Picture this: I’m fully clothed, lying face down on a mat while a small blonde woman walks up and down my back, glutes, and legs using the desk on one side and treatment bed on the other to take some of her weight. It sounds bizarre, but it turns out this was the best massage I ever had. I like a deep-tissue massage, but this was taking it to extremes. I walked out of Suzanne Wylde’s Camden, London-based treatment room in Triyoga feeling like a totally new person—taller, looser, and totally stress-free.
Keep scrolling to find out more about the incredible benefits of a back walking massage.
What Is a Back Walking Massage?
Walking massage, also known as ashiatsu (meaning foot pressure), has been practiced for centuries in the East. According to Triyoga's website, "Walking massage is done exclusively with the feet. By using the bodyweight the practitioner can achieve fast improvements in chronically tight areas." Oftentimes, traditional ashiatsu massage therapists perform their massage based on the body's meridians.
If you're wondering how this seemingly heavy technique improves bodily comfort instead of causing pain, you'll be glad to know that the amount of weight is adjusted from client to client, and there are objects and bars in the room that the massage therapist can use for support so that the full weight isn't on their client.
“There are walking massage practices in India and Thailand, but I learned this form from the States, where it is called mashing as a way to warm people up before resistance stretching,” Wylde tells me. In a quick Google search, I found that mashiatsu is just another way to refer to classic ashiatsu massage.
Prices may vary depending on the length of your massage and the city you're getting it in, but typically, an ashiatsu massage rings in between $100 and $150 for an hour.
Benefits of a Back Walking Massage
- Deep-tissue pressure
- Improved blood flow
- Relieved muscle spasms
- Less chronic muscle pain
- Enhanced joint flexibility
- Flushed lymphatic system
- Overall relaxation and well-being
“The benefit is that the foot has a relatively large surface area and, combined with the bodyweight behind it, can get in quite deep yet with a more diffused (less pokey) feel, so the result is a very deep yet relaxing massage,” explains Wylde.
How to Prepare for a Back Walking Massage
The biggest thing to remember before getting a massage is to adequately hydrate and eat at least a couple (if not a few) hours beforehand. While you might feel hungry immediately before a rub-down, considering you'll have another person's body weight pressing into you, it's likely not the best idea. After all, you could end up feeling sick to your stomach and wanting to get up before the full treatment is over.
Beyond what to consume before your massage, start to think about what you're comfortable with leading up to it. This way, when your massage therapist asks you to undress to your level of comfort or what type of pressure you'd like, you'll have an answer at the ready.
What to Expect During a Back Walking Massage
I don’t make a habit of letting people walk all over me, but for Wylde, I made the exception. I headed to Triyoga wearing gym gear; I figured I wouldn’t get quite the same results wearing a pair of Levi's 501s and a biker jacket. On the floor was a thick pillowy mat; I lied down and Wylde got to work.
It’s an odd sensation, having another person’s feet working their way across your muscles. Once I got used to the idea, I realized that this was better than any deep-tissue massage I’ve ever had. She was able to apply more pressure where needed, but unlike some deep-tissue massages that have felt more akin to torture, this was totally bearable.
Wylde, who also practices acupuncture and is a stretching expert (she even has a book on the subject, Moving Stretch: Work Your Fascia to Free Your Body, $20), has created her own walking massage technique.
“I developed it to suit my clients and my practice, which is more like a deep-tissue massage combined with elements of myofascial release. I created it in order to help release adhesions and tension deep within the body. People tend to feel a lot freer and looser after one session,” says Wylde.
And that was definitely how I felt. In fact, after working her way down one side of my body and performing some dynamic stretching exercises with me, she asked me to stand up. I basically felt completely wonky—tall and stretched on one side and hunched and tight on the other. Luckily, by the end of the session, I was evened out and feeling like a fresher version of my former world-weary self.
Given the heavy pressure of walking massage, it's not for everyone. Namely, people with recently sprained, broken, or fractured bones should opt for a different massage form, as walking massage can cause adverse side effects. Additionally, so should people who are pregnant or have recently undergone surgery. These are just common precautions; for more specific instructions surrounding your parameters, speak with a walking massage therapist to determine what's right for you.
As with any massage, a walking massage therapist will tell you to hydrate and go about your day as normal. Hydration is key considering massage loosens toxins in the body, and drinking water will help flush them out.
The Final Takeaway
For me, this treatment really helped my lower back—you see, I can’t sit down for long before my tailbone hurts. I got very excited at an amusement park as a child and jumped into the ball pond from a great height, crashing down onto my coccyx, and it’s never been the same since. So Wylde worked my muscles to ease any tension caused by my muscular imbalances due to my injury.
For anyone who sits at a desk all day, this will be a game-changer too. “It is great for working on issues that are created by wide areas of tension; for example, in the hamstrings and glutes or back. It is not the sort of thing you would have if you want your jaw massaged, although often having your quads walked on is great for loosening the jaw! If you are generally tight, have pain due to the body being pulled out of alignment, find yourself stuck in poor posture, have tension from specific sports, or tend to prefer a stronger massage, then walking massage is likely to be great for you.”
While a massage with whale music and gloriously scented essential oils is a real treat, this will do more than just soothe your soul—it will make you feel born again.
Yin P, Gao N, Wu J, Litscher G, Xu S. Adverse Events of Massage Therapy in Pain-related Conditions: A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:480956. doi:10.1155/2014/480956