There is a list a mile long of what I love about Ashiatsu, and right at the top of it, is that it is truly the most evolutionary modality of all! That fits right in with my adrenaline junky, Cirque du Soleil wanna-be self. I was originally attracted to the modality because it was outside the massage box we all learned in school. Then I really fell in love with it when I realized it can go from a basic, general, deep tissue therapy session, to a super specific, detailed, luxurious massage treatment, and everything in between–it was all up to me and my willingness to try. Of course one would only dream of doing wheelies and stoppies upon learning to ride a motorcycle, but would not actually attempt those until more experience was gained. Some wouldn’t dream of that at all, and they’d be content with getting from point A to point B. So, which ever goal you have, Ashiatsu is a great asset to keep in your therapist tool box.
Just like learning to ride a motorcycle, it becomes second nature to get the basics down. Once you lose the “death grip” and learn to palpate with your feet, much like finding neutral on a bike, it becomes second nature and your body & mind can begin to open up to new levels. After years of practicing and asking myself during a traditional hand massage, “how could I possibly re-create [this] with my foot?” I have thoroughly learned that it can be done–slowly and patiently, and ONLY if i use every bit of those soles to feel! People often ask the question, “Do you feel things with your feet the same way you felt them with your hands?” Today, my answer is, “Ah, yes! Only better!”
Thinking back to getting my first therapist job, I remember coming home and putting my hands and arms into the sink I filled with ice water. I remember the pain it took to “get used to it.” Good thing I didn’t have to ice my feet & legs to get used to Ashiatsu! (Although I do admit to loving a pedicure now). I do remember feeling I needed to exercise my feet, however. So I began experimenting with foot exercises and found that indeed not only did my feet start feeling somewhat stronger to balance & walk with, but I began to have noticeable increases in palpation during Ashiatsu. It became my new project, and I started researching foot fitness. The more I implemented foot and balancing exercises into daily routine, the more my “foot/eye” coordination improved, and the more I was able to do in treatments: I could dorsi-flex with greater range; I could balance easier while distributing my body weight more evenly; best of all, I could now truly feel trigger points, anatomical borders of muscles and joints, and really begin to replace all of my former hand/arm tools with my feet tools.The excitement of replacing my elbow with my heel; my fist or palm with my metatarsals; my thumb with my big toe, and so on, was so great to me, that I made it a game to see if there was a move that I used in hand/arm massage that I could not do using my foot tools. Haven’t found one yet, I’m happy to say.
So what helped so much in learning to truly feel through my soles? Number one: experience, and the confidence that comes with it. Number 2: Slowing down to sink into the tissue more. Number 3: using foot and balance exercises to increase palpation and reception. Lastly, I had my stash of feedback clients. Clients who didn’t pay for a massage, or even really get one, but that agreed to letting me test & try things out on them to see what works and what needs refinement. It’s a great set up to have. I highly recommend having your “go to” clients/friends/family members that will be honest about feel–placement and fluidity, etc.. Glad I did, and glad I continued asking myself the how-to’s in replacing all my hand tools! Be more and more conscious to allow your feet to relax while working; sink, don’t force your way through your Ashiatsu; constantly try to improve the foot/brain connection and truly feel and “see” your way around with you feet. Of course refreshing in anatomy will help increase the level of palpation, as well.
Grab a balance disc next time you’re in a store that carries fitness supplies. They’re a great way to begin increasing palpation while burning a few extra calories off, too. Start being conscious of your gait. Try walking as we were designed to: gentle heel placement, followed by your body weight mainly on the lateral edge– rolling forward, the starting with the pinkie toe, place one toe down on the floor in order–big toe last to land. Try to separate your toes while your foot is flat & relaxed on the ground. Start trying to scrunch up a bar towel, using your toes, from end to end. These kind of exercises will help improve your barefoot massage work. For more information, tips, tricks, and how-to’s, sign up for a workshop nearest you!