We all experience some level of stress at some point in our lives. It can be internal, external, temporary or ongoing. The question is what do we do about it?
For me, plenty of sleep, lots of exercise, and a healthy diet can do wonders… but there’s something else I consider to be a great stress buster, and it’s spelled: SPA DAY.
Relaxed and utterly blissful might best describe the way I felt the last time a masseuse seemingly melted the tension in my body into butter, during a deep-tissue massage.
Similar sentiments come to mind when I recall the sense of peace and tranquility that came over me recently, when experiencing a cedar-enzyme bath at Osmosis Day Spa and Sanctuary. While a cedar-enzyme bath is not as commonplace as massage, particularly since it is not found anywhere else in the United States, this therapeutic body treatment from Japan is a unique and effective way to completely unwind.
And there are other routes that can take us away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, as most spas offer an array of services that pamper everything from the face to the feet—via facials and body treatments to pedicures—which not only can make us feel good, but are good for us, too.
The Spa Hotel Healdsburg
“Massage therapy offers a unique experience to the individual, ranging from healing to a relaxing escape from life’s hurried pace,” said Marjorie Sisneros-Smith, lead massage therapist at The Spa Hotel Healdsburg. “During a massage, tight muscles are softened and lengthened, lactic acid is reduced and circulation is improved. Performance, clarity and sleep can also improve after a massage,”
The setting alone at The Spa Hotel Healdsburg, where, through my eyes, luxury resides inside a secret garden, can add an element of indulgence to your experience.
In a courtyard, outside the spa and adjacent to a large swimming pool, I couldn’t help but notice the therapeutic sound of water cascading from a fountain and the charm created by an abundance of wisteria and an assortment of vines encasing a willow-bark fence, which acts as a natural screen, hiding the haven from passersby.
It is here that Spa Manager Leah Donner described what she thinks would be the ultimate spa day.
“If I could set up the ideal spa day for somebody, I’d start with a Signature Massage (essentially a Swedish-style massage, using a variety of techniques, including acupressure and hot rocks), which will warm up the body and loosen and relax your muscles, using warm river stones. Then, after you are done with your massage and you are all relaxed, you’d enjoy our signature facial which uses cool stones around your eyes to reduce any puffiness and that tired look we’ve all experienced. And then, I’d finish with a pedicure, because then you’ve pampered your body, face and feet,” Donner said.
The Spa Hotel Healdsburg offers an entire menu of massages and also hand, foot, eye, lip, scalp and facial treatments. You do not need to be a hotel guest to indulge.
A gift shop at the entrance to the spa features, among other things, skin care products, including a line made each harvest by Michele’s Apothecary using wine pomace from Lambert Bridge Winery.
The antioxidant-rich wine pomace is what remains after the Cabernet grapes have been harvested for wine production at this local winery, Donner explained.
“We take the fresh wine pomace and deliver it that day to Michelle’s Apothecary where the pomace is dried and cured into a rich antioxidant powder. The antioxidant powder is then blended into our custom wine-sugar scrub and wine body-butter cream. These products are used in treatments during our fall harvest season from September through November and each treatment is paired with a glass of Lambert Bridge’s Bordeaux-style wine,” Donner said.
Osmosis Day Spa and Sanctuary
Where The Spa Hotel Healdsburg exudes luxury, Osmosis Day Spa and Sanctuary in Freestone is nothing short of Zen-like.
The grounds here, too—in this case a palette of Japanese gardens—greatly enhance any treatment you partake in, whether it’s a massage or the Osmosis signature treatment, which consists of a cedar-enzyme bath followed by a sound therapy session in a hammock garden, or a combination of the two. Just for a little while, you can leave the outside world behind.
And Osmosis founder Michael Stusser wouldn’t want it any other way.
Stusser, who had a preexisting love of gardening and meditation when he decided years ago to study traditional landscape gardening in Kyoto, Japan, said he had an “epiphany experience” while visiting one of these gardens.
