Nestled in the leafy upper levels of the Old Market Passageway, tucked in the conjoining rooms of a former yoga studio, you’ll find the cozy abode of Aether & Epsom, a massage therapy studio and spa just a flight of stairs up from the bustle of Howard Street.
You may also encounter the studio’s founder, Doug Strain, either brewing a cup of tea at the end of the hall or engaged in a session with a client. Strain practices a variety of techniques, from deep-tissue massage to aromatherapy, with self-concocted distillates.
“I work with a large population in migraines,” Strain explains. “They’ve popped every pill and seen 500 neurologists, tried every CT scan, and I’ve been able to get a lot of them off of medication. They’re so frustrated and desperate to find something, anything, that will help them, and being able to be that resource for them—that’s pretty cool.”
Strain found himself disillusioned with nursing practice after four years of CNA work, and decided to pursue massage therapy where he could still pay homage to his science roots and “work proactively with people’s pain, not just in damage control.” Strain’s practices subscribe chiefly to neuromuscular massage, a deep-tissue technique that focuses on relieving the body’s pressure points to ease physical pain and tension. After adhering to Nebraska’s hefty requirement of 1,000 hours of massage therapy school, Strain’s decision to start his own business seemed like the natural conclusion.
“I have full control of my working environment, practice the way I want to in a way I know is best, and honestly, I can offer a private, quiet setting for someone to receive body work in,” Strain says. “You’re already getting treatment, that puts you in a vulnerable place; the quiet environment is just more comfortable for people.”
Beyond various massage techniques, Strain also self-studies aromatherapy, creating his own scents and detailing them in a therapeutic index. His secondary passion is making craft cocktails, where he uses the hydrosols, or herbal distillates, as additives for the drinks.
Doesn’t it get stressful, managing all those tasks?
“Because it’s just me here, I wear all the hats, which can be stressful,” Strain agrees. “When it comes to customers, it’s really cool because I interact with them on every level. I’m their receptionist when they come in; I’m their therapist; I’m their manager. It actually gives me the opportunity to develop a better customer relationship than the average business might.”
Another service Strain offers is the chance to relax while viewing original art. Right next door to Strain’s studio is the art studio of abstract painter Mary Ann Chaney. Chaney exhibits a collection of barn paintings in the hallway for clients to peruse while waiting for their massage appointments.
The synthesis between massage therapy and artwork is a natural one, it would seem. “You’re almost in a zone when you paint; I like that aspect of it, it’s like therapy,” Chaney says about her work. “I like painting abstract, not tight realism. They have to look kind of relaxed, but also controlled.”
She pauses, smiles, and adds, “Just like massage.” Encounter
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