The Healing Power of Collaboration

A new wellness hub in the East Village emphasizes shared experiences.

Bridget Ryan takes a hands-on (and feet-on) approach with a client at Rest Day Wellness Clinic & Social Spa.

Writer: Anthony Taylor
Photographer: Betsy Rudicil, Rudicil Photography

There are people in this world who genuinely love their jobs. Then there are people who aren’t just passionate about what they do, they were made for it — people who don’t view their work as a career, but rather a calling. That’s Bridget Ryan.

Talk to her about massage — or give her a chance to talk to you about it — and you’ll see her light up from within. Her joy for helping others emanates from her like heat.

“I continue to fall in love, over and over again, not just with what I do but with finding new ways to do it,” she said.

She keeps finding ways to help people help themselves. “As a therapist, I work with people. I don’t work on people,” she said. “I work with them and their bodies, and I think that blending, that rapport, makes all the difference.”

The idea of massage therapy as a collaborative experience is at the very core of what Ryan does and how she views her work. She believes in a sense of community and sees the chance to take the traditionally isolated concepts of massage, meditation and therapy, and turn them into shared experiences.

“It’s really about that vitality,” she said. “When I embarked on becoming a massage therapist, I had no idea what lay before me. I’d had one massage in my life. But I had a feeling inside of me, and I followed that intuition.”

That led Ryan, now 43, to massage school in 2005, then saw her through her licensing four years later and the beginning of her practice in 2010. She worked out of an established studio in Urbandale before opening her own studio, Rest Day Wellness Clinic & Social Spa, in October 2022 in the East Village.

For Ryan, the move was about more than just setting out on her own adventure. The choice of the East Village was an intentional one, placing her business in a neighborhood she sees as the creative heart of a vibrant city. “There’s this hunger for collaboration in the East Village,” she said. “What excites me is the same principle as having a client on the table: the concept of working with and seeing where it leads. It also allows me time outside of the treatment room to involve myself in the community and create meaningful connections in the city that I grew up in and love with all my heart. I feel a debt of gratitude to pay back.”

When she talks about her plans for the future, you can see her light up and you can imagine where her connections could lead. She talks about group meditation sessions, accompanied by curated vinyl from Marv’s Record Shop, and pop-up massage sessions at Raygun or Wooly’s. You can picture collaborations with Ballet Des Moines or street-side massages during First Fridays or Pride or other festivities in the East Village. “I’ve never collaborated or hosted an event and walked away feeling like it was a mistake,” she said. “There’s always something to learn.”

While Ryan still does most of her work in a traditional setting — one on one, in a quiet space — she sees genuine value in shared experiences. That’s the inspiration for her Social Spa, where two or more people can partake in traditional massage and stretching work, yoga, meditation and even intimacy classes with partners.

Shared experiences “can be a love language,” Ryan said. She sees the benefits of people, friends and strangers alike, showing a little vulnerability and being willing to be uncomfortable before they’re comfortable. People can either hang on to their individual facade or “dissolve and soften into the moment,” she said. “In an open setting, we can learn to find ease and comfort. Social Spa is a chance to experience this kind of open container of healing.”

In other words, “Social Spa is an open-ended gift that you get to share with others,” she said. “You might know everyone in that experience, or you might get to meet some new people. I’ve curated experiences that have spawned friendships, long-term relationships and even one marriage.”

Ryan is looking forward to 2024 and new opportunities for her business — a new website, new classes and, possibly, building a team.

“Massage has, in many ways, allowed me to dream bigger dreams,” she said. “It’s vital to keep dreaming. There’s so much more out there to discover.”

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