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What is Ashiatsu?

Barefoot massage techniques have been practiced by monks and physicians in eastern countries for over 3,000 years, but have only recently become popular in the United States. The most common type of barefoot massage found in the west today is known as Ashiatsu, a Japanese word that literally translates to “foot pressure.”  Ashiatsu is the western adaptation and blending of barefoot techniques found in Thai massage, barefoot shiatsu, and Keralite foot massage (or the Ayurvedic practice of chavutti thirummal). 


Ashiatsu, as it is practiced today, is performed on a massage table with a massage therapist using oil or lotion and pressure from their feet to deliver long gliding strokes to client’s bare skin. In order to do maintain balance and control while massaging with their feet, the massage therapist holds on to specially mounted ceiling bars positioned above the table.  


In Ashiatsu, the feet prove themselves to be effective and powerful massage tools. The combination of the therapist’s body weight and the force of gravity allow for a type of depth that is not possible with regular table massage, and the broad surface of the therapist’s foot encourages both superficial and deep muscles to release quickly, gently, and painlessly. 


Techniques used in Ashiatsu include long gliding strokes that broaden and lengthen muscle fibers and slow deep compressions that loosen adhesions and inspire structural shifts. Therapists may also use advanced two footed techniques to achieve intervertebral spinal traction or to articulate stiff or sticky structures. 


Ashiatsu is deeper than deep tissue massage, and is a truly unique experience to receive. It is deeply relaxing and highly therapeutic, and a beautiful practice that is easy on the therapist, mesmerizing to watch, and deeply expressive to perform. 


What are the benefits of Ashiatsu massage?

Ashiatsu is possibly an effective modality for lower back pain caused by poor posture, muscle strain or degenerated or bulging discs


It can do wonders to improve or restore flexibility in athletes, and can increase circulation in thick or muscular clients at a much faster rate than hands on massage.  Ashiatsu is also a wonderful modality for those clients that just want a really deep and relaxing massage. 


Like all massage, Ashiatsu can  reduce muscle soreness and stiffness, reduce blood pressure, and relieve symptoms of anxiety or depression.


What does a typical Ashiatsu session look like?

An Ashiatsu massage is typically 60-90 minutes in length, and is done in western fashion, on a massage table and with the use of oil or lotion. 


Underwear is optional though not recommended, and clients should be aware that while they will be draped appropriately throughout the entire session, draping techniques used in Ashiatsu are a little bit more liberal than in a classic Swedish or deep tissue massage. 


The therapist will clean and warm their feet prior to the start of the session, and will use their feet to administer one or two footed techniques as appropriate. The therapist may also incorporate stretching, range of motion techniques, or hands on deep tissue massage. 


The client is encouraged to keep the therapist informed about any sensations of discomfort. Ashiatsu sessions are known for being intense (particularly around the glutes), but they should never be painful. After the session, the therapist will provide recommendations for a treatment plan and offer suggestions for at home care and alternative therapies.


What is the difference between Shiatsu and Ashiatsu?

Shiatsu means “finger pressure” in the Japanese language, and it is based on principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In a shiatsu massage, as in acupressure, the therapist uses their fingers, thumbs, or palms to apply rhythmic pressure along different points on energetic channels (or meridians). The goal of a shiatsu massage is to promote the free flow of vital energy (known as chi) throughout the body, and to thereby promote healing and well-being. 


Barefoot shiatsu uses the same techniques, but uses the feet to apply pressure instead of the hands. Technically, barefoot shiatsu is traditional Japanese Ashiatsu, and is performed on matt with the client completely clothed. 


It is worth pointing out that the type of Ashiatsu that is practiced in western spa settings today is a fusion of traditional eastern barefoot massage techniques with a western understanding of the body. This type of Ashiatsu was developed and popularized by American Ruthie Hardee in 1995 and is known as Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy. Many therapists have expanded upon Ruthie’s techniques over the years, but the intention of modern Ashiatsu is physical and is based on structural therapies. 


What are the contraindications for Ashiatsu Massage?


Ashiatsu may not be appropriate for clients who:


    • Suspect they have a disc issue, but have not had scans or seen a doctor

    • have a sequestered or completely herniated disc

    • are pregnant or nursing

    • have had an injuries or surgery within the last 12 months

    • have had Lasik in the last 7 days

    • have had breast implants within the last 12 months

    • have calf, pec, or gluteal implants (local contraindication only)

    • have uncontrolled high blood pressure

    • are on blood thinner medications like Coumadin, Lovenox, or Heparin

    • have blood disorders, such as hemophilia or severe anemia

    • have acute liver, kidney, or urinary disorders

    • have a compromised auto immune system

    • are suffering from acute inflammatory diseases or neurological disorder

    • are in the advanced stages of diabetes

    • have bone disorders (osteoporosis) or bone injuries (fractures)

    • have had steroid injections within the last 7 days

    • have a skin disorders or contagious skin disease

    • have deep vein thrombosis (dvt)

Ashiatsu Massage Therapists



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