What Is Ashiatsu?

Getting Massaged With The Therapist's Feet

••• With Ashiatsu, the therapist holds onto overhead bars and massages you with her feet. Anitra Brown

If you like deep tissue massage, give ashiatsu a try the next time you see it on a spa menu.  It's a hard-to-find Asian-inspired massage where the feet massage the body, and offered at Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid in New York.  The spa introduced it because so many guests want deep-tissue massage, and doing that all day long can be hard on a therapist's body.  Ashi (foot) atsu (pressure) is a way to deliver the deep tissue work that clients want without causing injury to the therapist.

Two massage therapists from Mirror Lake Inn's spa went to take special training in Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy, and the spa installed a special parallel bar system in one of the massage rooms. You take off your clothes and get in a robe, just as you would for a typical massage, and talked to my therapist a little before we started about what would happen.    

The therapist explained how it is much easier to apply more pressure if someone wants it because she can simply use the weight of her body.  She also said it should be less uncomfortable because the pressure was spread out over the wider area of the food, not concentrated in fingers or elbows. 

Clean Feet First

First she washed her feet in a lovely copper tub filled with warm sudsy water, just like therapists wash their hands before they massage you.  I started face down, just as you do for a typical massage.  She started by sitting in a chair at the head of the table, running her feet over my shoulders and upper arms.

 Then she stepped up on the table and started working on my back and arms.  I started really feeling the benefits when she ran her foot along my triceps.  The back of the arms usually don't get much attention, and relatively quickly she had given them a really good stretch.  The only thing that felt weird was getting my hands massaged with her feet.

Legs Finally Get Their Due

I felt the benefits even more once she got to my hamstrings and calves, which also don't get much attention in a regular massage. Because it was so easy for her to apply more pressure by putting more body weight into the stroke, I had the best leg massage ever.  They really felt completely different once I got off the table -- more supple and alive --  and the benefits have been long-lasting.

I had no idea I would like Ashiatsu as much as I did, and the therapist said I'm not alone.  "A lot of people never go back to deep tissue."  While she finished with some detailed work by hand on my neck, I felt like the perfect massage would start with a good back massage by hand, then proceed to the Ashiatsu to "strip out" those big muscles, where so much pressure is applied that the tissue actually stretches.  If I lived in Lake Placid, this massage would be on my regular maintenance list.