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What is Ashiatsu Massage?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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 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 in the massage.

In the late 1990s, massage therapist Ruthie Hardee developed a version of Ashiatsu known as Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy. She utilizes traditional Asian techniques, but focuses on use of massage as a relaxation tool, as opposed to a medical treatment. While Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy certainly can address muscle pain and tension, the practitioner does not have the training and skills of someone who practices Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Hardee's version of this style of massage is done with the client lying on a table, nude and draped in a sheet. The massage therapist uses a set of parallel bars above the massage table to support him or herself while essentially dancing on the client's back, combining long, flowing strokes with the feet with faster, lighter ones. The intensity of the massage can be tailored to the needs of the client.

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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon151550 — On Feb 10, 2011

I'm looking for professional people doing Ashiatsu (Back-walking) massage in the Oxfordshire area. Do you have any links? Thanks a lot. I do need one!

By anon138008 — On Dec 29, 2010

This massage can be dangerous if not performed by trained, licensed and certified feet, so don't cheat yourself. track down one of the best massage therapists in your state!

By pharmchick78 — On Sep 17, 2010

Now my massage education is admittedly limited, but is it possible to do an Ashiatsu pre natal massage?

By yournamehere — On Sep 17, 2010

As far as neuromuscular therapy goes, Ashiatsu massage is great for holistic healing. I used to have severe muscle cramps, especially in my lower back.

I looked into all kinds of massage, from Swedish to sports massage, but I finally got some help at a relaxation spa where they introduced me to Ashiatsu massage.

I'm totally addicted now -- they've got all sorts of massage equipment; it's not just the feet -- some even include exfoliation and therapeutic lotions that help to relax your muscles.

By EarlyForest — On Sep 17, 2010

I have always wanted to have an Ashiatsu relaxation massage, but no one in my area offers them. I mean, of course you have some people offering back walking body massages, but the places that they are offered are notoriously sketchy.

I wonder if it's possible to do a deep tissue massage with Ashiatsu techniques? I bet that could be a really great method for therapeutic massage that's easy on both the client and the massage therapist.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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