Bad backs, wonky knees and tight hips beware: Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) SaRee Purcell may be petite and soft spoken, but when she walks on your back, there’s not an ache or a sore muscle that can withstand her magic feet.
SaRee is a practitioner of Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy and the owner of Barefoot Massage of New Tampa, located in the New Tampa Professional Park off Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd.
While holding onto parallel bars above the massage bed upon which a client lies, SaRee uses her feet to literally “walk” on her client’s back, exerting deft, skilled pressure to ease out kinks and stretch tightly coiled tissue.
It was on a snowy Minnesota night, when SaRee was 15 years old, that she was in a serious car crash that left her with severe whiplash and chronic pain. She tried everything from medication and physiotherapy to Reiki – a healing technique based on the principle that a therapist can activate the natural healing processes of the body through touch – but it wasn’t until her doctor prescribed a massage that she finally got a respite.
That massage she got as a teen not only gave her pain relief, it also showed her that healing through massage was her calling.
How did she pay it forward? By literally walking all over people. SaRee, 39, was certified in Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy in 2004 and became a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) in 2006.
“I’m a born caretaker,” she says. “I get to treat all my patients like I’m their mother. I like helping bodies heal naturally without medicine, the way it was intended to be.”
She has been doing Ashiatsu therapy since 2004. “Ashi” means foot and “atsu” means pressure in Japanese, and SaRee began to study it when treating athletes with injuries. “I was attracting deep tissue (massage) clients. They were big men and I’m small, so eventually, I started using feet. It only seemed natural to start walking on people.”
Johnny Taylor, a Wesley Chapel resident and owner of Florida Coast Air Conditioning, learned this unexpectedly one day when he went to SaRee’s house to fix her air conditioner. Learning that Taylor works hard at a physically demanding job and pays baseball in a recreational league, SaRee offered to give him a quick massage.
Johnny says, “She had her equipment set up, and said, can I show you real quick?. Then, she was walking on my back and it was just heavenly. Best massage I ever had.”
A few months later, when a weeklong baseball tournament left Johnny’s knee in so much pain that he could hardly stand, he called SaRee again. After just one session, he was able to walk out with no issues. Now he’s a regular client.
SaRee may be soft spoken and petite, but don’t let that fool you: her feet pair the strength of a linebacker with the nuanced finesse of a surgeon. She uses the parallel bars above the massage bed to balance herself as she uses her feet to knead tension and knots caused by long commutes, bad posture in front of computers and the repetitive motions involved in playing a sport or an instrument. She can help relieve the pain caused by many auto accidents, professional sports injuries and work injuries.
Her feet don’t feel like feet either; it is as though a broad pair of hands is playing detective, pushing and manipulating tissue, searching for calcifications or scarring that she says can be caused by tightness in the connective tissue. Depending upon the client, she may also utilize sports massage, lymphatic drainage massage, hand and foot reflexology, neuromuscular therapy, clinical massage, maternity massage, cupping and Swedish massage.
What sets SaRee apart from other licensed massage services in the area is not just her techniques, it is that she offers clinical massage, meaning she actually fixes or relieves physical problems her clients are having as opposed to simply relaxing people, although the relaxation is, of course, often an inevitable side effect. Her treatment room has the same soothing music, soft lighting, fragrance and other accoutrements regular spa-goers expect, but those details belie the serious nature of what she does. Many regular clients are referred to her by physicians, and she has helped everyone from teenage musicians to middle-aged athletes, and from mid-life commuters to octogenarians who are looking for noninvasive relief from chronic pain and conditions from plantar fasciitis to TMJ.
SaRee says her youngest client is 16, and her oldest is 81, and most of the others are between 40 and 60.
That Magic (Healing) Touch
“There are so many soft tissue injuries that can be completely healed through massage,” she says. “People often think that a problem in a joint — whether knee, jaw, or vertebral — is local only to the joint, so they don’t realize how massage can help. I want people to know that it is our muscles and tendons that bring our bones and joints together and that by taking the tension out of the muscles, we can relieve the tension being put on our joints.”
SaRee explains that most knee problems, for example, are caused by overly tight adductor, hamstring and quadriceps muscles, and can often be eliminated by working the muscles surrounding the knee until they are pliable and supple.
“The same is true of any joint in the body, including the joints in between each vertebrae of the spine,” SaRee says. “If you are suffering from slipped, bulging or herniated discs and you have the associated muscle tissue softened with massage, you will be relieving the pressure on those discs.”
At times, she reaches for additional tools, such as hot stones or a bamboo stick, the latter of which she had custom made for her that she uses to roll out tightness along the side of your neck and shoulder.
“It’s like brushing your teeth,” SaRee says. “You get your body worked on and iron it all out.” She adds, “We get our cars serviced and homes cleaned, but we give so little of that TLC to our bodies, even though we’re only given one. We also rarely pay attention to the influence that food and stress play on our bodies.”
SaRee realized she enjoyed caring for people while working in a nursing home during high school, and as soon as she turned 18, she says she signed up to learn how to be a masseuse at Sister Rosalind’s Schools & Clinics of Massage in St. Paul, MN. After completing her professional massage certification there in 1997, she worked for a spa and fitness center in Cottage Grove, MN, and went into private practice at the age of 25. She ran her practice, Just for You Massage, for nearly seven years, both in Minnesota and in Miami, FL, where she moved so her then-husband could attend law school, and eventually to Tampa.
Today, she lives in New Tampa where her children attend Paul R. Wharton High and the Turner/Bartels K-8 school. Until her son became old enough to start school, SaRee says she had been treating patients out of her house, but after the littlest one started school, she felt ready to rent a room and open a formal practice where she could set up her equipment. She has worked out of her current office since November 2015.
Right now, she rents just one room in the office plaza, but with weeks of bookings ahead of her, she says is preparing to look for her own suite of rooms and eventually hire another massage therapist.
SaRee also has taught massage at her alma mater and at some of her former employers, including the Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami, where she trained masseurs and wrote protocols. She has also taught nurses in labor and delivery wards, and in fact, an aspect of her practice that is very close to her heart is prenatal, postnatal and labor massage. SaRee has trained as a doula – a trained professional who provides women with physical and emotional support and guides them through pregnancy, labor and post partum — and is certified by Chicago-based DONA International. She loves to accompany clients to labor and delivery rooms.
“One of the biggest problems women have in the labor room is feeling alone,” she says. “I’m there with them as if it’s my own labor. Our bodies know exactly what to do when fear doesn’t run away with (them).”
SaRee does not accept insurance, but offers a 25-percent savings for the first treatment. Massages can last from 30 to 120 minutes; a 60-minute massage costs $74. She accepts cash, checks and credit cards, but says her biggest reward comes from relieving the discomfort or pain of a client.
“I love it!,” she says. “I’ve been doing it for 18 years and I still love it. It really makes me smile inside.”
Barefoot Massage is located at 8903 Regents Park Dr., Suite 130, across from Barewood Furniture. Visit BarefootMassageTampa.com or call 451-2222 for info, rates and hours. For info about pre- and postnatal massage, visit LoveforLabor.com.