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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Modalities Abound at Heal Center Atlanta

web-pp-dawn-sutton-cmykDawn Sutton seems to always be moving. The Thai massage and ashiatsu practitioner accompanies her flowing speech with full-body gestures and pantomimes to punctuate her conversation. One of the 12 varied and unique practitioners available to clients at Heal Center Atlanta, in Sandy Springs, Sutton becomes a live conduit for her healing art of poses and pressures as she talks and demonstrates massage. “I use my feet, my hands,” she say, laughing and swaying. “It’s a workout for me, but it’s a massage. By the end of the session, you’ll have an incredible range of motion.”

Thai massage is generally practiced without oil, and the client is dressed and lying on a mat. Sutton will put a person into yoga poses or pull them into stretches, using acupressure to help with everything from mobility to insomnia. She often finishes with a warm, herbal compress ball.

Sutton had been practicing massage in the 1990s in Las Vegas before she became interested in Thai massage. She traveled to Chang Mai, Thailand, earning two certificates from International Training Massage in 2004. Sutton also practices ashiatsu, which she calls the cousin of Thai massage. For ashiatsu massage, her practice room has two bars across the ceiling from which the 165-pound walker and swimmer hangs and balances as she massages a client with her feet.

“To me, it’s another form of deep tissue, because I’m using my body weight to massage,” Sutton says. “I love it. It’s my massage of choice. If you like pressure without all that poking and prodding, it’s fabulous.” Sutton can compensate Ashiatsu for a large client that may work out a lot versus one that is smaller or new to the treatment. “I’m like, my foot is as big as her back,” Sutton remembers about one client. “So, I’ll use one foot. I’m constantly checking in, using a scale of one to 10 and watching body language.”

Sutton says Thai massage and ashiatsu are not yet big in Atlanta, and speculates that many of her clients both at Heal Center and the Ritz-Carlton come to her out of curiosity. She notes that about 60 percent of her clients are athletes, but less limber and older clients can be candidates for Thai and ashiatsu massage with adaptations.

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 presetIf Sutton is energetic movement, stonalist Julia Ann Travis is grounding. Travis, who earned certification at the Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism, in Asheville, North Carolina, under Sarah Thomas, uses stones to help people with issues such as chronic illness, autoimmune disorders and fertility. Recently returned from a two-week trip to Peru, Travis says about stones and their healing powers, “They’re like big pillars of strength, they deeply connect the person to Mother Earth that gave us life,” Travis said. “It’s so grounded, it’s so ancient and so relevant to these times.”

Travis does her own rock hounding for stones such as tourmaline and quartz in the southeastern U.S., but even when she doesn’t find them in the ground herself, Travis strives to use stones that have not been polished or heated.

During a session, Travis will place her stones on a client, opening and closing meridians. She then asks them to focus on their own beliefs about healing and will sometimes prescribe elixirs that she mixes using water and stones. She describes her methods as similar to traditions of Taoist priests who used stones before they used needles because they believed they remind us of Earth’s unconditional love and support. Travis says, “It goes to our deepest DNA, our ancestry.”

Heal Center Atlanta is located at 270 Carpenter Dr., Ste. 500. For more information, call 404-303-0007 or visit

Sarah Buehrle is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Atlanta.

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