“I realized that a landscape garden could feed the soul, the way organic food feeds the stomach… It kind of changed my whole idea of what I can be doing with the garden,” he said, during our interview, following my first cedar enzyme bath and sound therapy session.
Strolling through the Meditation Garden, featuring a large koi pond, Stusser pointed out that the pond is in the shape of a heart. “It’s symbolized by the Chinese character Shin, which means ‘heart,’ but it also means ‘mind,’ indicating there is no separation between heart and mind. It is said that the longest journey is from the head to the heart. It is our hope that we can help people make that journey,” he said.
From my experience—and his, the bath can definitely assist with this process.
But it starts with a cup of tea. Not just any tea, however, as this delicious brew is loaded with enzymes that aid with digestion and, while not advertised as doing so, it induced relaxation, in my case. Within minutes of sipping it, while sitting in a smaller, though nonetheless beautiful, Japanese garden, I noticed the stress in my body was taken down a notch.
Soon after I was escorted to the bathhouse and while my bath attendant turned her back, I stepped into a tub filled with a soft, warm, fragrant, finely ground cedar mixture then sat down and buried my body up to my neck with the magical mix. Once I covered myself with the first layer, my attendant added several more inches of the concoction and then left me alone to take in the experience, checking in just often enough to hand me my glass of water, or put a cold wet cloth on my forehead, as the rest of my body peacefully fermented in the substance that reportedly reaches 140 degrees. Ironically, it never felt too hot and I never felt buried, for lack of a better way to describe it, as I was able to pull my limbs out of the lightweight mixture at any time and, in fact, did remove my hand and forearm long enough to scratch an itch on my face. And then I buried it again, closed my eyes, leaned my head back on the edge of the ground cedar and attempted to stay focused on nothing other than being in the moment.
Stusser said he stumbled across the cedar enzyme bath while in Japan and found it to be not only a “profound healing experience” (he had sciatica at the time), but also a very “spiritual” one.
“Something really happened in the bath; it was very magical and profound. As part of that experience, I visualized the whole picture of the enzyme bath and the gardens. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, in that very moment, it was my calling to bring this back and make that happen,” he said.
“What makes the cedar enzyme bath unlike any other spa treatment is that the heat is generated biologically through fermentation. This finely ground mixture of fragrant evergreens and rice bran is alive with metabolic activity that penetrates gently into your body, as all your pores and cardiovascular system dilate to let it in,” Stusser said.
“It is a deeply relaxing and detoxifying process that cleanses your skin and casts you in a radiant glow. You could call it a full body compress that reduces swelling and joint pain, soothes the nervous system and aids digestion. The enzyme bath balances body chemistry, stimulating serotonin and melatonin production promoting a better night’s sleep,” he said, adding, “The benefits are many, but it can’t be understated how relaxing it is. It’s almost a crime to come to a place like this and then have to get in a car and drive away after your appointment is over.”
In all honesty, though, I am not sure if it was the bath or the sound-therapy session that followed that relaxed me the most, or resulted in my adult son falling asleep in a hammock at the end of his session.
“The sound therapy we administer at Osmosis was developed by the Monroe Institute in Virginia and is called ‘Hemi-sync’ because it balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain. This harmonizes our thoughts and emotions,” Stusser said. “A slightly different subtle tone is made in each ear behind the music. This ‘binaural beat’ lowers brain-wave activity down into the delta and theta ranges where we have our most restful sleep and connect with the creative energies of the unconscious. Following the deep relaxation of spa treatments we find our guests highly receptive to this form of sound therapy.”
Scientific explanation aside, however, the combination of the bath and the sound therapy session left me (and no doubt others) feeling beyond relaxed, more like Jell-O. I also felt a sense of joyfulness that wasn’t there before and left that day feeling very much at peace. SD
The Spa Hotel Healdsburg
Osmosis Day Spa and Sanctuary
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