What is Ashiatsu Massage? A Guide to the Oriental Bar Therapy

BY: Groupon Editors |

When most people think of a relaxing massage, they imagine soft music, dim lighting, and the subtle manipulations of a therapist's expertly-trained hands. But what if you found out that the secret to a true tension-tackling massage was a therapist who worked with their feet instead?

That's exactly what you get with ashiatsu massage. But just what is ashiatsu massage and why is it so popular? Follow along as we breakdown this unusual form of massage therapy.

What is ashiatsu massage?

Ashiatsu massage is a barefoot massage technique that has been performed for thousands of years, with roots in Asia and India. However, the type of ashiatsu massage commonly performed in clinics today is actually a Westernized adaptation of the massage style known as ashiatsu oriental bar therapy. Colorado massage therapist Ruthie Piper Hardee devised the style in 1995, when she found she didn't have the energy to help a larger client at the end of a long day. She remembered seeing forms of ashiatsu while traveling abroad, so she created her own treatment based on what she saw and her years of massage-therapy experience.

During ashiatsu massage, the therapist positions themselves above the client while holding onto parallel bars attached to the ceiling. Using the bars for balance, the therapist then uses their feet to combat deep tension in the client's muscles. Therapists are quick to point out that they're not stepping on people so much as using the bars overhead to vary the amount of pressure and weight they're putting on a client's body. It almost looks like they're dancing (while working out their biceps).

Ashiatsu massage vs shiatsu massage: what's the difference?

Though they have similar sounding names, ashiatsu massage and shiatsu massage are actually opposites by definition. The word ashiatsu literally translates to "foot pressure" (ashi = foot, atsu = pressure), while shiatsu means "finger pressure" (shi = finger). While both are forms of oriental massage therapy, ashiatsu is typically used to provide deep pressure, while shiatsu uses smaller, more focused movements to try to redirect energy flow or "chi" throughout the body.

What are the benefits of ashiatsu massage?

As hinted at above, the main benefit of ashiatsu massage is that it allows the therapist to apply more pressure than they would otherwise be able to if they only used their hands. This is especially helpful for clients dealing with chronic tension that can't be tamed with a traditional deep-tissue massage. By targeting specific pressure points, the massage therapist's dancing motions can help decompress the spine in a way that may help relieve pinched nerves and back spasms.

But ashiatsu massage also has benefits for the massage therapist as well! The gravity-dependent therapy can save wear on the therapist's hands, arm muscles, and backs while simultaneously fighting tension in the client with deeper, broader strokes.

Learn more about ashiatsu massage

Curious to see this style of massage in action? Check out this video featuring one of our former beauty editors as she tries ashiatsu massage for the first time: