Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

The Ultimate Foot Rub

Story by Michael Shapiro. Photos by Elyse Butler.

Jivatma Massaguer is good with her feet, as anyone who’s spent ninety minutes under them knows. But it wasn’t always so. The aptly surnamed 33-year-old bodyworker does a type of deep tissue massage—myofascial release—that requires strong, sustained pressure. But that was hard on the slightly built Massaguer: Her upper body would be sore after a day of giving everything she had to helping others let it all go, but she “didn’t want to compromise the work,” she says. Back in India, where she’d grown up in the ecovillage of Auroville, Massaguer had observed chavutti thirumal, a barefoot form of ayurvedic massage. “So I started experimenting on a few clients here on O‘ahu,” she says, “and I was like, my god, my feet! Where have they been all this time?”

On a visit home, Massaguer “dipped her toes” into chavutti thirumal, in which the practitioner hangs onto a rope dangling from above, but it didn’t support deep tissue work well. Back in Hawai‘i, Massaguer tried ashiatsu, a barefoot method using overhead bars bolted to the ceiling. But she had difficulty working oblique angles, and the setup was hardly portable. While training in ashiatsu, she met her partner Daniel Tsukayama, a Kailua-born biologist-turning-rolfer who shared Massaguer’s interest in barefoot work. Together they embarked on a “tremendous amount of R&D,” says Tsukayama, to detach from the ceiling. They tried canes, walkers, yoga straps, gym mats with grommets and arrived at a method using silks affixed to a raised portable massage table—Westerners, says Tsukayama, typically aren’t keen to lie on the floor.

Massaguer and Tsukayama named it Sarga—in Spanish it means a tapestry woven of many threads; in Sanskrit, creation—and launched in 2016. It’s taken off “big time” since then, says Massaguer. In addition to trainings in Hawai‘i, the pair have taken Sarga throughout the Mainland, to Europe and to India; by next year, says Massaguer, there will be a hundred new certified practitioners. The Halekulani added Sarga to its spa menu last summer. “You can achieve so much with the foot,” says Massaguer. “It’s a really rare and really different experience for recipients.”