After 15 years as a full-time massage therapist, Jaime Ellerie was ready to call it quits five years ago.
As much as she loved her practice, which she ran out of her home in Dubuque, the art of massage had taken a physical toll toll on her hands, shoulders and back. She knew making the decision to retire from a career she loved was going to be a difficult one.
“So, as serendipitously as my life has gone, a client mentioned to me one day, just out of the blue, ‘Have you ever tried ashiatsu?'” said Ellerie, 44.
She went home and researched ashiatsu, which is the art of foot massage and quickly realized that perhaps she wouldn’t have to make that agonizing decision after all.
The technique orginates from Japan, where “ashi” means “foot” and “atsu” means “pressure.” It is a form of massage in which the therapist uses their feet to apply deep-tissue pressure.
While the form began gaining popularity in Western cultures in the 1990s, it has been used in many Eastern cultures for centuries.
Ashiatsu offers a deeper tissue massage than a traditional massage and has been known to reduce chronic pain with longer lasting effects.
Ellerie immediately knew that she wanted to train to become an ashiatsu massage therapist. She found a class in San Antonio, Texas, but was disappointed to find out it was full.
“But then, I got a call two days later, and they said there was an opening,” she said. “So, I drove to San Antonio.”
The progression to ashiatsu massage for Ellerie came a bit easier than she expected.
“I did 20 years of yoga training and teaching,” she said. “I did Thai massage training in Thailand, and you use your feet a lot with that. So, it was a natural progression for me.”
The use of feet to massage a client allows for firmer and wider pressure, since the feet have a broader surface area than the hands.
“It’s definitely different,” Ellerie said. “It goes deeper and lasts longer. With fingers and hands, you may get some relief for a day or two. I’m working with more of the fascia system, which is like the spider-wedding between all of our tissues and muscles, all the way down to the skeleton.”
While Ellerie might start a massage seated at the head of the massage table, a bar above it allows her to apply heavier pressure when needed.
In addition to ashiatsu, Ellerie also offers cupping, a form of therapy that can help with inflammation and blood flow. Like ashiatsu, some people who practice cupping therapy also have seen a decrease in chronic pain.
Ellerie uses silicone cups in her practice, pushing them down on the skin and creating a vacuum.
“In doing that, I’m stretching the fascia,” she said. “I’m draining and circulating the lymphatic fluid. It also promotes collagen production, which is wonderful for the skin, particularly aging skin.”
While it took some persuading, Ellerie was able to convince the majority of her traditional massage clients to make the switch to ashiatsu. Eventually, she had to close her home office and move to a larger space and now has a one-month average wait for an appointment.
“It has proved really popular,” she said.
While Ellerie’s clientele come to her for a variety of reasons, she enjoys working in a more clinical setting, treating people with medical issues such as frozen shoulder and hip pain or those who are recovering from back and neck surgeries.
“So many of my clients have come in and said, ‘I wish I would have started here,'” she said. “They’ve gone through physical therapy, steroid shots, surgeries, pain pills,” she said. “And they end up right here. A huge percentage of them are out of chronic pain in three to six sessions.”
Michelle London writes for the Telegraph Herald.