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Owens brings new massage technique to Chatham

Posted Friday, December 5, 2014

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Pittsboro, NC — Carefully grasping two parallel bars above her head, Cindy Owens lifts her left leg and gently positions it on her client's back. Leaning to generate just the right amount of pressure, she slowly pushes her foot down and forward and into the large muscles. Her look is focused, her technique precise.

For an hour, maybe longer, Owens performs a dance of sorts. Placing her feet in a series of positions, adding pressure and pushing through body contours. Often, her entire foot remains in contact with large muscle groups. Other times, she uses only a portion of the foot, maybe the heel or toes, to target more narrow locations.
Owens is performing Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy, a specialty massage technique using bare feet to apply pressure instead of hands. It's not something she does every day or with every client, but the deep-tissue approach provides benefits that you simply can't get from traditional massage.
"It’s a combination of the broader length of the foot and the weight of the body,” explains Owens, a licensed massage and bodywork therapist working in Pittsboro. “Since the foot is larger, it can treat larger muscle groups. And having more body weight above the muscles provides a more intense compression that can break the cycle of tightness.
"Ashiatsu forces those larger muscles to relax. One client had trouble for months and then we added Ashiatsu to the regular therapy. It provided almost immediate relief."
This westernized version of an Asian massage technique isn’t for everyone. Owens says people with osteoporosis, a disease resulting in fragile bones, cannot receive the therapy because of the potential for bone damage. Nor does she use it with people suffering from heart conditions.
On the other hand, it’s ideal for athletes and larger body types, where it can be difficult to provide deep compressions with traditional massage techniques relying on the hands, forearm or elbow.
Not every massage therapist can perform Ashiatsu; it requires hours of intensive training and special certifications. Owens provided a full range of other massage services — including relaxation, deep-tissue and pregnancy massage — before completing certification earlier this year from Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy, a Denver-based company providing continuing education nationwide for massage therapists.
According to Ruth Piper Hardee, the company’s CEO and founder, Owens is currently the only licensed therapist certified to provide this form of massage in Chatham County, Chapel Hill or Sanford.
It's not just a novelty. Alix Krijgsman, one of Owens’ clients and a massage therapist, herself, receives Ashiatsu regularly to treat a particularly tender and tight area outside of her legs. She says the technique allows her to remain mobile and successful in her own work, and it’s the one style of massage that helps her more than anything else.
"I think it's great,” says Krijgsman. "For me, personally, it's a lovely complement to regular massage and I find it incredibly relaxing. Not every massage modality is right for all people. But, especially for people who have chronic issues in the back and thighs, side of the legs, it can be incredibly effective.
"It's hard to work some areas. I find that, as a massage therapist, using a hand, forearm and elbow is not the same as doing it with the foot, which can reach a broader area with deeper pressure. In some cases it's a really excellent way to access the tissue."
Owens says Ashiatsu has been a big success in her own practice, which began six years ago this month. Sometimes, clients need to think twice about the idea of having the therapist step onto the table, grasp bars above her head for balance and support and then perform the massage with bare feet.
But once they experience the results, nearly everyone wants to continue the therapy.

"I think that when some people hear the therapist is going to use her feet, they get alarmed by that,” says Krijgsman. "What my experience has been, the big thing I've noticed, is that I couldn't even tell she was using her feet. It just felt really good. It feels delicious.”
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Owens brings new massage technique to Chatham