I think this election and the whole year leading up to it has left most of us needing to stop and take a collective breath. Now more than ever, it’s time to unplug, step away from our devices, and find a place of solace where we can start to heal. We’ll also need to re-charge our batteries (in our bodies! Not our phones, sheesh) so that we can regain our strength and energy to face the coming year.
My first instinct the morning after the election was to escape to a remote tropical island that gets limited TV signals and has no wi-fi. But since that’s not really in the cards for me at the moment, I am going to head to the spa. And what better place to start your healing process than the spa? You don’t have to go big to find solace and rest — you can start with any spa in your area that can provide a good therapeutic massage and maybe a sauna or steam sesh.
If you’re having a hard time deciding what treatments might fit your needs, we’ve come up with five different therapies (and where you can find them) to give you some ideas.
#1: Anti-Stress, Pain Relief and Relaxation Treatments
We could all use a little more of these incorporated into our lives on a regular basis, am I right? Anti-stress, pain relief and relaxation treatments all have one thing in common — their goal is to help you chill out and feel less pain wherever it may be occurring in your body.
The Kohler Waters Spa in Kohler, Wisconsin, has a new relaxation massage called When Life Hands You Lemons Massage. Brilliant! “Enjoy a deeply soul-soothing, light pressure massage. Designed for those that have gone through or are going through a rough time, this treatment brings about a deep sense of calm and relaxation. The products used in this service have been selected for their immune-boosting and mood-lifting properties.” (50 minutes, $158 or 80 minutes, $208; $30 more on Saturdays) This is more of a relaxation treatment, so if you need something to work out stress-induced pain like tight shoulders or a sore neck try a massage like…
The Tension Tamer BY ESPA (50 minutes, $150 or 80 minutes, $175; $30 more on weekends and holidays) at the Spa at Estancia in La Jolla, California. “Specialized techniques help re-align the deeper layers of muscle to release tightness and alleviate common areas of discomfort such as a stiff neck, painful lower back and sore, tense shoulders. 80 minute version features an ESPA Pink Hair & Scalp Mud mask.” Estancia also does “De-stress Express” treatments, mostly all of them being 25 minutes, in case you wanted to sneak one in on your lunch break or on your way home from work.
There’s a new Miraval Spa in the recently renovated Monarch Beach Resort, and like its big-sister property in Arizona, the California spa’s treatments are innovative and always focus on the whole mind-body connection. The Muscle Harmonizer (100 minutes, $375) promises to “ease muscle tension and discover well-being and vitality for mind and body. Ideal after exercise or to wholly release stress and tension, this signature experience starts with a warming sea salt and oil scrub to cleanse and prepare the body. Next, a deep muscle massage using therapeutic herbal poultices then purifies, rebalances and eases aching muscles. Then, a head massage soothes and nourishes the scalp.” If you’re short on time but super tense, you can try their Express Back, Neck and Shoulder Massage (25 minutes, $100). A hot stone and oil massage targets tense and aching areas, leaving you feeling relaxed and refreshed.
#2: Water Therapies
In our reviews of hot springs spas (like this one on The Spring in Desert Hot Springs) we talk about how water, particularly hot mineral water, has been viewed as healing for centuries. People around the globe have been doing bathing rituals for ages, and now savvy spas have added bodywork to these rituals, either in the water or around good long soaks themselves.
I recently discovered Watsu in Palm Springs — I had no idea there was a whole professional bodywork modality and association dedicated to aquatic bodywork. Watsu is the principal form of aquatic therapy for rehabilitation, promoting deep relaxation, quieting the sympathetic and enhancing the parasympathetic nervous systems. It has profound beneficial effects for trauma, both physical and psycho-emotional, with therapeutic application for neuromuscular injuries, stress, chronic pain, discomfort during pregnancy, and special needs.
Now, not every water-based massage treatment is Watsu, which may or may not matter to you, and some treatments may be more effective than others depending on your needs. Aquatic bodywork may be beneficial to you if you have had an injury to the spinal cord or brain through trauma, stroke, or a degenerative condition such as Parkinson’s Disease; arthritis, back and neck pain, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain states; and mood disorders such as generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Watsu has also benefited patients who have undergone surgery and have subsequently developed post-operative pain or limited range of motion.
It’s also good if you like water, and want to experience the warmth and weightlessness, a blissful letting-go and a stillness induced by water.
The SunWater Spa in Manitou Springs, Colorado offers Watsu for individuals and couples in their heated, saline therapy pools. During the 30- or 60-minute treatment, you lay back as your practitioner gently and rhythmically moves you through soothing warm water stretching your body and calming your nervous system. Enjoy a profound sense of well being with this meditative, peaceful, and nurturing aquatic therapy. A 30-minute treatment for 1 person is $55, 60 minutes is $95. Couples can enjoy one therapist each for $105 for 30 minutes and $185 for 60 minutes.
