They say it feels soothing and relaxing. They hesitantly say it's like an out-of-body experience, quickly acknowledging how odd that sounds. They say it can be painful, and the following days sometimes bring sickness or crying.
They say massage therapist Maribeth Bourgeois has healing abilities.
"She's always found something that I didn't even realize was tight," said Naples resident John Puig, 34, who has been Bourgeois' client for about three years. "She's very perceptive. She's very good at picking up details and what would help people."
She needn't touch her palms to her patients to do the most meaningful work to the body, though much of her day at Wilde Urth Spa is dedicated to traditional massage techniques. The method she's seen yield more significant physical and emotional results has been "energy work," a process involving the transfer of energy between bodies to heal or relieve ailments.
"You know if you hug a person you can feel comfort or elevated?" Bourgeois said. "It's just an exchange of energy."
It doesn't always involve touch, though sometimes Bourgeois uses her hands. A lot of her job involves an ability to sense people's emotions and troubles, which she says are stored and released in different parts of the body.
"To most people it sounds a little freaky or strange," she said. "Most people that come down (to Southwest Florida) just have a different mindset of what healing is."
Naples resident Nadyne Kokos had been bedridden for about a year and a half when she met Bourgeois. She had been in a car accident that left her with a head injury that impaired her from completing simple tasks. Her mind was confused, her body destroyed and the cocktail of medicines she was prescribed bogged down. Doctors told her she'd never be the same.
"If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be walking or talking," said Kokos, 45. "I've always (believed in alternative healing), but I never really had to look into anything because I was always healthy."
Bourgeois started meeting Kokos at her home for energy work sessions, sometimes working for free when Kokos didn't have any money. Four years later, when Kokos opened Wilde Urth Spa in March, she asked Bourgeois to work for her as a massage therapist.
Bourgeois moved to Southwest Florida six years ago, also in need of a different type of healing. She was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. Conventional doctors had told her she wouldn't live past her teens.
When Bourgeois, 37, developed diabetes in her early 30s, she reconstructed her life. She moved to Naples from Massachusetts, then to Bonita Springs. She started eating organic. She starting seeking alternative methods of healing.
"Ever since I was little I've always known there were other ways of healing," Bourgeois said. "Because I was in an atmosphere where no one else believed that, I didn't explore those horizons."
She had started to incorporate energy work into her methods as an assistant physical therapist, but hadn't tried it on herself. When she moved, she got her massage license, and incorporated energy work into her regular services. In her personal life, she began to bet her health on the benefits of energy work.
Her parents were skeptical and scared. Bourgeois was sick with life-threatening diseases and refused to continue conventional medicine.
"When I was very, very ill my parents were obviously very upset and couldn't understand why I wouldn't go to a regular doctor," she said. "But after a year they could see the change . . . now they're a little more accepting of it."
Skepticism isn't new to Bourgeois. Her parents aren't strong believers. Many of her clients stick to traditional massage. But she has been able to convince some of the willing to open their minds to the benefits of energy work.
"I really wasn't a believer in it," said Sayer Ji, Bourgeois' friend and roommate. "The results are — they speak for themselves."
Ji, who works at For Goodness Sake Natural Food Store in Bonita Springs, said Southwest Florida isn't accustomed to new-age thinking, and even organic food stores can take heat from critical shoppers. But Bourgeois' talent for making people feel better — whether they believe in energy work or not — is irrefutable.
"She just helps people let the self-healing process begin," Ji said. "She's really just a gifted healer."