“Ashi” in Japanese means “foot.” “Atsu” means “pressure.” In the US, Ashiatsu has become the familiar term to describe barefoot effleurage massage. This effleurage (which means 'gliding') style originally derived from Chavutti Thirummal, an ancient massage technique developed in Kerala, India by martial artists influenced by Buddhist monk traditions. The style of martial art was the first in the world, called Kalaripayattu. Their style used one rope over a beam. In Japan & China, it was seen as 'interruption' of the qi/chi to use barefoot or hand pressure directly over skin or glide with oils. The Asian styles of barefoot massage, traditionally known as Ashiatsu, were not gliding effleurage, but rather compression-over-clothing combined with stretching, following meridian lines that needed to be unblocked.
The ancient martial artists of Kerala practiced barefoot effleurage massage to stay in shape as well as to provide treatment for healing and recovery during their in the off season For centuries, throughout the East, Chavutti Thirummal and other styles of barefoot massage were used to create balance in the Qi (marma points/meridians) of the body and alleviate everything from headaches to heartaches. Traditionally, the treatment was a 15 day process, with blended essential oils and specific techniques that began on day 1 with very light pressure, increasing to very deep by day 7, then a day off and continuing back down the scale of pressure. What we now have is the ability to control pressure, application, and session times to best suit the needs of clients and therapists in the US.
With the rise of Portuguese influence and settlers in India (mostly in Goa and southern regions) came different styles of barefoot massage. Women, not just men, provided it as a massage therapy more than as a martial art. These styles were also based on Ayurvedic tradition, as Chavutti Thirummal was known for. Soon, the person receiving work was placed on a table for more comfort and ease. Therapists (the healers) climbing onto the table and using barefoot effleurage began. Using poles, beams, ropes, and anything they could hold on to, they evolved this barefoot modality from the mat on the floor to the massage table. Since then, barefoot work has continued to evolve and gain popularity for its diversity in the massage industry.