Ashiatsu—massage performed with the feet—is growing in popularity. Spas across the country are offering this barefoot miracle. Although the use of overhead bars works well for practicing Ashiatsu, it isn’t a practical solution for everyone.

Ashiatsu—massage performed with the feet—is growing in popularity.

Spas across the country are offering this barefoot miracle.

Although the use of overhead bars works well for practicing Ashiatsu, it isn’t a practical solution for everyone. Massage therapists made repeated requests for a simplified version of the technique, one that was portable for onsite mobile massage or for use in situations where it was impossible to install overhead bars.

These requests have resulted in a new version of this barefoot modality: Ashiatsu Floor Therapy.

Foot + Pressure

As a massage therapist for the past 21 years, my experiences have guided me to a find alternative hand-saving modalities that enhance and facilitate the main objectives of massage therapists and that help the client more efficiently while, at the same time, easing the workload on the body of the therapist.

Ashiatsu Floor Therapy is a trademarked form of Ashiatsu. It is a balanced approach to massage therapy that uses the feet and lower extremities as these parts of the body are better equipped to handle deep-tissue, compression massage. In fact, its key purpose is to provide the deepest pressure that a massage therapist can give.

Compression massage manipulates the circulatory system, which aids in the healing process. To administer more pressure, the use of the feet, rather than hands, is most appropriate, and the result enhances circulation and accelerates healing. Light-to-medium Swedish massage is another way to apply Ashiatsu Floor Therapy.

Ashiatsu is a descendant of an Ayurvedic practice called Chavutti Thirummal, a Keralite foot-massage technique associated with Kalarippayattu, a form of martial arts that is still in practice in the southernmost part of Kerala, India. This method employs ropes that hang from the ceiling. Then, oil is liberally applied to the entire body of the recipient.

Here in the U.S., the treatment has evolved into a Western form of Ashiatsu. Ashi means foot and atsu means pressure. Ashiatsu Bar uses a massage table with overhead bars for support and balance. Both massage techniques use the same routine of strokes.

Taking it to the Floor

Ashiatsu Floor Therapy utilizes a mat on the floor for the client. The massage therapist may use a stool for stability and support, or they may use the newest option of portable Ashiatsu bars for the floor. These bars are light and a suitable for the office, mobile massage and outdoor events. They look like two short ballet bars.

The two bars or stools allow the therapist to keep her balance over the client. The therapist uses one foot on the table or floor at all times, while placing the other foot on the client. The therapist does not walk on the client’s back. Thus, there are no height or weight restrictions for the therapist or table.

Instead of oil, we apply a specially formulated Ashiatsu cream made by Bon Vital and called The Original Creme. The cream doesn’t need reapplication during the massage, and it allows the therapist’s feet to slide over the client’s body with ease.

Ashiatsu incorporates deep, gliding, gravity-assisted compressive strokes. These strokes quickly warm the tissue, which usually brings about a hyperemic response. This causes a reaction of oxygenated blood to rise to the surface of the superficial tissues. It then produces a visible rosy redness to the top of the skin.

This slow-moving compression technique broadens and lengthens the muscle simultaneously. The effect rapidly softens the musculature, bringing the skeletal structure back into alignment.

The pumping action of compression stimulates the circulatory system which, in turn, pumps large amounts of blood into the area.

It generates a “steamrolling” effect of the interstitial fluid, fibrous muscle and connective tissue. In other words, Ashiatsu irons out the kinks in the muscles, thereby leaving the client in a deep state of relaxation that lasts for hours.

Ashiatsu is unique because of its deep, evenly distributed strokes. These strokes maintain the same amount of pressure throughout the movement. The combination of gravity along with the weight of the massage therapist gives it an energy-saving star rating. The application makes for an effortless use of body mechanics that are better suited for the task.

Good for Client & Therapist

Ashiatsu is a bodywork where the feet glide gracefully over the contours of the client’s body. The slow, rhythmic strokes deeply relax the client, while the therapist feels like they just performed a dance instead of a workout.

“It completely transports your mind and body into an unparalleled state of relaxation,” says client Bryce S., who receives Ashiatsu Floor Therapy sessions at the American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin.

Ashiatsu Bar and Ashiatsu Floor Therapy have little residual effects and have none of the associated discomforts of traditional deep-tissue massage, which typically uses the thumbs and the elbows and can bruise the client and injure the therapist.

Many massage therapists have war stories about doing multiple deep-tissue massages during the same day. After speaking to several therapists employed in the spa industry, it was the same familiar story.

I noticed that spa therapists are particularly susceptible to this practice.

At spas, the desk attendant handles the scheduling. Because the therapist does not have control over their appointments, it easily leads to overbooking deep-tissue sessions.

One year while at a convention, I again listened to the same stories of back-to-back, deep tissue scheduling nightmares. Therapists shared their experiences of working in spas and resort settings, where the many recreational activities such as golf and tennis create a higher demand for sports massage.

Most clients were big guys who had overdone their sports activities and sought relief. One therapist even shared that she found herself barely able to close her fingers to make a fist by the end of the day.

Sadly, it is the sustained overuse of the hands that lead to injury. Not surprisingly, this eventually ends or shortens the careers of many massage therapists as it causes repetitive-use damage to their hands, wrists and fingers.

Doing deep-tissue massages day after day, year after year, ultimately catches up with them. The pain and discomfort are detrimental and prevent them from practicing their chosen profession.

Furthermore, despite good posture and proper technique, many therapists feel frustrated and wonder what they are doing wrong when they feel a burning sensation in their hands. Ashiatsu techniques create an exciting future for massage practitioners.

Additionally, this technique provides the therapist with an alternative option to traditional deep-tissue massage. Finally, they can apply deep pressure without the throbbing aftereffects. In fact, they can perform deep-tissue work all day long.

“I like Ashiatsu because it is so different than any other service I have ever learned,” says Vanessa Dehling, who as of this writing was a massage therapist working at the Kohler Water Spa at the American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin. “I can finally give my hands—mainly my thumbs—a break.”

About the Author

Michelle D. Mace-Lambert, LMT, is founder and CEO of The Barefoot Masters. She has been instructing and developing courses in barefoot and other hand-saving techniques for nearly 20 years. She has traveled to Asia and studied Chavutti Thirummal with the master himself, Prabhat Menon.