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Woodlands Inn in Summerville, SC

Pressure. That's what it's all about according to Johnny Zecopoulos. More specifically, pressure as it leads to relaxation and well being, both products that Zecopoulos delivers during our 60-minute session with him at our stay at Woodlands Inn.

Woodland’s Inn is in Summerville, SC, a half-hour’s drive from Charleston. It is one of only four hotels in America to earn the Five-Star and Five-Diamond awards for both lodging and dining.

This lovingly restored, 100-plus-year old Charleston plantation home oozes Southern charm, coming by it naturally as a part of Summerville and Charleston, SC, history. The town earned its name for the Charleston planters retreating here for cooler summer temperatures.

Robert W. Parsons, a Pennsylvania Railroad baron, purchased the Woodlands estate's 100 acres in 1906. Other proprietors and owners have cared for the property and expanded it in size and reputation.

Woodlands Inn does not have a "spa" in the traditional sense so they partner with Charleston Massage and Flexibility Center. We’re so glad they do. The inn converted a guest room on the mezzanine level into a well-designed setup: two comfortable treatment rooms outfitted to handle body treatments, facials, manicure and pedicures. There’s a changing area with shower/bathroom facilities; however, most patrons come from the hotel, so they simply wear their room robe and walk to the spa studio, or they can elect to have a massage in the privacy of their own room.

The property does welcome some locals who use the set-up as a day spa.

It was here that we met Johnny Zecopoulos, in his mid-thirties, very fit, his head shaved smooth, he has a physical presence that flows over into his work. He is intense, yet extremely cordial. He is one of several on-call therapists for Woodlands’ guests.

A masseuse for nearly 20 years, he’s a graduate of the Atlanta School of Massage, a licensed Clinical Sports Massage Therapist, and an Active Isolated Stretching Specialist.

(Update 2018: Johnny is no longer with Woodlands Inn, but does still own and operate Charleston Massage and Flexibility Center. He also is a cellular hydration specialist educating people on how and what to properly hydrate with, and the analysis of bottle, tap, sports drinks, reverse osmosis, distilled, and well water in relation to Kangen ionized water.)

Pressure. Both of us had separate massage sessions with Zecopoulos, and each of us raved over the result.

The first thing he did was sit down with us outside the spa room in the waiting area - nicely furnished with couches and chairs - and told us it’s all about the pressure. That’s what makes a good massage, but patrons have to speak up to let him know if he should use less or more, go deeper or not and whether anything is uncomfortable or not to their liking.

Pressure. He doesn't want any on you; he'll take it all on himself to assure you enjoy and benefit from the talent in his hands and mind.

What is nice is that his opening remarks have eliminated our usual directions to a therapist we've never worked with before: We like firm, consistent pressure but we do not want you to show us how strong you are. And when you find a knot or a click during the massage, please do not go on a personal mission to get rid of it.

We both felt like Zecopoulos was something really special. He used to be a mechanical engineer who worked on designing a training protégé of a nuclear submarine! "I've worked on a lot of machines," he said during Fletcher's session, "but nothing like the human body. It is nearly perfect, and the one thing that people often overlook is that the body can heal itself,' he pauses before adding, "if you give it what it needs."

Zecopoulos believes the body needs massage, particularly therapeutic work with stretching the muscles to help them relax and to help move toxins from them into the endocrine or lymphatic systems. "There's no pump with the lymphatic system like the heart with the coronary system," he states.

"It's water based. I'm helping to help move the toxins out of the body, into the kidneys, the liver, even to the skin where you can sweat them away."

"It's strange," Fletcher points out, "I very seldom talk during a massage, but Johnny and I chatted quite a bit on a variety of health related subjects."

Kathy recalls, “When I was on the table face up, he ran his arm, between me and the table, up my back from my hip all the way to my ear, then even further to massage the lower base of my skull. Meanwhile, I felt the length of his arm working against my back muscles for a long massage all the way down that side of me.

"How can you do that?" I asked him at the time. His arm felt excessively long. "That's the flexibility," he said with a laugh. "I like to say it's the best of both worlds," he explained of his approach to massage with so much stretching. "You'll get relaxation with the benefit of a more clinical approach. Most of my clients love it."

Chalk us up as fans. He doesn't fuss at us when we admit we both need to stretch more, that we sit for hours on end at the computer without even taking a break, let alone stretching. "That's not at all uncommon. And for most of us, we use the excuse of time. But it's all a matter of priority. If you make it a priority, it will become one." I like how his movements are intiuitive, going right where there is need. Instead of long, slow strokes I'm used to at most spas, his hands seemed to mirror one another, a ying and yang. One hand would be up near my left shoulder, the other seeming to balance me out by being on my right lower back. Some of his strokes seemed almost frenetic, but I mean that in a good way because the result is extremely relaxing.

He explains that we tend to shorten our muscles during activities (especially the two of, we might add, sitting at computers so much). He moves his wrist as an example and says he likes to gently stretch muscles to help make them relax. It is a system he’s devised.

He is truly talented, and his love for what he does comes through.

Woodlands Inn states that its “certified massage therapists will soothe out tensions and relieve stress for a heavenly experience.”

In our experience, they were right on. Both of us would put our massages among the top-ten we’ve had in the world.

Kudos to Woodlands Inn for using the center’s service, and especially for introducting us to Johnny Zecopoulos.

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