Meaning – “foot” (ashi) “pressure” (atsu)

Ashiatsu is a type of massage therapy in which the therapist walks on the client’s back, using bars and other props for support to vary pressure and weight. This modality has its roots in Asia, but today, several different versions of Ashiatsu massage are practiced around the world. Learning to perform Ashiatsu massage requires some advanced training, because indifferent technique could cause damage to the client’s back.

 nicola lmt
Nicola preforming Ashiatsu in his studio










Traditional Ashiatsu massage is based in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is performed in both China and Japan by practitioners who have been trained to take a whole-body approach to wellness. In addition to offering massage to their clients, these practitioners may also assess diet, prescribe herbs, and use other treatment modalities to address the client’s health problems.

In traditional Ashiatsu, the client lies on the floor in loose, comfortable clothing while the practitioner walks across his or her back, using the feet to target specific pressure points. A bar or staff for support may or may not be used, depending on the practitioner. This form is also sometimes called barefoot Shiatsu, referencing the fact that the therapist is shoeless, and that the principles of Shiatsu, a massage technique which focuses on pressure points are utilized during the massage. By Applying elements of deep tissue, fascial work, trigger point, with active, passive and assisted stretching into a massage session, these modalities has helped me to assist my physically active clients with their weekly muscle-recovery routine.

Barefoot Shiatsu with my Staff

One distinctive example of Ashiatsu massage for the massage therapist is that it is a lot less stressful on the body than many other massage techniques. Many massage therapists develop strain from bending over their clients and using their arms for deep work. Ashiatsu massage utilizes gravity as a helper, with the massage therapist using the whole body as a tool, rather than just the arms. This can reduce work-related injuries for the massage therapist.

Although Ashiatsu sessions may appear unconventional, with practitioners often holding on to specially-attached ceiling bars or a staff to maintain their balance while walking on a client’s back, this type of bodywork is being heralded as a luxurious, deep-tissue massage.

Beginning in the East, ashiatsu’s history spans several continents and more than 3,000 years. Many different styles of barefoot massage have originated from India, Japan, Thailand, China, and the Philippines; some are practiced on a floor mat, others require balancing props, such as ceiling bars, chairs, bamboo rods, poles, and even ropes and chains.

Nevertheless, when Ashiatsu was first started, its followers were more interested in “chi,” or energy, than soothing aching muscles. Asian bodywork is based on Chinese medicine and an energy body map, our main concern is treating the energetic body. And because of that, a huge amount of our education is in those theories — like yin and yang.

In traditional Ashiatsu, practitioners follow the flow of the yin meridians coming up from the earth and then the yang meridians coming down from the heavens.


Image result for yin meridiansRelated image

Image result for yin meridiansRelated image

The Western spin on barefoot massage is known to improve posture, relieve pain and stress, treat spinal problems, and provide an incredibly deep massage, all while still being gentle. With regular massage, the No. 1 complaint is that the therapist didn’t go deep enough. People are yearning for deep tissue work, and — in Ashiatsu — because the therapist is standing straight up, using their center of gravity, and their thigh, knee, and leg are working up the lumbar and the erectors, that’s like six hands duct taped together. If you need the deep work, this is the best. The key word here is if someone says ‘I just can’t find someone who can go deep enough,’ you know, that’s the kind of person that it’s great for.

This sports massage technique is proving particularly popular with athletes. If they’re very muscle-bound, then they really need the deeper tissue massage to penetrate and be therapeutic. With a regular hand massage, it is very difficult to leverage that much weight on someone who is muscular and thick. Whether you try Ashiatsu because you want to recharge your chi, or relax your body, barefoot massage is worth trying to see if it’s a good fit for you.

Therapist uses gravitational force and distributes his or her body weight by holding onto bars in the ceiling or a staff and using the feet to deliver the strokes and apply painless pressure directly onto the client’s body. Ashiatsu is not just walking on the client’s back; the client will feel a deep, broad, flowing centrifugal pressure that engages the fascia throughout the entire body, loosening adhered tissue, increasing drainage. Additionally, careful compression of soft tissue is applied throughout the session, helping to release muscle spasms and tension, always working within the clients’ comfort zone. It works fast. In my practice I’ve noticed that typically just 20 minutes of Ashiatsu accomplishes the physical benefits that occur in a 60-minute session of a more traditional style of hands-on bodywork.

Ashiatsu’s effectiveness comes from treating all layers of the tissue and the entire body as a whole, which results in a calming of the “fight-or-flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system and peripheral vasodilation. By using the surface of the foot-in comparison to a hand or forearm-and by accessing the deeper layers of soft tissue without the sensation of elbow pain that triggers muscle guarding, the rate of post-event recovery after strenuous exercise increases.

The depth of pressure is consistent throughout the entire length of the muscle. Curbing the pain responses and flooding the body with new sensory stimulation helps it re-evaluate itself and speeds up the athlete’s recovery. To boost pre- or post-workout low intensity exercise, passive sports stretches are incorporated to improve tissue elasticity and reduce initial tension.

Ashiatsu is so much MORE than just the catch phrase “deepest, most luxurious massage on the planet.” I am continually learning about massage, and this work never ceases to amaze me. When properly trained, the therapist will find out how to blend deep tissue techniques with the sports massage style of passive stretching-ALL WITH YOUR FEET!






*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
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