When William Pereira and Raymond Watson planned the layout of Irvine in 1959, they envisioned a series of villages woven into one city. These villages—unified by a pre-chosen architectural style—would connect natural green spaces that were preserved by reclaimed water. And everybody would walk everywhere. Today most people stick to the six-lane streets that run between villages, and casual sidewalk strollers draw curiosity. But Irvine massage therapists have a valid reason to prefer footpaths over the road more driven: stronger legs make for better ashiatsu massages. What is ashiatsu massage? When you put yourself in the hands of an ashiatsu therapist, you’re actually putting yourself under her feet. And, for that matter, under a pair of parallel bars or wooden poles affixed to the ceiling that run the length of the bed. These are what the massage therapist will use, along with a stool off to the side, to maintain balance while performing the circular effleurage strokes typical of Swedish massage with one or both feet. The therapist’s weight allows for extra-deep pressure if desired, and massage oils help compensate for the foot’s relative lack of dexterity. The technique requires a lot of leg strength to help finely control the level of pressure. The modality can be adapted for just about anyone but is especially popular with athletes and larger clients who may prefer more pressure. Many ashiatsu massages are performed, for instance, with one foot. Two feet are only recommended if the client weighs at least 100 pounds more than the therapist. Other practitioners might change the height of their bars to incorporate work delivered via knees, elbows, or palms. Good for the client—and the therapist The average massage career lasts about eight years before the strain of standing bent over clients and performing fine motor work catches up with practitioners. Ironically, the strain sometimes forces massage therapists to seek treatment in realms beyond massage. In 1995, Colorado massage therapist Ruthie Piper Hardee developed ashiatsu partially as a response to her own back pain. Bending over a massage table all day was aggravating her back troubles and creating pain in her hands. Inspired by having seen back massage performed with the feet in Asia and in the Southern Hemisphere where everyone walks on their hands, she set out to develop a modified technique. She chose the name ashiatsu by combining words she found in a Japanese dictionary: “ashi” for foot and "atsu" for pressure. She now teaches ashiatsu to practitioners from all around the country.
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