Spa Solage in Napa Valley, California offers a water-based wellness experience featuring their geo-thermal pools and mineral-rich mud therapy. Soak in their “Bathhouse” separate men’s and women’s clothing optional areas featuring 103° jetted mineral pools prior to your treatment to prepare, and after your treatment to restore and relax. The Solage Signature Mudslide (60 minutes, $100 or 90 minutes, $160) is a three-part detoxifying treatment: the mud, the waters and the rest to cleanse, nurture and restore. Start with a mud application infused with your choice of essential oils, then relax and rehydrate in one of the geo-thermal pools, and finally rest in one of Solage’s state-of-the-art “sound chairs” while listening to soothing music as healing vibrations resonate through the chair into your body.
The geo-thermal mineral waters at the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa in New Mexico were deemed sacred by indigenous Native Americans of Northern New Mexico, and have been a source of healing for thousands of years. Their water is sulphur-free and are the only hot springs in the world with four different types of mineral water including lithia, iron, soda and arsenic. They have four pools, each one dedicated to these minerals, and all are quiet zones so that every spa-goer can have a peaceful experience in these sacred waters. Ojo also has one main “Kiva” pool that contains iron and arsenic, as well as private outdoor pools for spa-goers to enjoy private water therapy in the buff. While Ojo Caliente doesn’t offer aquatic bodywork, its main premise is to offer healing and restoration through its mineral waters and mud. Entry to the public mineral pools, mud pool and steam and sauna is $20 per person Monday through Thursday, and $32 per person on weekends and holidays. After sunset it gets cheaper, $16 per person Monday-Thursday and $28 per person on weekends and holidays.
I’m a huge fan of aromatherapy. I have two diffusers and a growing collection of pure essential oils for a wide range of purposes, and more often than not choose aromatherapy treatments at the spa. Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants for healing through smell and absorption via the skin.
It might sound dubious to some, but plant oils have been used for therapeutic, spiritual and hygienic purposes dating back to ancient civilizations, including the Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. More recently, a French chemist name René-Maurice Gattefossé discovered the healing properties of lavender oil when he applied it to a burn on his hand caused by an explosion in his laboratory. He then started to analyze the chemical properties of essential oils and how they were used to treat burns, skin infections, gangrene, and wounds in soldiers during World War I. In 1928, Gattefossé founded the science of aromatherapy. By the 1950s massage therapists, beauticians, nurses, physiotherapists, doctors, and other health care providers began using aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy is used in a wide range of settings, from spas to hospitals, to treat a variety of conditions. In general, it seems to relieve pain, improve mood, and promote a sense of relaxation. In fact, several essential oils including lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, lemon, sandalwood, and others have been shown to relieve anxiety, stress, and depression.
Several clinical studies suggest that when essential oils (particularly rose, lavender, and frankincense) were used by qualified midwives, pregnant women felt less anxiety and fear, had a stronger sense of well being, and had less need for pain medications during delivery. Now, aromatherapy can bring on a sense of calm in a woman in labor, I’m pretty sure it can help us calm down when thinking about the new president-elect.
Many spas offer aromatherapy treatments, but here are a couple that sound like standouts:
The Nob Hill Spa in San Francisco, California has a specialty massage that incorporates the world-renowned pioneers of modern day aromatherapy, Aromatherapy Associates, into the treatment. The aptly named Aromatherapy Associates Massage (50 minutes, $155 or 80 minutes, $205) adds pure essential oils to their Longevity Relaxation Massage to balance and enliven the body, enhance the massage experience and invite wellness. The Swedish-style Longevity Relaxation Massage increases circulation, rejuvenates tired muscles and encourages deep relaxation.
The Spa at the Mayflower Grace Hotel in Washington, Connecticut offers a luxurious-sounding shared experience called the Deep Blue Lavender Embrace (90 minutes, $530). You and your honey can enjoy a “complete sensory experience” that combines scent, texture, and skillful bodywork to induce deep peace and clarity of mind. It begins with a luxurious, lavender-infused steam, followed by body buffing using a blend of lavender, peppermint, rosemary, ginger grass, and fir. It concludes with a nourishing massage to melt stress away.
#4: Stretchy Massages
If you aren’t stretching or doing yoga, you should start — even if you think you aren’t flexible. Active stretching (where you control the muscle), as in yoga for example, is super beneficial for the body. It helps to stimulate your digestive system, reduce inflammation in your joints, relieve tension, improve your concentration and posture, prevent injury and energize you. It also increases your mobility and flexibility, while releasing stress and relaxing the mind.
When you combine all these active stretching benefits with the benefits of passive stretching in massage, you get an even greater improvement in blood flow and muscle lengthening, as well as a restoration of flexibility and the promotion of healing after after an injury. Even if you aren’t injured, you’ll still get all the great therapeutic benefits because stretchy passive massage stretches tissues that that can’t be stretched in usual ways, like sideways, and also releases tension and pressure build up by stretching fascia that surrounds a muscle.
The most popular stretchy massage is an authentic Thai Massage. In Thai Massage, the body is compressed, pulled, stretched and rocked, and combines the techniques or principles of acupressure, Indian Ayurveda and assisted yoga postures. Try to find a traditional Thai Massage spa like Chaba Traditional Thai and Sport Massage of Newport Beach, California — their practitioners and therapists have all had at least 800 hours of training and the owner comes from the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School, the center of Thai medicine and massage for centuries. We like a good old fashioned Traditional Thai massage given by strong and powerful Thai ladies, who will walk on your back upon request at very reasonable prices.
