To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Happy Hour at the Bar: Ashi-Thai,” by Ruthie Hardee, in the February 2012 issue. Article summary: Ashi-Thai is a mixture and expression of traditional Thai moves that have been modified to use with overhead bars. The technique is performed fully clothed without any lubrication. The client’s head is firmly centered in a face cradle headrest for both prone and supine protocols. The therapist uses her hips, legs, ankles and feet to lift the client’s limbs or body into any positions for stretching or compression—and every move is executed with flow and rhythm standing straight up.

by Ruthie Hardee

Listed below are a few of the similarities and differences in traditional Thai principles verses Ashi-Thai principles.

Traditional Thai principles at a glance:

• Study diligently and don’t boast.

• Don’t take patients from others.

• Seek knowledge. Keep mind and body clean.

• Don’t give certificates to the unqualified.

• Give thanks every day to the teachers.

• Massage is done for the elevation of the human spirit.

• Massage is done fully clothed.

• Massage is done barefoot on a mat or a floor, rather than a raised table.

• Wash hands and feet before massage, yours and theirs.

• Practice Wai Kru and rub your hands together many times to warm them.

• Thai massage is done in a meditative manner.

• Check for contraindications, recent illness, surgery, pregnancy, injuries.

• Begin and end with prayer, usually Om Namo. Honor the teacher.

• Pressure is variable depending on the needs.

• Never hurt the receiver or yourself. Adjust uncomfortable positioning.

• Use alternating hands, pressing with thumb and palm.

• Give energy. Don’t cause pain.

• Move flowingly and sequentially, rather than jump locations.

• Maintain hand contact.

• Receive massage yourself to know the results of each move.

Ashi-Thai principles at a glance:

• Massage is done fully clothed on a raised table with neck support and bolstering.

• Bars over the head are used for support and leverage.

• Mandatory to start with warm feet for you and your client.

• Know contraindications for compression inside and out.

• Movements are done in a slow, rhythmic manner while rocking your body weight.

• Be kind to your body mechanics; adjust immediately if you feel discomfort.

• Become sensitive and three-dimensional with your feet.

• Have excellent table etiquette; never let them feel your footsteps on table or clothing.

• Always keep a relaxed foot with the toes unengaged.

• Allow gravity to do the work and natural body weight to give controlled compressions.

• Acknowledge that healthy tissue does not hurt when it’s pressed.

• Synchronize all stretches with exhalation and inhalation.

• Never bend at the waist; use your bars, that’s why they’re there.

• Working too deep and too fast are the most common mistakes.

• Check in often for body language; make sure you’re working with them, not against them.

• Always straighten clients’ clothing if clothing bunches up after any sequence.

Footnote: Wai Kru is a ritual in which students pay respects to their teachers.

Ashi Thai: Contraindications

With any compression therapy technique, it is important the massage therapist understand contraindications—but with barefoot massage, it’s even greater because you are using body weight as opposed to just your arms and hands. Some situations may indicate you should withhold treatment completely or be extremely cautious for this session.

Either way, deep compression, whether you use your hand or your foot, should be viewed with various precautions. The therapist should be careful to think before acting. Do no harm and when in doubt, ask for a doctor’s OK and describe the work differently than just the word massage. Use terms like deep compression, aggressive and structural to describe the work you are going to do so the physical referral is accurate. We take great pride during the study of both Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy and Ash-Thai to educate therapists in particular cautions when it comes to barefoot compression work and the following:

Deep compression force should not be done in these situations:

• Pregnancy or trying to get pregnant

• Breast implants within nine months

• Boils, skin lesions, varicose veins, open wounds, rashes, anything unusual in nature

• Recent eye procedures, including Lasik surgery, within 72 hours

• Tuberculosis, thrombosis, aneurysm, kidney disorders, recent bowel or hernia surgery

• Any acute inflammatory conditions, such as active phlebitis, cellulitis or lupus

• On people taking coumadin, lovenox, heparin or heavy aspirin

• Uncontrolled high blood pressure or heart condition, pacemaker, stent or shunt

• Osteoporosis in advanced stages, Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome or any disorder that causes the loss of feeling

• Certain diabetic cases in advanced stage

• Any person with a history of blood clots.

• Recent injections of substances at joint or muscle junctures (hyper mobile clients)

• Heavy menstrual cramping or abnormal flow cycle

• Irritable bowel syndrome

• Severe anterior rotation of the pelvic region

Ruthie Hardee is CEO of Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy ( and created the first nationally approved course-study for Western barefoot effleurage using bars on the ceiling. Hardee pioneered the gravity-assisted barefoot-bar treatments used in today’s spa and massage industry. She invented the Hardee-Ashiatsu Portable Bar apparatus, which is currently used worldwide. The courses are approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.