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Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy® is a deep massage technique that a practitioner does with the feet while holding onto bars mounted on the ceiling.
This type of massage is also called DeepFeet Bar Therapy and was developed in the early to mid-1990s by massage therapist Ruthie Hardee. The technique combines Eastern barefoot massage with Western medical knowledge.
Hardee's three primary influences were Thai massage, barefoot shiatsu from Japan, and Keralite massage from southern India.
In Keralite massage, also called Chavutti Thirummal, the therapist holds onto a long rope for balance and uses feet to massage the client's body with healing oils. The technique is described in the book One Rope, Two Feet and Healing Oils by Harald Brust and Prabhat Menon.
Although Hardee's inspiration came from Eastern massage, she developed her system based more on Western osteopathic and myofascial principles, and less on traditional Eastern energy principles. The goal is to release fibrotic and adhered scar tissue. She also emphasizes massaging the muscles on the back of the body.
Practitioners use their feet to do smooth, flowing massage strokes (similar to Swedish massage) on lubricated skin and to apply pressure to strategic points along the spine. This approach creates a push-pull-pumping effect on the soft tissue around the space between the vertebral discs. The deep compression creates a mobilization that gives the nucleus pulposus (the gel-like substance in discs) a chance to return to its proper place.
See a short demo in this video:
A related technique is ashi-thai massage, which also uses the feet to provide massage. However, rather than long strokes similar to Swedish massage, ashi-thai consists of modified versions of Thai massage stretches.
Some massage therapists combine ashiatsu and ashi-thai techniques in one massage session.
Although this barefoot massage style has helped many people with back pain, a number of contraindications make the deep compression inadvisable for some people. Do not receive the massage if you have any of the following conditions:
Bourne, Juliet, Get On My Back, Massage & Bodywork, August/September 2000.
Dotinga, Randy, "Oriental Bar Therapy," Massage Therapy Journal, Summer 2001.
Osborne, Toby, Ashiatsu: The Healing Power of Heels, Body Sense, Spring/Summer 2005.
Photo Credits: C.Wellington CC