Two upscale takes on the traditional Thai massage can be found at the Spa at Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas and the Healing Arts Center & Spa at Cavallo Point in San Francisco.
If you love yoga and massage, try the Mandarin Oriental’s East Meets West treatment (2 hours, $325 Monday to Thursday, $375 Friday to Sunday) — it’s a splurge but it’s totally worth it and you have to visit this spa at least once in your life. The essence of this massage fuses Eastern and Western practices; focusing on restorative stretching and pressure point therapy. This massage is an ideal synthesis of deep tissue techniques combined with the rhythmic stretches of Thai inspired massage movements. An active muscle and joint herbal massage cream helps provide relief to deep muscles strains and tension.
The Cavallo Point Healing Arts Center & Spa’s Signature Massage is also a blend of East and West. This unique and aromatic massage is a dynamic blend of two techniques: long flowing strokes similar to Esalen or Lomi Lomi styles of Swedish massage, and the compressions and stretches of Thai massage. Guests say it’s like getting the benefits of massage and Yoga in one experience! The treatment comes with a choice of one of their five exclusive aromatherapy remedy massage oils. (60 minutes, $175 or 90 minutes, $260)
#5: Healing Arts/Specialty Treatments
Although many healing arts and practices have been around for centuries, it’s taken that long for Western society to embrace them, and even longer for spas to incorporate them into their service menu. I think it was only when spa directors began to adopt the intention of the spa being a place of healing (and not pampering) that they began to mindfully incorporate ancient healing practices and specialty treatments rooted in practices from Ayurveda, Reiki, Craniosacral and Chinese Medicine practices such as Acupuncture and Reflexology.
If you’re curious about trying these treatments, sometimes the best way to find out about them is through your own personal network. Ask a friend if they’ve ever done Reiki or Acupuncture, or if they know any practitioners. If no one you know has done any specialty treatments, look to Google reviews, Yelp, or other review-based apps for reputable practitioners.
While we haven’t tried these specific spas or practitioners, the following spas have been around a while, are highly regarded and their practitioners were trained at the highest levels in their fields. The specialty treatments sound amazingly transformative as well!
BodiScience Wellness Center & Spa in Beverly, Massachusetts has several Traditional Ayurvedic Rituals that can help you de-stress, sleep, and re-balance. One treatment in particular, the Tibetan Shirodhara (50 minutes, $145) allows your mind to find a quiet place and rest. This treatment brings together four Tibetan massage treatments to create a seamless rhythm that will lead you into a very peaceful and profoundly deep state of relaxed awareness. Special energy points help to release mental tensions, gentle warmth and massage to the belly and feet settle the mind and relax the face, all of which lead into an anointing of the forehead with warm sesame oil. This deceptively simple technique of playing a fine stream of warm oil on the middle of the forehead (3rd eye) recharges the body, brings clarity to the mind, and offers a quiet space to experience ourselves.
Aspira the Spa in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin embraces Eastern philosophies and has mindfully incorporated practices and wisdom from indigenous cultures into their spa and services menu. Aspira has both specialty treatments and The Healing Arts as categories on their menu. Specialty treatments include lymphatic drainage, Chakra Balancing and Reflexology. Their Healing Arts services include Reiki, Craniosacral and Myofascial Release. One treatment in particular looks like it would be quite effective in bringing calm and helping you re-center: the Mind, Body & Spirit Alignment treatment (80 minutes, $225). Incorporating the use of any or all of the following: intuitive massage, Reiki, reflexology and craniosacral, this treatment encompasses the whole person – mind, body and spirit. Using these healing modalities, the body’s chakras or energy centers are balanced, resulting in a feeling of total peace and calm.
And finally, the big Kahuna of Ayurveda, The Chopra Center at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, California is a wellness center that’s been providing Westerners with ancient Eastern wisdom and healing practices for over 20 years. Founded by world-renowned holistic physicians Deepak Chopra, M.D. and David Simon, M.D., the Chopra Center for Wellbeing has served as a beautiful, nurturing place where people come to heal their physical body, empower themselves, find emotional freedom, and experience spiritual awakening. They also offer workshops, retreats, daily meditations, yoga and spa treatments. The spa’s most relaxing treatment is the Shirodhara (like BodiScience’s Tibetan version, above) and to soothe anxiety and stress, you can combine Shirodhara with their Abhyanga treatment (65 minutes, $330). The Abhyanga is a friction-based choreographed massage utilizing warm dosha-specific herbalized oils. As the oil is massaged into the skin through gentle to medium pressured strokes, it penetrates deep into the tissues to loosen toxins at the cellular level. The Abhyanga enhances immunity, increases circulation, and creates deep relaxation in the body and mind. The 65 minute treatment is split into 35 minutes of massage with two therapists and the dosha balancing treatment (choose Shirodhara for stress and anxiety relief, or the Marma therapy to relax and calm) with one therapist.