This week, October 22-28, the American Massage Therapy Association is promoting massage awareness in the public with “Massage Therapy Awareness Week“. We’re going to add the word “barefoot” since, well, that’s what we do. 😉
Barefoot massage has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, but it’s really been popular in the US for a comparatively short while. We wrote about Daniel Nowozeniuk winning 2nd place in the Freestyle category at the World Massage Championship this May (2017). While technically he wasn’t barefoot since he wasn’t allowed to shed his shoes, he gave a fantastic rendition with his feet on the table while wearing Vibrams.
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and intuitively inventive people from all around the world have dipped their toes into the world of barefoot massage because it was more effective than using hands, thumbs, and elbows.
A big part of what we at the Center for Barefoot Massage stands for is the growth of the ENTIRE niche field of barefoot massage. We want every massage therapist to learn how to use their feet to massage, in some form or another, at some point in their career. We want the massage industry to know what barefoot massage is. We want the term BAREFOOT MASSAGE to be as recognized as hot stone and sports massage. It starts with simply knowing about some of the staple styles: so here we go!
Oldies but goodies
Popular in India for centuries, Chavutti Thirumal is a form of barefoot massage where the practitioner uses his feet, lots and lots of oil, and a rope overhead for support.
Passed down through generations, this barefoot bodywork originated primarily for soldiers involved in combat and for those whose work was strenuous.
Imagine a swinging rope overhead or a clothesline from one end of the room to the other. This barefoot massage requires physical strength, coordination, and concentration. Chavutti Thirumal can be performed on a firm mat on the floor. We’ve also seen it being done on either simply a sheet or a woven mat.
“Chavutti” translates as “foot pressure” in Malayam, an Indian dialect spoken in Kerala.
Benefits: their main focus is to increase the client’s flexibility, and the work is done at a very fast pace. When done correctly, it opens up energy channels, nadis, and is thought to open the hips and thoracic areas as well as to strengthen postural muscles.
Traditionally, this work is done with the client on the floor and no draping. That’s right, kids, and it’s done both prone and supine.
Now, Chavutti has been modernized and brought to the US by Helen Noakes, who spent years adding her personal flavor and experience making it a fusion suitable for Western practitioners – so it’s morphing and coming into the future as we speak.
True, traditional Thai massage is done through clothing while the client lies on a mat. This work is considered to be a part of the 4 pillars of Thai medicine, and it’s regulated in Thailand by the Thai government.
Some experts and historians place the recognizable formation of the practice now known as ‘nuad paen boran’, or traditional Thai massage, in the period 800-1200 AD. The Story of Thai Massage
Many modernized styles of compression based massage and assisted stretching have stemmed from Thai Bodywork roots.
Barefoot Thai and stretching have become more popular in the US as therapists have realized there is a better way to get deep-the feet. In fact, we have developed our ROM class to help clients with their range of motion and to increase mobility in their joints.
Benefits to therapists can include protecting shoulders and wrists from overuse. Therapists can work with less energy and yet still focus on grounding their clients and themselves.
And from the islands, Fijian.
Fijian massage evolved as in the village of Kadavu on the island of Fiji, and like Chavutti Thirumal, the knowledge was passed down through the generations. With patients lying on a woven mat, the island’s “doctor” would work on his patient using his feet and hands to dissolve the day’s aches and pains from walking many miles at a time.
Adjusting and adapting this modality to make it easier on the therapist, Lolita Knight has become synonymous with bringing this work to the forefront of modern culture, keeping a focus on all the footwork, not so much the hands-on maneuvers. Therapists do not use any lubricants, and the client may remain fully clothed. (Except in modified Fiji-Oil adaptations.)
It’s also important to note that one of the therapist’s feet always remains on the floor, and can often be done while the therapist is in a seated or reclined position themselves.
Benefits: according to Knight, clients often realize gains more quickly than with hands-on massage, Fijian is effective for scar treatment, and the work is easier to do with less possibility of injury than with hands-on massage.
3000+ miles from Fiji is Hawaii, the home of Lomilomi.
The term “Lomilomi” in Hawaiian actually means
to knead, to rub or soothe; to work in and out, as the paws of a contented cat.
While Lomilomi is not strictly barefoot massage and they may even use sticks and stones (😯). The use of the feet and knees can all be part of this beautiful massage.
Lomilomi therapists also use upper arms, forearms, fingers, knuckles, palms, and elbows. “Breathe, presence, aloha and sacred space” are honored aspects of the touch involved in various lineages of Lomilomi. Like Chavutti Thirumal, draping is minimalistic, but you may get a little towel or sarong for your bits and parts.
Historically, Lomilomi practitioners were chosen around the age of 5 based on certain signs such as birthmarks, weather, and their personality. Ka poʻe lomilomi (“the massage people”) prayed as they plucked the herbs to be used as part of their practice.
No one should call him back or distract his attention, all should be as still as possible for they do not want the vibration broken. They knew the laws of vibration. They knew the power of the spoken word. They knew Nature. They gathered the vibration of the plentiful. – Emma Akana Olmstead, 1930’s
Traditional Lomilomi may not performed in spas as the practitioners may offer diet advice, ask the the clients to pray or meditate or execute other methods of improving their health. Elders typically train with their students for years. As a result, what you may see in spas and in practice across the US are therapists who have taken a massage course (as opposed to an apprenticeship).
