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Getting To Know a Spa
The Healing Centers of Tomorrow

By Karrie (Mowen) Osborn

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring 2002.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.


I am not a "spa" kind of woman.

Or so I once thought. I'm an average, 30-something woman, who like all of us, is trying to find balance between work, family and self-care. I don't get my nails done -- they break before I get a chance. I'm not high fashion -- I'm high comfort. I don't revel in cosmetic excursions. My cosmetic bag holds base, blush and mascara; of which the brands haven't changed in years. In my mind, I don't sound like the typical spa-goer. But that's not what "spa" is about any more.

The truth is, there is no typical spa-goer. Spas of old have today rejuvenated themselves as healing centers where men and women of all demographics go not only for respite, but therapy.

I first learned that fact vacationing in Santa Fe, New Mexico some years ago when I treated myself to a menu of detoxifying spa services. The preconceptions I held before walking through those spa doors already had me feeling out of place. But once I put on the spa's fuzzy robe and slippers and had settled into a comfortable waiting lounge, I knew my concerns of acceptance were unfounded. I learned I was indeed a "spa" kind of woman and that like everyone else there, I was seeking two very simple things -- health and relaxation.

Spas today offer both an array of services and environments to help us find renewed balance and a healthy lifestyle.

While there are many variations on the theme, spas come largely in three sizes. Day spas can be found in most any town and traditionally offer bodywork and skin care treatments of all varieties. Resort spas are typically an extra amenity found on quality hotel properties. And destination spas are stand-alone properties that offer lodging, meals, spa programs, nutrition counselors and wellness evaluations.

Estimations put the spa industry at a growing 6,000 facilities -- the majority of those being day spas. That means regardless of where you may travel, you will most likely find a spa to call home -- a place to get that missed massage and take away the travails of travel. And regardless whether you're traveling or just feeling the need for some self-care, a day spa visit can be a wonderful, complementary element to your health regimen of exercise, stretching, sound nutrition and bodywork from your therapist.

Considering a spa visit? What should you expect? First decide which route you'd like to go. If you'll be traveling soon, find out what types of spas are in the area. Consider booking a few nights on the trip at a destination spa. If more comfortable trying new things in your own back yard, look through your telephone directory for options or ask your therapist for a local recommendation.

Determine how much you'd like to spend and what kinds of therapies you'd like to explore. Oftentimes spas will list their treatment menus online. Want to try a hydrotherapy bath or a salt scrub? How about a Four Hands Massage or your first facial? The receptionist should be able to walk you through the services you're most interested in and what they entail.

It's important to understand the full scope of the therapy so there are no surprises. For instance, a mud wrap might be delightfully cooling and detoxifying for some, while others might feel a bit too claustrophobic to enjoy it. I personally melt under the deep work of hot stone massage, but others may find it too intense an experience. Knowing what to expect is critical. Talk through all your questions with the spa staff to determine what you might enjoy most.

Try not to eat heavily before your appointment. If you do have a meal, give yourself at least 30 minutes afterward before starting most treatments. If nothing else, it provides you greater comfort during treatments. Avoid drugs and alcohol before any bodywork service.

On arrival, you will likely be ushered to a changing or locker room where you can disrobe and lock up your belongings. Oftentimes you will be offered a water or beverage before being guided along by your therapist.

Depending on which services you purchase, you may want to plan on quiet time after your appointment to process your therapies and take full advantage of their effects. Many spas have showers and dressing rooms in case you do have to do more than collapse on the bed afterwards. As with massage, remember to replenish your fluids after any and all spa services.

Finally, feel free to explore new therapies and those indigenous to the area. Most of all, let go your preconceptions, be open to the experience and simply enjoy.

Here are some brief descriptions of the more common spa therapies. Check the spas in your area for a full listing of services and prices.


Baths
- Hydrotherapy - This is the use of a specialized tub with technician-controlled, strategically placed water and air jets. The tub is typically equipped to offer underwater massage. Avoid a hydrotherapy treatment for at least 30-60 minutes after eating.

- Thalassotherapy - Much like hydrotherapy, this treatment includes the addition of other elements to the bath - sea salt, seaweed, algae products, etc. The minerals in these additives help stimulate blood circulation, eliminate toxins, tone and remineralize.


Showers
- Vichy Shower - Pulsating water jetting across your back as you lay on a table is the emphasis in a vichy treatment. Therapists control water flow and the alternating effect of hot and cold water. This is an energizing treatment and is often used after other body therapies.

- Steam Shower - Sauna-like in effect, steam showers are usually moist, heated rooms meant to cause perspiration, thereby eliminating toxins and impurities in the skin. A steam treatment is often utilized prior to other treatments.


Wraps Scrubs
- Mud Wraps - Muds are used to draw out impurities in the body and to hydrate the skin. Spas will often use ingredients native to the region. After the mud is applied to the body, you are typically wrapped in a covering that warms you and allows the minerals to work with the skin. Afterwards, guests can shower the mud away themselves or partake in one of the shower therapies.

- Salt Scrubs - Also known as salt glows, this exfoliating process involves massaging a paste made from sea salts and essential oils or water onto the body. A fresh rinse follows. The treatment increases circulation, improves the skin's appearance and cleans pores. With scrubs, ask your therapist how far in advance you should stop shaving your legs to prevent irritation.

- Seaweed Treatments - Seaweed can be used in many different ways, but often is applied to the body in a paste form. Like a mud wrap, you are cocooned in a plastic sheet while the minerals are absorbed into the skin. A rinse or shower therapy follows.


Massage w/Extras
- Hot Stone Massage - A massage incorporating the use of warmed, smooth river stones. Therapists can work very deep with this treatment, so be sure to express the amount of pressure you find comfortable.

- Aromatherapy Massage - Adding essential oils from herbs, flowers and roots to your massage oil, therapists are able to pick the oils which can best address the needs of the client at the time.

- Four Hands Massage - You know massage with one therapist is great. How about two? Both a rhythmical and therapeutic treatment, this is an up-and-coming body therapy.


Karrie (Mowen )Osborn is the former editor and current contributing editor of Body Sense magazine.




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