by Constance Garcia-Barrio
The possibilities at Sacred Paradise Massage, 7203 Germantown Ave., seem so delicious that one can’t tell whether to pick up a spoon or stretch out on a treatment table. The milk, honey and coconut hydrating scrub (75 minutes for $115) might both please the palate and enliven the skin.
If other recipes for healing sound good enough to eat, some of them are. The juice bar’s menu of organic smoothies — $5 for 24 ounces or $3 for 12 ounces — includes “Papaya Passion.” According to spa owner Carolina Ruiz-Santiago, “It has papaya, banana, rice milk , ice and agave and helps the digestive system.”
Incorporating Caribbean elements into therapies comes naturally for Carolina. Born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Carolina, 28, recalls her great-grandmother, Rosa Morales, making herbal remedies. Her grandparents raised organic food, including chickens, yucca, malanga and guanabana (custard apples).
When Carolina was about 7, events uprooted her, her parents and her older brother. Her mother was three months pregnant when she began having such back and abdominal pain that the doctor ordered ultrasound. “It showed not one baby but three,” Carolina said. “I was a little girl, and I had never heard of such a thing.”
Chaotic days followed the August 7, 1992, birth of the triplets. “The girls weighed about two pounds, two ounces each and had to be fed every hour-and-a-half,” Carolina said. “My mom would forget who’d been fed, who’d been burped. My dad, brother and I pitched in. We came up with a system of colored bracelets to keep the girls straight.”
That strategy tackled the immediate problem, but the girls had been born with severe asthma and trouble with their joints that prevented their walking until age 4. “We moved to West Palm Beach so that they could get good medical care,” Carolina said. The triplets’ treatments set the course of Carolina’s life. “We had poles and rails in the house so the girls could pull themselves up and walk, and I would observe the strokes and stretches therapists used. Some of them showed me strokes I could use to help my sisters.”
The family had settled in Florida and the triplets, preteens by the early 2000s, were flourishing. However, from 2003 to 2005, the hurricane season slammed the area. “There were shortages of eggs, milk, gasoline,” Carolina said. “Fights would start.” It frightened the family. Carolina, meanwhile, stood poised to begin her college studies. She, her high-school counselor and a friend, Jane Hastings, had put together a scholarship package that included grants for minority students, an award from the sign-language club and other stipends so that she could pursue an associate degree in massage therapy at Florida’s Keiser College. “If I had moved with my family, I would have lost all of that,” she said. “At 17, I was alone, except for Jane, the friend who helped me apply for scholarships.”
Carolina rented half of Jane’s duplex, attended school full-time, worked at a call center, and helped Jane, who had neuropathy and other complications from uncontrolled diabetes. “I would do chores for her and take her to her medical appointments. Those were two tough years.”
In 2007, her degree in therapy in hand, Carolina, moved to Philadelphia’s Port Richmond. She worked at other spas, established her own, outgrew the space and opened Sacred Paradise in Mt. Airy in August of 2013. She’s brought a loyal following here, including two Philadelphia Eagles players and an NFL wife. “First, I worked on the mother-in-law of one of the players, then his wife, then the player himself and finally his teammate,” she said.
Both Eastern and Western approaches are offered at Sacred Paradise. “We have the yin/yang massage where a male and a female therapist work on the person at the same time (75 minutes, $200),” she said. “The woman does light strokes, and the man does deeper ones. And it’s always opposite. If the woman’s working on the right leg, the man works on the left arm. It rebalances the body.”
Staff therapist Mikail A. Karim, 44, a former sparring partner for professional prize fighters, does African deep-tissue massage, which originated in Ghana. A native of Philadelphia, Mikail began studying alternative healing after his father died young of a stroke. “Alcohol and a poor diet were involved, and I wasn’t going to repeat that script,” he said. Karim became a vegetarian and studied with a holistic healer, Dr. Paul Bodhise.
Mikail also develops meal plans for weight loss and other goals. “We want to empower clients to take charge of their own health,” he said. “They leave with a game plan.”
“I would like Sacred Paradise to become a holistic healing center,” added Carolina, who also offers mobile services in homes and businesses.
For more information, call 215-279-3432 or visit www.styleseat.com/carolinaruiz.