Have you ever wondered what it feels like to have someone walk barefoot on your back? If so, you should check out Ashiatsu massage. Here’s what it is all about.
In London, you can easily find various Japanese massage styles, but there is one particular style which you may not have yet experienced. It also originated in Japan but this one focuses on massaging by walking on the back of clients.
This back walking massage is called Ashiatsu and is a type of deep tissue massage. Therapists use bare feet and body weight, rather than hands, to perform the treatment.
Its name comes from the Japanese words for foot and pressure: Ashiatsu (足圧) = Ashi (足) foot + Atsu (圧) pressure
Therapists stand next to you, over you, and even on top of you, and press, stretch and squeeze your muscles using the toes, heels and balls of their feet to massage your body.
The technique takes advantage of the therapist's body weight and power of gravity to enable her to apply an even deeper force than she might otherwise manage using regular techniques.
Let’s assume an average female therapist weighs 55 kilograms. If she were to place all her weight through the heel of one foot on to your shoulder, that would be equivalent to 32 pounds of force per square inch. That is a depth of pressure which even the most demanding of clients should be satisfied with!
People who have tried Ashiatsu say it offers really meaningful, deep tissue, muscle penetration but feels more comfortable than the elbow and knuckle techniques which are commonly applied in other massage styles when extra deep pressure is required.
Ashiatsu massage is often performed with the client unclothed and lying face down on the floor or a mattress, with a towel draped over them.
The therapist usually wears a loose-fitting outfit keeping her feet bare.
Depending on the treatment room, you may also find a set of balance bars or hoops securely fixed at around 1.5m above the mattress. Where bars or hoops are not available, the mattress is often placed directly next to a wall.
This kind of balancing equipment assists the therapist by providing extra stability and support. The masseuse uses the bars to help position their feet more precisely when walking on the client and also to lift themselves up slightly off the client to reduce the overall pressure as needed.
Ashiatsu therapists start the session standing at your side and massaging you with one foot, applying the pressure of one leg. This way, most of their weight is not immediately introduced and instead your muscles are gently warmed whilst also helping to relax any pre-treatment nerves or tension that are common with a new treatment type.
During this part, in a similar manner to regular hands-on massages, the therapist shifts their weight between the heel and ball of their foot. This rocking movement helps to warm, relax and ease tension in tight muscles.
Once your muscles are warmed, the therapist climbs gently on to the client’s back. The overhead bars provide support to ensure that her weight is applied gently and the force increased gradually as appropriate.
Once the masseuse has both feet on the client’s back, they usually perform one of Ashiatsu’s most popular moves. Standing at the centre of the client’s torso, both feet shoulder width apart and perpendicular to the spine, the therapist lifts herself slightly using the balance bars. Then releasing her grip slightly, to allow more of her weight to press down onto the client, she slides her feet up and down along the edges of spine. This is a truly excellent method in which to stretch and relax tight back muscles, a common complaint amongst desk based office workers.
The most experienced and dexterous masseuses may even grip and squeeze parts of your torso with their toes. If you are squeamish about other people’s feet touching you, Ashiatsu massage is probably not the best choice for you!
Ashiatsu massages are usually mainly focused on the shoulders, back and buttocks but can also include legs, arms, hands and feet.
It is worth noting that even though the therapist is using gravity to help apply a stronger force, performing this kind of treatment is still very demanding on a masseuse. This is because she has to continuously balance herself as well as lift her own weight to ensure that appropriate levels of pressure are being applied for each part of the client’s torso.
To avoid the risk of slipping, oil is not usually used in Ashiatsu treatments, with many therapists preferring to use powder instead.
We would not usually suggest that letting someone walk all over you is good for you. But when it comes to Ashiatsu massage we make an exception!