The origin and history of Ashiatsu spans many continents, various cultures, and more than 3,000 years. Many different styles of barefoot massage have originated from India, Japan, Thailand, China, Fiji, the Philippines, and Hawaii; some are practiced on a floor mat, others require balancing props, such as ceiling bars, chairs, bamboo rods, poles, parallel bars and even ropes and chains.
In Eastern medicine, the focus of Ashiatsu was on working with energy, “chi”, or Ayurvedic energy lines. Early forms of Ashiatsu were not even considered massage but rather it was seen as a healing art. It was passed down through a culture’s generations from the Buddhist monks, who would only massage through clothing, to India's Chavutti Thirummal, which uses healing oils on the body and a single rope for balance with the client lying on a floor mat. These practices oppose how it is taught in the United States which focuses more on relieving muscle tension and soothing aches. This Western form of Ashiatsu is known to improve posture, relieve pain and stress, treat spinal problems, and provide an incredibly deep massage while still being gentle. It even incorporates Swedish techniques of long, flowing strokes and lubricants. These long, flowing Swedish massage strokes are traditionally done with light pressure because it is difficult to apply deep pressure during them. Ashiatsu makes it easy to perform this massage style with firm and deep pressure.
Japan created an extension of traditional shiatsu, which uses the hands and fingers, called barefoot shiatsu. Barefoot shiatsu uses the feet to apply pressure to various points along the body and thus correct imbalances and open up energy channels. It is performed on a mat on the floor.
Different countries and cultures have various and similar ways of performing Ashiatsu. They all share similar goals in making the person receiving Ashiatsu feel better then when they came in.
In the United States Ashiatsu is relatively new (in comparison to the above countries) and a quickly growing form of massage therapy. It’s popularity is spreading as therapists learn the benefits it brings to their clients while also benefiting the therapist’s own bodies.