Friends in Knead

H enna covering her hands like gloves, Marissa Gandelman had just returned from Kurukshetra, India. Recovering from the 10.5-hour time difference, her jet lag lingered, but talking with me about her massage therapy business, Elm City Wellness, perked her right up. This despite the fact that the room we were in, labeled “Wind,” was slow like syrup, with relaxing amber light. The sound of a gurgling stream came from one corner and flowing waves of spiritualist-approved, 432 Hz-calibrated music came from another.

ECW’s energy feels a far cry from what used to be in this East Rock space: lawyers’ offices. A slight institutionality still hangs in the air, but the closest thing you’ll find to that world of onerous paperwork is a sensible intake form—a few painless pages designed to save you a lot of pain later on. Everyone that comes in for treatment at ECW has to fill it out. “We won’t touch your body without it,” Gandelman says. It’s meant to give the massage therapist a sense of any physical problems (recent fractures, chronic pains, swollen glands, heart conditions, migraines) or psychological issues (depression, panic disorders) they should know about, as well as give them a sense of any specific areas you want them to focus on.

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In my case, we determined a writer’s massage was in order. Gandelman worked to undo the havoc that hunched-over desk-jockeying can wreak on a body. She opened up my pectoralis major (chest) and uncurled my rhomboids (upper back) and latissimus dorsi (lower back). She pulled on each leg to get a sense of how stiff I was and later went to work unknotting the two mooring lines that were my thighs. She took special care with a small muscle called the piriformis (in the buttocks). As she worked on it, it felt like a Viking’s helmet was being driven into my behind. “I call that the ‘little bastard muscle,’” Gandelman said. Aptly named.

90 minutes later, with my feet rubbed, rear end loose and shoulders broad, I floated out of the room and down the hall, where Gandelman showed me a few stretches to keep myself limber and Edward Haberli, the in-house acupuncturist, gave me some tips for marathon-capable posture.

I got the sense that this post-session session, like the initial intake form, is part of ECW’s holistic approach to caregiving. “Holistic approaches look at what’s causing the problem not just putting a band-aid over the issue,” Gandelman says, describing something she worries happens too seldom in Western medicine.

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“Western medicine has its place,” she says. “If I get hit by a bus, I’m not going to see Ed [Haberli]. I’m going to the ER.” But for routine checkups, pains and health problems, there’s a growing belief that we overmedicate patients, overburden hospitals and overwork doctors. “I’ve heard people tell me their doctor doesn’t even look them in the eyes,” Gandelman says.

In recent years, holistic approaches have begun to curry favor among the medical establishment. Referred to as “complimentary and alternative medicine,” or CAM for short, these techniques involve practices like yoga, traditional homeopathy and naturopathy medicine—and, of course, massage therapy.

Despite its rising esteem, massage professionals still struggle against an unsavory association with the sex trade. According to an article in Massage Magazine, the words “masseuse” and “masseur” became euphemisms for covert prostitutes or trafficked sex workers as early as the 1950s. That’s why Gandelman would bristle, and probably correct you, if you called her a “masseuse.” A graduate of Potomac Massage Training Institute in Washington, D.C., Gandelman uses a combination of massage modalities including Swedish, Deep Tissue, myofascial release and neuromuscular therapy in her work. “Yet somehow I’m lumped into the same category as sex workers,” Gandelman says. The more appropriate term, she says, is “licensed massage therapist.” (Surely “massage therapist” would do, too.)

At ECW, there are 12 LMTs, two estheticians and one acupuncturist. They exchange massages, share new “moves” and generally take care of each other—something not entirely the norm among LMTs, according to Gandelman. “Massage therapists are notoriously bad at taking care of themselves”—an irony that’s often observed of doctors as well. But Gandelman tries to instill a culture of self-care among both her employees and her clients. “If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of our clients. We take care of them so they can take care of the world.”

Elm City Wellness
774 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Mon/Wed/Fri 9am-8pm, Tues/Thurs 10am-8pm, Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-6pm
(203) 691-7653

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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