When Jackie Braley started working as a massage therapist five years ago, she felt the pain collecting in her wrists and hands and thought to herself, "I only have 10 years of this in me."
It would happen to her as it has to massage therapists for years: a time would come when her body couldn't take the physical strain of rubbing tension out of people's bodies with her fingers and thumbs, forearms and elbows. In her early 40s, Braley eventually would need to find another career.
But more than a year ago, things started to look up. Braley discovered a healthier way to massage -- using her feet.
She was introduced to Ashiatsu Oriental Bar therapy, a technique for deep tissue massage that applies acupressure with the feet.
Braley's massage therapist friend was working to update her license and asked to practice Ashiatsu on her.
"I said yes, hesitantly," Braley said. "Honestly, I was afraid. I don't like deep tissue work. I bruise easy."
She lay down on the table, not quite sure what to expect. Her friend stepped onto the table and grabbed hold of two parallel bars hanging from the ceiling. Then she stepped on Braley's back.
"It feels a lot different than a thumb digging into your muscle," Braley said. "The weight is spread over the whole foot. You'll have 140 pounds of pressure on your back, but it doesn't feel that way."
When she got off the massage table, she noticed that her back was free of pain and "I had more flexibility than I'd had in years," she said. "I went back once more and decided I needed to learn (Ashiatsu) so I could do this for other people."
Braley took a course in Denver from Ruthie Piper Hardee, the founder of the Ashiatsu technique.
Hardee accepts only certified massage therapists into her classes because of the danger to a client's body if someone uneducated about anatomy uses the technique.
According to an article published in Massage and Bodywork Magazine about Hardee, she combined the best elements of traditional Thai massage, barefoot shiatsu from Japan and Keralite massage from southern India. Ashiatsu therapists balance on their client's backs, using different foot strokes to apply pressure on strategic points along the muscles, supporting themselves by hanging onto wooden rods suspended from the ceiling.
"I was surprised how fast my feet gained sensitivity," Braley said. "I would dare say that my feet are as sensitive as my hands.
Ashiatsu is new to the Yampa Valley, introduced less than a year ago by Rocky Mountain Spa in Steamboat Springs.
Adding Ashiatsu to her repertoire of abilities has improved Braley's business -- and her health, she said.
"I get really busy (at Rocky Mountain Spa)," Braley said. "In the winter, I'll do five or six massages a day. With Ashiatsu, I can do massages all day and not have a problem.
"This helps me stay healthy, and I can probably do this well into my 60s."
Most of her clients are trying Ashiatsu for the first time, but she has a few regulars.
"They tell me that no one has been able to get that deep on them before," she said.