Business as usual

David Rubin

It only takes a few minutes. Seated in the lobby of the Massage Connection Wellness Center, I note a newfound awareness. Interviewing founder and owner Kathryn Rose, I observe, with unusual objectivity the disturbing knots in my upper back and the strangeness of my posture. I remember two pages of New Year’s resolutions, all of which amounted to: “Get Healthier.” I feel guilty for a moment, but the environment here is too pleasant for that feeling to last.
There’s something about this place that affects a noticeable change in one’s state of mind. The abundance of natural light filtering through the front windows, the calm décor, and the satisfying give of the sofas all contribute to this feeling, but I think there is also an intangible force at work here.
And that’s only the waiting room. I imagine the massages might do even more to calm body and mind.
Many current Lawrence students know about this small gem, located a few feet from the colorful windows of The Fire and the skeletal remains of Conkey’s Bookstore. But so do past generations of Lawrentians. Rose’s operation has called this location home for eleven years, after nine years on Appleton’s south side. She appreciates being close to the Lawrence campus, and in the year of Massage Connection’s twentieth anniversary, that sentiment is reciprocated, without a doubt.
Now, Kathryn Rose’s wellness center boasts eight massage therapists who practice an array of techniques such as “Swedish,” hot stone, deep tissue, lymphatic, pre-natal, facial, and chair massages, as well as a healing technique called “Reiki” and specially targeted therapies like “Ortho-Bionomy.”
It is clear that Rose firmly believes in the benefits of each of these techniques. “Massage therapy is beneficial in so many ways. It can help all of the systems in the body,” she says.
Plenty of students seem to agree with her. According to Rose, there is a predictable rush of student massage appointments around midterms and final exams, as well as a constant stream of conservatory students, who are particularly at risk for tension problems and overuse injuries.
There are, of course, some who doubt the benefits of massage therapy. To skeptics, massage might seem imprecise and un-medical but Rose has a clear answer for them: “It’s more than just a luxury. It’s a necessity. I love the profession because I really love helping people. to slow down and take better care of themselves.”
Massage therapy has come a long way in recent years, particularly in Wisconsin. Around 1990, after completing her training, Rose looked around for work as a massage therapist, but wellness organizations like spas and chiropractic offices avoided her field like the plague. The reason? A scandal had recently broken out when authorities discovered that an Appleton massage center was a front for a prostitution practice.
As fallout from this unfortunate debacle, credible massage therapists faced deep-set prejudices and serious professional challenges. In Rose’s words: “It was a huge stigma.” Because no one would hire her, Rose decided to strike out on her own and start the Massage Connection.
The early years were difficult. Rose had to prove her legitimacy and professionalism to municipal business organizations. She had to obtain unreasonably expensive licenses. And her work was limited by rules like a ban on chair massages, which lasted for five years.
Eventually, the state of Wisconsin began regulating the massage therapy field, and the administrative blockades grew less severe. Now, massage is comparatively popular, and its practitioners receive far more professional respect than they used to.
According to Rose, her regulars include stressed students and people coping with chronic health conditions, patients recovering from accidents and people who just want to take charge of their overall wellness. Some of these relationships can be quite lasting. Rose has been seeing some of her most loyal patients for upwards of fifteen years.
You, reader, probably won’t be at Lawrence University for fifteen years, but you still have time to take care of yourself and become friends with this friendly and warm establishment. I invite you to consider health and wellness in the midst of this grey winter term, and discover the Massage Connection for yourself. Kathryn Rose will be coming to campus in mid-March to give a workshop on massage basics, but if you can’t wait that long, there are special student discounts, and walk-in appointments are always welcome.