Lying under a warm blanket in a dimly lit room being serenaded by babbling water and pinkly plunky music makes it easy to understand why massage is often thought of as an occasional treat — something people may allow themselves once or twice a year when overdue for a little R&R. However, the purpose of therapeutic massage is far more than just relaxation.
“Therapeutic massage is different than other types of massage because it focuses on correcting a problem or imbalance in the body causing pain or discomfort,” says Ena Lepinski, licensed massage therapist and owner of Knots Therapeutic Massage in Bridgman.
Before changing tracks to pursue massage therapy, Ena studied psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“After working a desk job full-time, I knew I wanted to do something more physically active than what a career in psychology had to offer,” Ena says. “But I still wanted to do something where I could help people get out of their heads and be in the here and now.”
And therapeutic massage does work to get your out of your head — a little bit like psychotherapy does — except you don’t have to wear pants and Ena does not care if you doze through most of it.
When Ena moved to Bridgman in 2013, she pounded the pavement in search of a place of her own to practice therapeutic massage. After months of fruitlessly searching, Ena found herself walking by the building at 4518 Lake St.
“I looked in the window, and there was awful dark paneling on the walls, falling ceiling tiles, and water stains everywhere,” Ena says. “It was horrendous — and I knew right away it was where I was meant to be.”
While getting Knots up and running and doing nearly all the renovations herself, Ena also worked for Hospice at Home providing therapeutic massage.
Ena has stirring stories that testify to the palliative powers of therapeutic massage from her time working with hospice patients that illicit goosebumps. But what’s truly awe-inspiring is the day-to-day testament of relief she witnesses.
“I can’t tell you how many times someone has experienced ultimate relief from a problem they’ve been dealing with for years after only a few sessions,” Ena says.
To help clients get to this point, Ena starts her process by talking thoroughly with each and every client to find the root of the problem.
“I focus on where the problem is, not the pain, which can often be totally different things,” Ena says.
The body provides her a map of where it is really hurting, pulling, stagnant and frozen, and she starts there. Ena uses specific techniques and deep tissue massage to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which enables the body to rest on a cellular level and begin its own organic process of unwinding itself back to health.
As she begins the massage, her hands move with more fluidity than the water cascading down the fountain in the corner. She untangles the knots like taking apart a big ball of tangled necklaces. Each twisted further through some emotional or physical injury from which the body has attempted to heal. Every necklace loosed free slinks to the floor and vaporizes into a fleeting wisp, immediately swallowed up by Ena’s unique blend of essential oils swirling in the air — never to be seen or felt again.
“Many massage therapists burn out after five years because of the physical toll it can take,” Ena says.
This is Ena’s 12th year working as a massage therapist — her endurance accredited to her extensive training and education and regular swimming regimen.
Over the years, Knots’ reputation kept growing, and Ena welcomed another experienced massage therapist, Sarah Buist, in January 2019. Sarah has been practicing as a licensed practical nurse in Michiana for 20 years and as a licensed massage therapist for 13 years.
“Last year, I decided I wanted to practice massage full-time, and I approached Ena about renting space at Knots,” Sarah says. “Ena is one of the most caring human beings I know, and she has been extremely encouraging since the start.”
When customers make an appointment at Knots Therapeutic Massage it feels luxurious from the moment they walk in the door. But once they come out the other end, you realize Ena says they have experienced something greater than just a transient luxury.
Post-massage, the mind is clear, and people are simultaneously relaxed and energized. When you make another appointment, you’ll notice each session building on itself. And before you know it your relaxed state, once only experienced on occasion, has become your default state of being.
Photography by Emily Sobecki