“Dharma” is a Sanskrit word. It means “following your true purpose.”
Dharma Massage Therapy near downtown is not idly named. Owner Mark Heilshorn has been following his winding purpose — and the road to Westport — for years.
The Garden City, Long Island native always wanted to pursue “global level” work. After college he volunteered for Americares. Two weeks after joining the disaster relief and health non-profit in 1986, a major earthquake struck El Salvador. Heilshorn was soon on a plane, with medicine and supplies.
Americares was based in New Canaan. He lived in Darien. But he spent a lot of time in Westport.
“There was a real charm here,” he says. “It’s where I found clothes, people, life. The town had real character. It was hopping.”
His 4 years with Americares were “a tremendous experience.” Working in Rome on the Sudanese crisis, Heilshorn met Mother Teresa. “I actually saw a halo over her head,” he says. Within a year, he applied to and was accepted at Yale Divinity School.
He spent the next 20 years as a United Church of Christ minister, in Woodbury, Connecticut and New Hampshire. He acquired, he says, “a reputation for healing hands, and enthusiasm for spiritual development.”
But after “a bit of a life crisis” — and a divorce — he transitioned to business. He worked in medical sales, and did motivational speaking.
Two years ago, on vacation with his girlfriend — Westport attorney Susan Filan — Heilshorn had a massage. He felt rejuvenated. He realized that he too had a gift for both spiritual and physical healing.
He studied and trained. When he was ready, Westport was the obvious place to be.
Dharma Massage Therapy opened in the Mill complex on Richmondville Avenue. With large windows and natural light, it has “great character and warmth. It’s an inviting, safe space,” Heilshorn says.
He believes his studio helps him fulfill his life purpose. “I transfer my spiritual energy to people,” he says.
His massages are “not just about technique and anatomy. I explain why we get triggers and knots, and how the body reacts to them. When bodies release pressure, energy, oxygen and nourishing blood rushes in to help. A good massage opens up and frees the body to breathe.”
His dharma technique, he says, couples spiritual and physical massage therapy.
His clients are typical Westporters: “active people with busy lives. They have pains in their knees, necks, lower backs. They want to play golf or tennis, with limbs or muscles that feel better.” They range in age from 20s to 90s.
But Heilshorn’s quest to fulfill his dharma is not over.
Right now, he’s training to become an equine massage therapist.
“Horses get stressed out too,” he notes. “They need massages. It’s a miraculous thing to watch them recover.”
He won’t be giving horse massages on Richmondville Avenue. But you can enjoy a free 10-minute chair massage today (September 5) at the Westport Farmers’ Market (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Imperial Avenue).