Ashiatsu Deepfeet Bar Therapy is one of the best known barefoot massage styles in the US, famous for long gliding effleurage strokes performed on a client who lies comfortably on a massage table. The therapist uses overhead parallel wooden bars for balance, which is thought to save the careers of many massage therapists– we use gravity to assist with leg strength versus sheer power.
Although not popular in the United States until perhaps 20 years ago, barefoot massage has actually been around for many hundreds of years, varying in style and design. From Indian style Chavutti Thirumal to Asian ashiatsu (sometimes called “barefoot shiatsu”) and across the globe to the Hawaiian Kua Lua Lomi Lomi or “Lomi Lomi Back Walking”, many forms have lasted in their original form for generations.
Traditional Chinese and Japanese ashiatsu therapists have typically been trained using a full body approach to wellness, including diet assessment and prescription of healing herbs. The fully clothed client lies on the floor while the practitioner uses bamboo rods or chairs to hold on to for support. We have actually seen some photos of a Chinese medical doctor using what appears to be gymnastic styled parallel bars–his client lying face down, bolstered with pillows under the chin and ankles. It’s important to note that the therapist does not use any cream or oil, but they often use stretching, pressure and light shaking to break up stagnant areas of energy.
In India, Chavutti Thirumal (meaning “leg heat” in the Malayalam language) involves plenty of medicinal oils and herbs. Thought to be in existence for approximately 2000 years, it was developed by the Kalari Martial Artists. Traditionally, no draping is used as the client lies unclothed on a woven mat on the floor. The therapist uses long, sweeping movements from the fingers to the toes of the patient.
As with Asian barefoot massage, one of the goals of Chavutti Thirumal is to open the energetic channels, as well as to increase flexibility of the recipient. The practitioner’s method of balance is provided by a knotted rope hanging from the ceiling, which he holds on to with both hands. Indian author Prabhat Menon has written a book about this modality (which has been translated into English). More information about this interesting treatment can be found on his website.
An ancient Hawaiian type of barefoot massage is called “Kua Lua Lomi Lomi”. The original techniques were passed down from the village’s “Kahuna” (medicine woman). In traditional Lomi Lomi Back Walking, the massage is performed in smooth trance-dance movements and is often done in a mental state of reverent prayer.The belief is this helps to transfer vital healing energy into the therapist’s body and feet.The footwork combines both gentle and firm slow strokes. Slow, fluid strokes help the recipient go into a state of deep relaxation.
With the client being unclothed under a towel, lubricant is typically not used for the beginning of the session until after compression has been applied.One of the main goals of this style of barefoot massage is to promote a joyful attitude through human touch and prayer. Physically, it is thought to improve blood circulation, reduce dry skin and improve muscle tone.
While significantly different in methods and intention, barefoot massage throughout the world has likely significantly positively impacted many thousands of recipients and therapists alike.
So, did we invent the term “barefoot massage”? Heck, no! What we have done is set the standard across the massage community as the 1st ever NCBTMB approved form of barefoot massage in the nation. Our technique brings a westernized form of deep tissue to the forefront of the massage therapy field with a protocol of researched strokes that have proven to be safe for both practioner and client, effective for reducing chronic pain, and equivalent to the standards of todays modern forms of myofascial release, sports massage, swedish massage and more: we just happen to use our feet to do it! Ruthie Piper Hardee devised Ashiatsu Deepfeet Bar Therapy: massage table, naked client covered with draping, oil / cream to lubricate and parallel wooden bars overhead for the therapist’s balance and support with the protocol of strokes that we teach in our courses across the country. So although the idea of massaging with the feet has been around for generations, what you know of it it today is a result of the fine-tuning, research and dedication to advancing a world of beautiful traditions into the world of massage as we know it. Thanks Ruthie!
All we know is that clients love the deep, comfortable work they get from our graduates, and we are grateful that barefoot massage has a long and interesting history.
For more information on our barefoot massage classes, go to Deepfeet.com.