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Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy: Massage Using the Feet

Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy® is a deep massage technique that a practitioner does with the feet while holding onto bars mounted on the ceiling.

Also called DeepFeet Bar Therapy and developed in the early to mid-1990s by massage therapist Ruthie Hardee, this type of massage 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, 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:

Ashiatsu Contradictions

Although this massage style has helped many people with back pain, a number of contraindications make the deep compression of barefoot massage inadvisable for some people. Do not receive the massage if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Acute heart condition or high blood pressure
  • Any acute inflammatory condition
  • Breast implants within the past nine months
  • Certain cases of stenosis (narrowing of spaces around the spine) and spondylolisthesis (slippage of a vertebrae out of place)
  • Pregnancy
  • Prescription blood thinners
  • Recent eye surgery
  • Severe nerve root impingement


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

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