By Brett Rodgers
Uh. . . Ah. . . Oh! That's what people say when they receive Swedish/Ashiatsu massage. Most people are familiar with Swedish massage, which is received by the client on a regular massage table. The therapist uses two tools, his or her hands, to perform the standard massage strokes of petrissage, effleurage, friction, vibration, and tapotement. Swedish massage actually originated in China. In the 19th century, Dr. Henrick Ling brought the massage skills of China to Sweden for gymnastic athletes. For some reason, he forgot to incorporate the other two tools—the feet—into the picture. Maybe Dr. Ling had stinky feet and was too embarrassed to take off his shoes. In any case, the resulting consequences are that all over the world we have massage therapists who are using only two of their four main tools. (The elbows and now knees are secondary tools).
Ashiatsu massage is the missing part of the picture—and pressure. "Ashi" means foot and "atsu" means pressure. That's right, the therapist uses his or her feet in addition to both hands to apply pressure to the body. Certain areas of the body often require more pressure than the average therapist can apply with just hands. Millions of people who received "two tool massage" in the past are now starting to understand the benefits of "four tool massage."
So, what's different about getting massaged with feet vs. hands? First and foremost, the legs and feet are way stronger than the arms and hands. Look at the size of your calves compared to your forearms. Compare your thighs to your biceps. One of the things that many people aren't satisfied with in massage is the amount of pressure they receive. That's because 99 percent of therapists in America use only two tools, the small precision tools. The hands are great for light precision work. A good four-tool therapist uses the hands to massage the head, neck and face, the arms and hands, the abdominals, the feet, the quads and trigger points (knots). The hands are like a sports car. They can zip in and around the curves, maneuver through tight areas and flip a U-y in a second.
The feet are a whole different deal. A four-tool therapist uses the feet on the back, the shoulders, the gluteals, and the back of the legs and arms. The feet are like a ful-size pickup truck! They do the heavy work that the sports car can't handle. Let's see you go to Home Depot and pick up some lumber in your sports car. (Oh crap, I forgot. We don't have a Home Depot here in Silver City!) If you do, you'll ruin your sports car. That's what most therapists are doing with their hands. They're trying to do all the heavy work with their small tools. In time, they bum out their wrists, thumbs, forearms and shoulders, and have to retire. Ouch, I hate it when that happens! I hope that my fellow massage therapists read this and take heed. Use four tools!
Anyway, most of the hand work is done best on a regular massage table. Most of the foot work is done best on a futon mattress on the floor. People start on the table and then move down to the floor. Ashiatsu massage requires a frame with two sets of bars to hold as a steadying device. This makes strokes very safe and secure.
You might wonder, "How does it feel to get massaged with the feet?" Not only do the feet apply more pressure, but also they do it over a significantly broader area. Clients say it feels like they're being "ironed out." Many say that it's leveling out their spines.
This is exactly what most people need! Most people have humped-over backs and rolled-over shoulders. This creates weak, stretched-out back muscles and tight, over-contracted front muscles. Four-tool massage, along with yoga and chiropractic, is great for healing this problem. Sleeping on your back wouldn't hurt, either.
(Oh, and of course a good therapist washes his or her hands and feet before and after each massage.)
As I've brought Swedish/Ashiatsu massage, a combination of East meets West, here into our beautiful Silver City, the response from clients has been gratifying. David Mulvenna of Ikosaeder Gallery says the technique "was able to crack my back when no one else could including surgeons and chiropractors." Hypnotherapist Mar Bartlett tells me nothing beats it for "smooshing" the tension out of her muscles. And Rita Sherwood, owner of Repeat Boutique, says, "I have experienced the deepest therapeutic massage ever with the Ashiatsu techniques. My muscles become completely pain free and I reach a state of relaxation that no other masseuse has been able to attain."