What Exactly is Ashiatsu, Anyway?

Is it an Eastern or Western Technique?

Ashiatsu massage with overhead bars has not been practiced on a widespread basis until recently. The roots and history of ashiatsu, or barefoot massage, go back further than one might think.

Barefoot Massage is Nothing New!

Before we had memory foam padded massage tables and portable massage bars, there were other massage practitioners using their feet to perform massage therapy all over the world.

In the Kerala region of India, home of Ayurveda, a practice called “Chavutti Thirumal” is believed to be one of the earliest ancestors of ashiatsu. “Chavutti” means foot and leg, and “thirumal” means massage. Chavutti thirumal practitioners use generous amounts of oil on the body and a single rope hung from the ceiling for balance.

This region of India is the home of the ancient art of Kalaripayattu, a martial art ancestor to Kung Fu, and Kathakali, a classical style of dance. Students of Kathakali and Kalaripayattu have used foot massage techniques (e.g. Chavutti Thirumal) to make their bodies supple and flexible.

Although it is rare, there are a few massage professionals in the United States that practice this ancient form of barefoot massage.

Chavutti Thirumal spread to surrounding countries and continents of Asia. There, it was combined with the study of meridians and the ancient practice of shiatsu. (“Shiatsu” translates to “finger pressure” (“shi” meaning finger).

When broken down, the word “ashi” means foot and “atsu” means pressure.

Around this same time, there were also many forms of barefoot Thai massage that developed from chavutti thirumal. Barefoot techniques are still a common staple in most Thai massage sessions.

In the mid/late 1990s, Ruthie Piper trademarked her form of ashiatsu. This trademarked form is called Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy™, or AOBT. She began training practitioners in the United States. Although she was not the first barefoot massage therapist in the US, she is credited with the recent, widespread growth of ashiatsu techniques. She trained Michelle Mace-Lambert of Barefoot Masters, who also conducts Ahh…Shiatsu™ training.

Today, there are many other massage therapists practicing un-trademarked forms of ashiatsu, barefoot, or gravity assisted massage. These practitioners use this modality to protect their hands and bodies, as well as provide a fantastic massage for clients.

Ashiatsu massage, unlike most other barefoot methods, is performed on the western-friendly massage table instead of a floor mat. The massage table set up allows clients to put their face down comfortably in a face rest (not off to the side). Since ashiatsu is performed on the table, overhead bars are needed for balance. Other barefoot practitioners may utilize physical therapy walking bars, a staff, ropes from the ceiling, ropes across the ceiling, stools, or benches.

About Ivy

Thank you for reading this post! In addition to writing here at Ashiatsu.net, I write about more general massage topics at Massage & Bloggywork, as well as teach massage continuing education at Advanced Massage Techniques.


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