John Harris& Fred Kenyon

Healing with Sole

by Elizabeth Schwyzer Most of us rely on our hands for
the majority of our work. So did John Harris, until the years of
manual massage therapy began to take their toll. Co-founder of the
nation’s first full-time sports massage school in the ’80s, Harris
learned barefoot shiatsu massage — a technique where the therapist
uses his feet rather than his hands to work the client’s
muscles — from one of his Japanese students. “We realized the work
was more effective than anything we did with our hands,” he

Along with his colleague Fred Kenyon, who began soft tissue work
with thoroughbred racehorses before moving to humans, Harris has
created a protocol for deep tissue massage delivered primarily
through the practitioner’s feet. The work consists of slow, deep
compressions of the muscles and uses gravity to deliver maximum

According to Harris, the clientele for deep tissue massage in
particular tends to be athletes and dancers — people with a more
sophisticated understanding of the body and an expectation for work
that not only feels good in the moment, but also relieves ongoing
tension. The amount of pressure such work demands can be extremely
taxing on a therapist’s hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. In a
booming industry with a 70 percent attrition rate for therapists
within the first three years of practice, advice for safe working
methods is sorely needed. Harris and Kenyon’s answer is Deeperwork,
a technique based on an understanding of myofascial trigger points,
which are hypersensitive knots in the muscle that create referred
pain when pressed. Brought to the public’s attention by JFK’s
physician Janet Travell in the ’50s, trigger points are now
recognized as the most common cause of chronic pain
syndromes — exactly the symptoms most deep-tissue massage
therapists hope to cure. “The majority of pain suffered by man is
soft-tissue related,” Kenyon claimed. “Pain causes you to tighten
up, and after a while you forget how to let go. Our work releases

Some may doubt the suitability of a foot for the purposes of
massage, but Harris finds feet to be not only more efficient but
also less invasive than hands. He also calls the work “populist.”
“Our hope is that this becomes a family practice rather than a
specialist technique,” he said. “It can be done at a picnic or in
the living room while you’re watching TV. You can keep your clothes
on.” Some practitioners of barefoot massage use a walking stick to
stabilize their stance or a cloth seat to provide leverage in
seated positions, but no special equipment is required. Today,
Harris and Kenyon teach barefoot massage technique at Santa
Barbara’s Body Therapy Institute as well as in private workshops.
Kenyon has traveled to the Nepalese province of Mustang to practice
Deeperwork, while Harris is currently in Nicaragua teaching in
alternative medicine clinics. Both men think of themselves
primarily as trainers, taking satisfaction from educating others.
“I don’t feel particularly altruistic,” Harris admitted. “I do it
because it’s fun.”

4•1•1: To learn more about barefoot massage, visit


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