring energy, or "chi" into the body.
The massage is done on the floor, with the client lying on a mat or futon cushion. It is done fully clothed. The therapist does not use oil or lotions, so there is no need to take off your clothes to receive a shiatsu massage.
Unlike a traditional massage, the shiatsu massage therapist will ask the client to begin the massage lying on their back. They will then check the organs by pressing on them individually within the abdomen. While pressing, they are checking on the health and suppleness of the organs. The information they get from this analysis will instruct them on how to proceed with the massage.
After this evaluation is complete, the client will lie face down, while the shiatsu body work is done on the back of the body. The massage will usually end face up with a recheck of the organs. This will tell the therapist whether progress has been made, and indicate what to work on in the next session.
Although shiatsu means "finger pressure", there are actually a variety of techniques used during a massage session. You may experience rocking of the body, rotation of the limbs, and stretching of the limbs and muscles.
So, the shiatsu massage therapist is working to help you be relaxed, yes. But, the main objective of the massage is to work within your body's meridians to achieve balance and healing. Before beginning a career in shiatsu massage, the therapist will consult and memorize a meridian chart, which shows which body systems and organs are affected by certain meridians.
The main reason that this massage is done on the floor is that the shiatsu massage therapist will be using their whole body during the massage. This is in contrast to the average massage therapist, who uses a table and pressure from their hands to deliver the massage. It's common for the therapist to use their elbows, feet, and pressure from the whole body to treat the client.
This traditional form of massage has been considered to be "medicine" for many years by different cultures. It is not covered under health insurance, and is not proven to have curative qualities under today's definitions of modern medicine. So, it doesn't have scientific proof, but has stood the test of time. Many people rely on it today, and will continue using it to balance their chi.