Get Your Feet Wet

Wake Foot Sanctuary
Photo by Sandra Stambaugh

For a uniquely indulgent experience, try Asheville’s Wake Foot Sanctuary. 

Chinese medicine teaches that the feet are a map to the body’s internal organs and foot care is essential to holistic health. In Thailand, massage therapists line the streets offering reflexology foot massage, an ancient therapeutic procedure, to passersby. In Japan, people relax at ashiyu, or public spas, where they bathe their feet in water from volcanic hot springs.

Wake Foot Sanctuary in downtown Asheville’s Grove Arcade combines the philosophies and customs of east Asia, the soak and rub, for an experience that’s soothing, restorative and utterly indulgent. If you’re looking to unwind this winter, the foot spa is not to be missed on your next trip to the bohemian mountain town.

“We’re on our feet every day, and the older we get, the longer we’ve been on them,” says Lisa Kiebzak, the sanctuary’s director. Indeed, average humans are said to walk more than 100,000 miles in their lifetimes.

“For a lot of people, the feet are the last thing we pay attention to,” Kiebzak continues. “But you know, when you address the feet, you’re working the circulation and relaxing your whole body. The effect is profound.”

Wake Foot Sanctuary, the only foot spa of its kind in North Carolina and one of just a few in the United States, has grown rapidly since it opened in May of 2012 and its staff has been known to have to turn away up to 25 walk-in customers a day. The sanctuary is named after owners Melissa and Brian Long’s beloved pet dog, Wake, and the couple strives to replicate their late pet’s loving nature in the services they provide to their customers.

I, for one, am won over pretty quickly.

I arrive at the sanctuary on Asheville’s first truly cold day of the season, eager to relax and warm up. In a light, airy, curiously quiet reception area, stashed with organic cosmetics and locally made crafts and jewelry, staffers whisper to me, Zen-like, about their services.

What kind of foot soak would I like? I choose the Lavender Chamomile. Would I like a hand, foot or head, neck and shoulder massage? I go, somewhat boringly, with the upper body. Would I like tea? Of course! I order a blend of chamomile and vanilla bean. I decline the organic baked treats mostly because, as someone who gets a pedicure maybe once a year when my feet unbearably resemble a gargoyle’s, I already feel like I’m over-indulging.

After changing into slippers, I’m led into a darkened room with plush chairs, gray walls and gold accent pieces. Kelly, a massage therapist, brings me my pot of tea, a warm neck wrap, and a hand-hammered copper cauldron with my sudsy soak, topped with dried flower petals. I dip my toes, a little gingerly at first, into the fragrant hot water. After a few seconds, I go ahead and take the plunge up to my knees. The soak feels and smells like a hot bubble bath and it warms me to the core. I sip tea for a few minutes until Kelly comes back for my 20-minute massage. It’s so relaxing, I nearly fall asleep.

“That’s not uncommon,” Kelly says, laughing. When it’s all done, my feet dried and powdered, I’m a little reluctant to have to get up and actually walk on them again.

The soak lasts for 45 minutes, and the massages—you can get as many as you like at a time—last for either 20 or 40 minutes. If you want to go all-out, order the Jet Setter package for $160; it comes with tea and truffles, three separate massages and a 90-minute soak. If you’re feeling thrifty, just get a soak for $25-$30. If you’re not sure, you’re welcome to order soaks and massages à la carte when you get there.

Winter, weekends and holidays are the spa’s busiest times, however, so Kiebzak advises getting familiar with the sanctuary’s website and figuring out what you want beforehand. Kiebzak says the spa does all it can to accommodate customers on the day they arrive, but it’s best to go in with a game plan; dropping in while shopping or taking in the sights can be a bit of a gamble, so plan your visit accordingly.

With Wake’s success (and its opportunities to franchise), it’s hard to imagine the foot sanctuary concept won’t catch on quickly here in the U.S. The national spa industry recently surpassed $16.8 billion in annual revenue, according to the International Spa Association (ISPA), and it continues to grow in terms of revenues, locations and number of visits.

There’s something unique about TLC to the feet, though, that you won’t necessarily experience in other spa settings. There’s no undressing, no climbing onto a table, and you can enjoy the experience with someone else. Foot massage and care improves circulation and mood, reduces anxiety, tension and fatigue and relieves aches and pains to be sure. It’s also a practice that’s been with us since the beginning of recorded time, as evidenced in the Old Testament and else-where.

“It’s how you showed reverence for someone, humbling yourself and washing their feet,” says Kiebzak. “For us, there’s an unspoken sacredness about this. It’s very intimate and beautiful.”

Wake Foot Sanctuary is located at 1 Page Ave., Suite 115 in Asheville. Learn more at wakespa.com

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