4 Tips for Improving your Barefoot Massage Technique
When first learning ashiatsu barefoot massage, it can be like starting massage school all over again. It's incredibly humbling and frustrating for therapists if you have been practicing hands-on massage for some time. I was a massage therapist for ten years before I found ashiatsu. I see some of the same issues repeatedly in-class teaching barefoot massage, and I have found some basic concepts from learning traditional hands-on massage to be still true when first learning to massage with your feet. Here are four tips to improve your barefoot massage.
1. LOOK UP!
When you're in-class learning barefoot massage or working on a new client for the first time, once you go through the stroke movement from beginning to end a couple of times, close your eyes or look up as you massage with your feet. Taking your eyes off your feet improves your barefoot massage skills and will save your neck and shoulders later. It will help develop the brain's sensory pathways by taking the visual interpretation out and heightening sensory awareness of the feet. When the brain can't rely on what it SEES, it has to rely on what it FEELS. Wall mirrors next to your massage table, or at the end or head of the table, are excellent ways to remind you to look up!
Looking up changes how the stroke feels to the student AND the client. It's evident when training students to learn barefoot massage for the first time, and clients give feedback in our LIVE classes. It never fails to happen that the client thinks a stroke feels better when the student isn't directly looking at their feet. Of course, there's always going be occasions when you need to look down and make sure you're in the right spot. So you can avoid areas that you need to avoid, but that's where the next concept comes into play.
2. BE ABLE TO PALPATE IDENTIFY ANATOMY/LANDMARKS
There are familiar skeletal landmarks/bony prominences or muscular curvatures that are easy to find. As massage therapists, we frequently use the sacrum, trochanter, iliac crest, the scapula, for example, to orient ourselves to where we are and the muscle attachments. In our barefoot training, we also use many of these landmarks to begin and end strokes. If you can use your feet to palpate and find these landmarks, it will help you develop your barefoot massage and integrate better body mechanics like looking up more. Even when I'm not looking down at my feet during an erector stroke, I can feel my lateral foot in the lamina groove, the ribs, the scapula, and even the different layers of muscles as I glide over them. My entire foot is sensitive enough to feel where I am.
3. TAKE IT SLOW!
When learning barefoot massage for the first time, you have to slow down. Your feet are usually not sensitive enough to at first to feel and palpate knots or changes in muscle density. They have the CAPACITY to, just not yet. To be able to gauge the appropriate pressure and strokes to use, your feet have to have a certain level of sole sensitivity to feel the different textures and muscle layers. With time comes a natural progression of adaptability and sensory input. You're navigating unfamiliar territory with your soles, getting "feetback" from a different source than your hands, and developing new neural pathways from your feet to your brain. You've shifted from standing on solid ground to standing on a massage table, learning body positioning of the foot and hand placement while maintaining a death grip on the ashiatsu bars on the ceiling. That's a lot of stuff to focus on! Taking your time will lend to less frustration in the process, and you'll be more effective.
4. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Students are always saying in class, "Wow, you make it look so easy!" Or, "You make it look like a dance!" I've been practicing barefoot bodywork for 18 years, after using my hands for ten years. Using my feet to massage is as natural as using my hands, if not more so! I probably use my hands 5-10% of the time. It didn't happen overnight. It was a gradual process. As my feet got stronger and more sensitive, I gradually became more comfortable, replacing my hands-on work with my feet.
How do you consistently practice barefoot massage when you go back to your massage practice, and you need to make a living? Not all of your clients are going to be eager to try something new while paying full price for a session. So replacing your skilled hands with fresh-out-of-class trained feet isn't going to cut it for some clients.
How do you get the practice and repetition you need to get better?
It's not always about finding the perfect "client" to work with. Break the work down into bite-sized pieces. Work on one client's back. And another client's arms. Or you may have clients where barefoot massage is contraindicated. Can you use your feet to massage their shoulders? What about their feet? Then you can do hands-on massage for the rest of the session. It doesn't always have to be a full-body barefoot massage. 99% of my client base receives some form of barefoot bodywork. For that 1%, I may still do barefoot bodywork, but I restrict it to the appropriate areas. So every day that I'm working, I'm using my feet. In using my feet every day, they are AS sensitive as my hands.
These are just a few ways you can increase your sole sensitivity and improve your barefoot massage sessions. When your clients start saying, "Wow, I didn't even have to tell you what was going on today, and you figured it out!" or "Is that your feet? I can't tell the difference!" That's a huge accomplishment and a high five moment for your barefoot massage skills. Our soles are just as capable of providing safe, therapeutic, and EFFECTIVE pain relief to our clients as our hands. We only have to put in the time and effort to develop them.
If you are looking for longevity in your massage career, check out our barefoot massage classes at NC Ashiatsu.com. Or if you are an existing barefoot massage therapist and looking to continue your barefoot massage training, we specialize in advance myoFASCIal ASHIatsu barefoot massage training. We are the Durham campus for the Center for Barefoot Massage, and we specialize in the advance myofascial ashiatsu barefoot training. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram.