Fancy Footwork


The ultimate deep tissue massage is performed with the feet

by Gabrielle L. Wheeler

People schedule massages for relaxation as well as for pain relief. At Theratopia Spa in Fairport, clients have access to a multitude of services that leave them feeling rejuvenated and healthy.

The spa offers deep tissue massage, which works to allow better fluid exchange between the joints and the discs of the spine, and to realign tissue fibers that were misaligned from repetitive movement and collapsed posture. One type of deep tissue massage, ashiatsu, is performed by the feet – not the hands – of the massage therapist.

That may sound intimidating; many people picture the massage therapist standing on them, but that is not actually the case (unless the client desires ultra-firm pressure during the massage). “I like to explain it like this: if I have you on the table and I didn’t tell you I was using my feet – not that I would do that to someone – you wouldn’t know the difference,” says Michelle Capierseo, a licensed massage therapist and owner of Theratopia Spa. “It’s a nice fluid massage; it doesn’t feel like I am stepping on you.”

“Ashiatsu” is a combination of the Japanese words “ashi” for foot, and “atsu” for pressure. The practice has been used for thousands of years in various parts of Asia and India, where clients lay on the floor and therapists apply pressure with their feet, using ropes or ribbons attached to the wall to help them balance.

In the 1990s, Denver, Colorado, massage therapist Ruthie Piper Hardee brought the idea to the U.S. After she graduated from massage school and began her practice, Ruthie could feel that the repetitive compressive techniques she used to provide deep tissue bodywork were starting to take a toll on her hands, wrists and lower back. She developed Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy, now known as DeepFeet Bar Therapy, in which the therapist suspends herself from bars for balance and targeted weight distribution.

Ashiatsu is well-documented and effective in the treatment of chronic lower back and neck pain, says Michelle. The practice is approved by the National Certification for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, and recognized by the American Medical Association.

Michelle became a licensed massage therapist in 2002 and found that people really wanted effective, firm massages. She received her certification at the mastery level in ashiatsu massage in 2009.

I decided to try it, and headed to Michelle’s studio spa. As her website says, the environment is caring and luxurious, characterized by earth-tone colors, comfortable ambient lighting, and the relaxing aroma of essential oils.

For my two-hour massage, Michelle started on my feet and legs using her hands as she stood on the floor. After that, she climbed onto a stepstool to the table and began working on my back and shoulders with her strong feet. To be honest, I would not have known that she was standing on the table if the overhead bars didn’t squeak occasionally. The table did not give in to her weight the way a mattress does, and her feet were soft and confident. I would have thought she was using two hands to work on my back.

The massage was wonderfully relaxing and I felt amazing for days.

Luxury services like hot stones, Swedish massage, and a body polish have their place in a spa, but if you’re looking for relief, try ashiatsu. “The vast majority of people who have done deep tissue with me and have also tried ashiatsu, stay with ashiatsu. They find the results are longer-lasting.”

Theratopia Spa
1000 Turk Hill Rd, Building 5
Fairport, NY 14450

Ashiatsu massage is offered throughout the Finger Lakes

Attuned.Life Massage and Wellness
225 S Fulton St., Ste B
Ithaca, NY 14850

Bodywork Unbound Therapeutic Spa
906 Elmgrove Rd.
Rochester, NY 14624

Skaneateles Massage Therapy
2516 West Lake Rd.
Skaneateles, NY 13125

Syracuse Massage Therapy
3702 James St.
Syracuse, NY 13206

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