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Cynthia Allison Crowley balances her weight on wooden rods suspended from the ceiling as her heels glide down the sides of her patient's spine -- digging deep into knotted muscles.'
Pops can be heard as the muscles release their inner tension to ultimately offer a release, followed by relaxation for her patient.'
Full-length foot strokes push, then pull, then pump strategic points along the back, arm and foot muscles -- bringing relief from pain for Crowley's patients.'
Not only are her patients feeling better, but Crowley, who has been a licensed massage therapist for 20 years, is also saving her hands by using her feet.'
A graduate of Georgia State University with her degree in physical therapy, Crowley offers numerous massage specialties ranging from infant massage and prenatal massage to equine massage. '
"But my love is rehabilitation. I do everything from headaches and wrist pain to back pain and knee pain, but rarely do I do relaxation massage. It's just too hard," she said. '
What she's practicing is called Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy -- a new form of massage developed by a therapist who "decided to give her thumbs a rest," according to Massage Therapy Journal.'
Ashiatsu, "ashi" means foot and "atsu" means pressure, is an approved therapy by the American Medical Association and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. The technique was developed by Ruthie Hardee, who used her own patient case studies, ancient foot pressure techniques and modern medical knowledge to develop the program. Crowley is the only person in South Carolina and Georgia certified to practice Ashiatsu.'
When Crowley first heard one of her patients say that someone had "walked on my back while on vacation," she was appalled. "I went ballistic and told her 'Don't ever let anyone walk on you.'" But that next weekend, Crowley read an article about Ashiatsu and learned that this unique technique "makes so much sense" if done properly, said Crowley who lost 80 pounds to prepare herself to begin training to become certified.'
Crowley has seen "remarkable" results in her patients and her own body since she started using the new technique. "Ashiatsu is less fatiguing on me. The technique also emphasizes the relaxing approach. It's much more relaxing than a hand massage. Clients not only benefit from it but I do as well -- my elbows, hands and wrists don't get as much abuse. I've got most clients who don't want my hands anymore -- they want my feet," she said.'
"Ashiatsu is the ancient form of body work that is modernized and we are using the feet instead of the hands to bring about a structural change to chronic soft tissue damage while at same time we bring about complete relaxation to the client, but we're not killing ourselves," said Crowley who works out of her home on Lady's Island and the Beaufort OB-GYN office at Medical Office Plaza of Beaufort Memorial Hospital.'
The fancy footwork keeps her patients '
out of pain, off heavy pain medications and most importantly, active and able to '
continue to work.'
"Going to see Cyndi is like taking a pain killer," said Bill Bosworth, an artistic woodworker of St. Helena Island, a long-time patient who suffers from degenerative disc disease.'
"She does a deeper massage but with less pain for me. It's also less impact on her body and that's important," Bosworth said. "I couldn't normally get to exercise areas that she can massage through Ashiatsu. She loosens up those muscles that cause back problems for me." '
"When she's using her feet, it is broader than her hands and she's using more weight that is distributed more evenly," he said.'
Bill's wife, Heather, a potter, who suffers from tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome, said Ashiatsu therapy is helping her to continue to work during her second pregnancy.'
"This pregnancy is definitely a lot easier. I've gained less weight because I'm more active," Heather said. "For me, if she (Cyndi) didn't do the massage, I wouldn't be able to work. I can't take anti-inflammatories when I'm pregnant and because of that, she has really helped. She has been that link between not being able to take my medicine and still being able to work." '
"Ashiatsu is a much smoother massage. It allows her a bigger range of motion with her feet, on the bars, she can move in one fell swoop over your body," Heather said.'
Jodi Joye credits the sports massage offered by Crowley's Ashiatsu technique for helping her to train better. "She keeps me together," said Joye, who's been training for and recently qualified to compete in Hawaii's Ironman Triathlon in October. '
"I used to have back problems," said Joye, a three-year patient who gets weekly treatments. "Cyndi advises me on everything from nutrition, to how to stretch, to problem areas. She also helps if I have extra pain from too much training. She's my neuromuscular therapist. It's not one of those recreational frou-frou massages -- they are 'work on you massages.' I don't have any back problems now," Joye said.'
When describing the difference between a hand massage and an Ashiatsu massage, Joye said "the difference is like going from a fork to a spatula. When you use the whole foot, you still get the pressure but it's not as painful and you still get the benefit of the massage. It feels good."'
Family members also benefit from her skills regularly. She credits massage for preventing her children from having colic.'
Portable bars also allow her to offer massage parties.'
In the early 1990s, when she first moved to Beaufort, Crowley opened Hands On Healing, then opened a school, Southeastern Institute, during which she trained at least a dozen therapists. She has since changed her company name to Lowcountry Wellness Center and may be contacted at 525-1116 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.'
Celebrities from locally filmed movies seek her out when they come to town to get her special techniques. The first stars were the cast from "The Prince of Tides." She has worked on the sets of all the movies that have come to town since then. Signed pictures fill the wall above her massage table, a testimony of the numerous celebrities who have walked into her life and that she has walked on. '
"The best clients are not the ones on the walls but the ones each week on my table," Crowley said.