We’re pleased to bring you this guest post from Jeni Spring, LMT, MTI
Jeni has been a massage therapist since 2003, and an Ashiatsu instructor since 2008. She is a founding partner of the Center for Barefoot Massage and is the owner of Heeling Sole Barefoot Massage in San Antonio, Texas. She rides scooters, races paddle boards, and chugs salted caramel coffees.
My 14 year old child is my business: Heeling Sole Barefoot Massage. I love this thing so much.
Heeling Sole is a barefoot massage specialty clinic that ONLY offers barefoot massage: no hands-on therapy here. I employ between 6-8 massage therapists right now, some are full or part time “sasquatch” staff, and some are interns.
We offer Ashiatsu, Ashiatsu-Thai, Fijian Barefoot Massage, Rossiter Technique, and splice in our knowledge of shiatsu, anma, traditional thai, sports massage, clinical injury treatment work, ROM techniques, trigger point and myofascial release: but we do it all with our feet.
We are a training center for barefoot massage, and also a student clinic. We host other barefoot massage training courses, and we have a strong community of clients who preach about our work like it’s the gospel. We are the first of its kind, and the start of a new barefoot revolution!
It wasn’t always this big.
I learned Ashiatsu two days after I finished massage school. I skipped my graduation ceremony and maxed out my credit card to attend a three day class on an island near Seattle with Janette Gianatti, and it was the best decision I ever made. The first five years of my massage career as a Washington state LMP had an even split of hands-on and feet-on massages.
I was developing my Ashiatsu and traditional massage skills at the same rate as I grew into the profession. I worked at spas while renting a massage room to build my own practice. I massaged at spa parties, farmers markets (see my Farmers Market “how to” blog post here) and I attended a ridiculous amount of CE courses – including as many barefoot massage courses as I could get my feet on! I quickly developed a great clientele and had a fun, busy practice that helped expose the Pacific Northwest to the benefits of barefoot massage. It was great!
An invitation for me to teach for Ashiatsu DeepFeet Bar Therapy, and an opportunity for my husband’s career brought us down to Texas, so I got to start fresh to do it all over again. Moving into a new house is always fun for me, but relocating to a place that turned out to be not at ALL receptive to barefoot massage was an unexpected hit to my confidence.
I could not get San Antonio to try my feet. They always opted for the “deep tissue” massage from my arms and hands. Don’t get me wrong, I’m GREAT with those tools, but I was better with my feet, and could more easily get the pressure they were looking for (without killing myself) if I used barefoot techniques, but San Antonio wasn’t having ANY of that. It was frustrating.
So I started commuting up to Austin in addition to building my San Antonio practice. I did a few health fairs, massaged out of acupuncture offices, rented a room on the weekends, and did a few marathons. I saw some hope whenever I massaged in Austin, I could at least talk people into choosing my feet as an option for their session, but it was still 50/50. It was getting VERY discouraging, and some weirdo foot fetishers were starting to come out of the woodworks and find me, so it got very degrading.
So I put my foot down.
There was a point, honestly, where I gave up on massage. Texas just wasn’t my vibe, and my favorite massage was being pushed into the shadows. One day I got so mad that other people were dictating my day to day “operations”, so to speak, that I said “Eff it. I’m not massaging with my hands anymore.”
That could have been career suicide right there. No hands-on massage? Who does that? (Now a days, lots of barefoot massage therapists do that! But back in 2006, I hadn’t heard of anyone ONLY offering Ashiatsu.) So I turned away every.single.client. If they didn’t want my feet, I didn’t want them. I referred away clients to other local hands-on massage therapists. I trimmed back my massaging hours, and started going to school for Occupational Therapy.
Of course THEN the clients started coming! “Are you that barefoot lady?” “Are you the one I saw walking on backs at First Friday?” Yup. I swear as soon as I set my boundary and intention, my practice got busy and I had all the clients I needed. All of a sudden the stars aligned and I found the perfect training center so I could finally follow through with my teaching gig that I was picked specifically by the founder of westernized Ashiatsu to offer Texas.
I built an army of “foot soldiers” in other massage therapists to help start the first wave of barefoot massage awareness in this Lone Star state, and we collectively made our footprint on these Texans across the whole state, and they liked it. (Well DUH. It took them long enough!!)
After 5 years of a solo Barefoot-only practice in San Antonio, I hired my first employee, one of the first LMT’s I trained in Ashi, and Heeling Sole started to change shape. My husband got laid off, and I was able to comfortably support our lifestyle with my businesses income while he worked a fun, non-corporate job for 2 years. That was a huge milestone for me: that not only a massage business, but a BAREFOOT MASSAGE business was profitable enough to support our little family and my first employee.
We quickly outgrew our rental room, and in 2014 I opened our current 1400 square foot clinic and hired 3 more therapists. In 2015 I started our internship program, helping to advance my students from all over the country to a higher level of skill and confidence in a faster timeframe under my mentorship.
The majority of our staff has relocated to San Antonio to work here – so my transplant team of amazingly talented barefoot massage therapists are transforming the definition of massage therapy here with me. I love it!
Our client base started as “anyone who wants a deeper than deep tissue massage.” It has gone through different phases, and now also attracts endurance athletes, other busy small business owners and body-conscious professionals with degrees, CrossFit athletes, yogis, and people with dense-muscled tissue that can’t find a detailed and deep enough effect massage. We introduce at least 1 person a day to the wonders of this work, and our t-shirts say it all: “Once you go Ashiatsu, you won’t go back to normal massage!!!”
A lot of people think “barefoot massage” means that we’re a foot massage place. So, instead of turning them away, I created a 30 minute foot massage service to offer, where we massage their feet and lower legs with our feet. It works, it feels lovely, most of the time our clients can’t even tell we are using are feet – it just feels like a pair of hands.
To help dispel the foot fetishers that are prone to find our niche, we are only open during daylight hours, and we enforce a policy that requires credit cards to book a session. Lastly, and the one I’d like to think works the best: I don’t glorify the “prettiness” of how clean and soft our feet are. Instead, I call the staff members “Sasquatches” and mess around with fun Bigfoot-themed marketing ideas, which has been a really great way to de-sexualize some of the vibes that come with the centuries-old stigma of backwalking bodywork.
Our clients think it’s hilarious, even though our feet are just as soft and sanitized as a traditional massage therapists hands are, we love to mess with people. It’s an inside joke that has grown to be a unique marketing strategy and protection mechanism at our office. Sasquatch squash.
All this because I am stubborn. I don’t like it when other people dictate what I do. I love to surprise people and I really love showing them something new. I’ve always had a vision. I’ve always believed in this work. I know my strengths, my talents, and I know where my passion is: it’s in Barefoot Massage. I just literally had to put my foot down, be confident, and give people no other option!
So here we are in 2017, where I’m growing yet again, and will expanding this business nationwide. Just wait and see what I do with Heeling Sole and the new Center for Barefoot Massage: it’s been epic so far, so I can’t wait to show everyone what is next. I am positive that with our hard work and love, this will become a mainstream massage niche – just as recognizable to the public as “sports massage” or “hot stone” in the very near future.