Benefits: this modality is known to relieve stress and tension, circulation. Lomilomi also clears energy blockages and rejuvenates the mind, body, and spirit.
足圧 (Ashiatsu) means “foot pressure”, and it’s what many people associate with “back walking”. Traditional ashiatsu practitioners would step through clothing on the client’s back while he lay on the floor.
Shizuko Yamamoto, the author of Macrobiotic Shiatsu, is often cited as the source of barefoot massage here in the US. Her story is interesting but long so you can read about it here.
From Japan, she had realized that while she could do perhaps 6 traditional shiatsu sessions a day. Her numbers increased to be able to work on large American clients up to 10 hours a day, every day of the week.
I worked seven days a week and sometimes would treat ten people a day. American people can be very big and have stiff muscles from eating so much meat! If I used only my hands I could treat no more than six people a day. So I used my feet to treat the Yang part of the body. In that way during the next 20 years I developed Barefoot Shiatsu.
You can find Yamimoto’s book, Barefoot Shiatsu, here.
New kids on the block
Here in the US, Richard Rossiter evolved his work with feet (using clean socks-technically, bare feet are not allowed BUT if you take a look at the photo, it looks like there’s a rebel) based on the work of Ida Rolf.
Rossiter company top producer Chuck Lubbock wrote for us this interesting 2-part blog.
The work is done with the client fully clothed and on a mat-they are called the “PIC” or “Person in Charge”. While you don’t have to be a massage therapist to take their classes, the work definitely could be categorized as a combo of part PT, part massage. (Note: it’s not considered a “massage” but rather a “workout”.)
Benefits: (from their website) The Rossiter System is a two-person stretching modality that not only alleviates pain but can prevent its occurrence. It offers a series of powerful and effective techniques for addressing structural pain and restriction of movement at its source – the connective tissue system. Your will experience noticeable looseness in your joints with every session.
Fix Pain authors John Harris, an international sports massage and Olympic massage pioneer, along with his mentee, Fred Kenyon, were introduced to barefoot techniques all over the world: Australia, Thailand, and through Japanese therapists.
Because the massage therapy industry is fraught with injured bodyworkers, John developed this westernized compressive deep tissue barefoot work to alleviate overuse injuries. He stated it as a potent new tool for powerfully satisfying, effective deep tissue massage, sports massage and Trigger Point Therapy regardless of client’s size or build.
This work is done while the client lies on a mat (side body positions are common), and the client wears comfy clothes like leggings and a T-shirt.
Now although training in this style is not easily found, Jeni studied with John Harris and the essence of this form of barefoot massage is respectfully included as a part of FasciAshi.
Benefits: their barefoot work offers protocols for myofascial pain syndrome.
In Sanskrit, the word sarga may refer to a natural creation. The Spanish translation is “tapestry” or “silk”.
Sarga therapists use their feet on the client’s lubricated body. The massage table on which the client resides may be either set up as usual or lying flat on the ground. A long fabric strap, similar to aerial silks, is attached to the massage table from one side to the other allows the therapist to use not only gravity, but tensional force as well.
A significant degree of focus, patience, physical fitness, and bodywork experience are prerequisites for practicing this work.
The work looks graceful and beautiful. You’ll use the fabric attachments while either seated or with one foot on the table and the other on the client.
Benefits: therapists can use their feet and gravity alongside with tensional force. This “oblique pressure” allows them to provide deep tissue myofascial therapy.
When worlds collide and techniques blend, sometimes it takes one person to put their foot down and say THIS IS WHAT I DO, AND IT’S REAL.
A form of barefoot
massage that doesn’t want to be defined is bubbling up to the surface out of Texas, and it’s called Reboot™… bodywork that is a step apart from Traditional Thai and yet something beyond massage.
From a western vantage point Robert Gardner added myofascial release, trigger point therapy, MacKenzie rehab exercises, chi nei tsang, anatomy, physiology, yoga, yoga therapy, common sense and pranayama to his Thai sessions in a way that was unfamiliar to many massage therapists and his clients.
Reboot ™ is an amalgamation of his best bodywork available and allows Robert to teach more easily to those who can use this work for the benefit of the public.
We’ll let him explain Reboot further to you – because he’s inspiring and amazing to listen to!
And then there’s us, the FasciAshi rebels. There are other companies that teach barefoot massage with bars overhead. Like with the Model-T, though, the original doesn’t mean it can’t be evolved and improved upon.
Quickie barefoot massage style recap:
👣 Chavutti Thirrumal ↬ India, lubricant, little to no draping, on the floor
👣 Thai ↬ Thailand, no lubricant, through clothes, on a thick mat on the floor
👣 Lomilomi ↬ Hawaii, lubricant, scant draping, on a massage table
👣 Fijian ↬ Fiji, lubricant, draping, on the floor
👣 Barefoot Shiatsu ↬ Japan / US, no lubricant, through clothes, usually on the floor
👣 Rossiter ↬ US with socks, no lubricant, through clothes, on the floor
👣 Fix Pain ↬ US, no lubricant, through clothes, on a mat
👣 Reboot ↬ US, no lubricant, through clothes, on a mat
👣 Sarga Bodywork ↬ Hawaii, lubricant, draping, on a massage table (or a table on the floor)
👣 FasciAshi ↬ US, some lubricant, draping. ROM ↬ no lubricant, through clothes, on a massage table.
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