Ashiatsu Massage Therapy

Ashiatsu Massage TherapyAshiatsu Massage Therapy is a unique style of massage therapy in which the therapists ‘walks’ on the client’s back, using gravity and their bare feet instead as well as their hands to apply pressure. Ashi-what!? It’s pronounced “Ahhh-shiatsu”. “Ashi” means foot, and “-atsu” is pressure.  In this style of massage, the therapist uses gravitational forces and distributes their body weight by holding onto bars in the ceiling, using their feet to deliver the strokes, applying painless pressure directly onto your body.

Ashiatsu Massage Therapy is not just walking on your back; you will feel a deep, broad, flowing centrifugal pressure that engages the fascia throughout your whole body, loosening adhered tissue, opening tissue membranes, which allows fluids and nutrients to follow more thorough pathways. Additionally, compression of soft tissue is applied throughout the session, helping to release spasm, muscle contraction and tension, always working within your perfect range of pressure. It works fast, typically just 20 minutes of Ashiatsu Massage Therapy accomplishes the physical benefits that occur in a 60-minute session of a more traditional style of bodywork.

Ashiatsu Massage Therapy

This barefoot massage technique uses deep compression effleurage strokes that glide over the body. Gravitational centrifugal and centripetal movements relieve pain symptoms in chronic soft-tissue damage. Correct application will provide deep relaxation while stretching chronic shortened muscles of the body. Bars are used above the head for leverage, and lubricant is essential for its application. [This therapy was developed by massage therapist Ruthie Piper Hardee in 1995 as a result of her own scoliosis and disk pain associated with bending over the table to deliver deep-tissue massage.] Correct application of two-footed strokes near the spine create a “push, pull, pumping” effect on the intervertebral disc space and can relieve irritation on the spinal nerve. No anxiety should result from this application, and client range of comfort is maintained at all times.

History of Ashiatsu Massage Therapy:

With reports of massage being performed with the feet from China, Japan, Fiji, Hawaii, India, Tonga and Thailand for over 3,000 years, Ashiatsu appears to be a global therapy! Beginning as an in-home practice, with family members massaging the person on the floor or mat with their feet, Ashiatsu Massage Therapy has been adapted to studios and massage tables. This original style was not very structured at all, with family members getting creative as they worked, bringing their own personality and special techniques into the massage.

When Ashiatsu was in its infancy, practitioners were more interested in Chi (energy), than soothing aching muscles. In traditional Ashiatsu, “people follow the flow of the yin meridians coming up from the earth and then the yang meridians coming down from the heavens,” explains Barbra Esher, director of education for the American Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia (AOBTA). With the primary focus being the body’s energy map, many of the early forms of Ashiatsu were not considered massage. Instead, this therapy was considered a healing art, passed down through the generations.

Benefits of Ashiatsu Massage Therapy:

This treatment is known to induce deep relaxation, relieve tight muscles and stress, and stimulate the body’s own self-healing capabilities. Due to the practitioner’s knowledge of the body’s meridians (energy channels), this style of massage can also leave the client feeling refreshed and stimulated. It is also useful as a sports preparation or athletic maintenance, as the elements of stretching and engaging the large muscle groups are incorporated. It is also a great way to quickly warm up the large muscles for more detailed therapy, especially on people who are very muscular, although there are no restrictions on body types who can receive Ashiatsu, due to the therapist having control of weight distribution. It is, however, a deep tissue massage that feels like a “good workout” to some, leaving them refreshed and relaxed rather than tired. Ideally, an Ashiatsu massage therapy would be 90 minutes to allow the therapist time to work thoroughly both the large muscle groups with the feet, and the smaller muscle groups with the hands.

Ashiatsu effectiveness comes from treating all layers of your tissue and your entire body as a whole, resulting in a calmed fight-or-flight response and a dramatic dilation of blood vessels. By massaging you with the larger surface area of a foot – in comparison to a hand or forearm – and by accessing the deeper layers of your tissue without the sensation of pokey pain that triggers muscle guarding, the rate of post-event recovery is faster. The depth is more consistent throughout the entire length of the muscle, curbing pain responses and flooding the body with new sensory information to help it evaluate itself and begin to heal.

Thousands of years of footwork have proven the many benefits of Ashiatsu Massage Therapy, including the following:

  • Elongates the spine and improves posture
  • Stimulates the lymphatic system
  • Boosts and balances the body’s energy
  • Loosens the back and shoulders
  • Relieves pain and stress, promoting relaxation
  • Improves flexibility
  • Enhances feelings of well-being

What happens in an Ashiatsu Massage Therapy session?

The practitioner stands on, or moves their feet along the client’s body, using the overhead bars to distribute their weight as needed.  The therapist can also vary the pressure applied by having one foot on the table supporting their weight, and the other foot on the client, for example.  The foot itself can also be used in a variety of ways – heels and toes are very capable of detailed work, such as contacting specific trigger points in the muscle, and the entire foot can be used to apply broad, deep pressure. Generally, the feet are used for compression strokes on the larger muscles along the back and top half of the legs. Due to the restrictions of a massage table (as compared to a floor, where Ashiatsu originated), smaller areas such as the neck and arms are usually worked with the hands rather than the feet.  A technique called ‘jostling’ can also be used, and is similar to a sports-massage style movement. At The Wellness Center, a sheet is placed over the body and no oil is used when feet are the massage tool so the therapist can be very particular. Lotion or oil is used directly on the skin when the practitioner is using her hands for smaller areas such as the neck, arms and lower legs.