Especially in Northern Thailand, in the Chiang Mai region, and among certain Hill Tribes, Walking Massage, Thai Barefoot Massage, or Barefoot Thai Massage is a rather common form of Thai Massage application. Moreover, some hill tribe healers only use Barefoot Massage techniques to treat clients and patients.
Most typically, treatments where the masseur uses the feet to massage a client have a more “earthy” quality than those done with the hands. One of the other benefits is that stronger pressure can be applied with the feet compared to other parts of the body, which in some cases, for some clients, is preferred, or even the only option to give an effective massage. Additionally, massage given with the bare feet is generally experienced as very pleasant.
A Barefoot Massage is applied with the receiver lying on the floor (on a special massage mat or mattress), or lying on a large over-sized massage table or bed. The receiver is usually treated lying in the prone (lying face-down), supine (lying face-up), or in the side lying position.
Sometimes, Barefoot Massage practitioners use a stick, rod, or rope to keep their balance while “walking” over the patient. For instance, the use of a stick for balance is quite common in Thai Fire Therapy (Yam Khang), which is a special form of Thai Barefoot Massage done with warm oil.
Barefoot Massage is not “just” massage given with the feet; the feet are very specific massage tools, and the therapist applies various techniques to apply pressure by using the ball of the foot, the toes, the heel, the arch (or instep), the side of the foot, or the whole plantar region (the sole). Moreover, by accurately using bodyweight while leaning in or out, various amounts of pressure can be given.
Do mind, however, that traditional Thai Massage done with the bare feet is not something extraordinary — a Thai masseur would generally use all parts of his or her body to give a massage, such as the hands, fingers, knees, elbows, forearms, and feet. In that sense, Barefoot Massage techniques are simply applied as part of a “normal” Thai Massage session when the therapist thinks they’re better or necessary for the receiver.
Nonetheless, a full body Thai Massage can also be given by only using the bare feet, which gives a very special quality and feel to the massage session.