September 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions - Special Treatments - September 2000

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September 2000
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Special Treatments

With unique themes that go beyond gimmicks, these niche spas offer more than the standard indulgences

By Carla Benini

  Ten people are seated on a circle of mats in a white-walled, nondescript room. The lights are dimmed, and a candle is set atop a log in the middle of the circle. A strong but pleasant scent of burning cedar permeates the air. A soft voice says the cedar will clear each participant’s energy field and unite the spirits in the room.

Now, everyone lies on the floor, eyes closed. A gourd is shaking, calling the participants’ animal spirits into the room. Drumming begins. “Envision a tunnel into the earth,” says the voice behind the drum, “and then find a clearing and wait for your animal spirits to come to you.”

What might sound like an occult session or a strange dream actually is part of a spa program called the Shamanic Journey, offered at the Green Valley Spa & Tennis Resort in St. George, Utah. The facility is one of a growing number of spa resorts that offer programs completely outside the typical spa menu. With spas now so pervasive at upscale properties, to be truly competitive, some believe they need to stand out in some way.

According to the International Spa Association in Lexington, Ky., 73 percent of its members plan to increase the size of their facilities and treatments. It’s no wonder, considering that an average of 33,000 people visited spas in 1999, a 16 percent increase over the previous year.

As the market grows, so does the need for spas to set themselves apart. Some properties are designing their entire spas around an area of the world, such as the Far East or Europe. Others are borrowing from religions, like Buddhism. Still others are focusing on exercise, where spa-goers get breathless during a challenging trek.

The following are some examples of spas offering programs and themes designed to appeal to those who seek adventure, spirituality or just something more compelling than a Swedish massage.

Green Valley Spa & Tennis Resort
St. George, Utah
(800) 237-1068
Guest rooms: 35 casitas, 52 one-, two-and three-bedroom condominiums
Meeting space: 4,000 square feet

Surrounded by ancient layers of sandstone and a landscape where dinosaurs once roamed, the Green Valley Spa turned to the area’s roots in Native American medicine and meditation to heal the souls of spa-goers. Gwen Moon, who calls herself “mother” of the Native American Program, leads four services meant to harmonize the body, mind and spirit.

Originally an all-inclusive seven-day event, the program is now offered à la carte, so spa-goers can partake in as many treatments as they desire.

First is Energy Balancing: “I use a pendulum over the body to determine energy flow,” says Moon, who also relies on herbs and feathers to open energy centers. A butterfly wrap the one fairly traditional spa treatment incorporates the herbs of a traditional sweat lodge ceremony. (The actual sweat lodge ceremony is not part of the program because, says Moon, “It is a sacred tradition. It would be like selling baptisms in the Jacuzzi.”) Individuals are then ready for the Laying On of Stones, a kind of meditation. Stones are placed on the body according to the person’s energy patterns.

Two services depend on a group dynamic. The Shamanic Journey begins with a 30-minute introduction to Shamanism. Participants are led through a “lower-world journey” meant to bring them in touch with their “animal spirits,” says Moon. Also facilitated by a Piaute tribesman, the Drumming Circle takes place at a hilltop overlook. Fledgling percussionists are encouraged to beat, tap or shake to their own rhythms with gourds, rain sticks and drums.

Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans
New Orleans, La.
(504) 670-2929
Guest rooms: 452
Meeting space: 25,000 square feet

The upscale Ritz looked to Paris to find inspiration for its 20,000-square-foot spa in New Orleans. The result is an ode to Napoleonic decadence.

“I wanted to create a spa of royalty,” says spa director Cecilia Hercik. The city’s architecture and the historic building that houses the hotel reminded Hercik of France and of European aristocracy, she says.

Research in Parisian libraries revealed the pampering habits of Napoleon. “He was passionate for the scent of lemon verbena,” says Hercik. Journal excerpts detailed Napoleon’s bath ritual, which was to prepare the water with floating lemon disks that “removed stains” from the skin, according to the journal. Then, the maid would use a long brush to exfoliate his body.

The ritual has been reincarnated at the Ritz-Carlton, where guests soak in a hydrotherapy tub with citrus slices, followed by a Swedish massage with lemon-scented eau de cologne. A similar treatment, Le Massage sous Cascade, pays homage to the bathing habits of Napoleon’s wife, Princess Eugenie. A clay-based cream with marine and algae extracts, along with essential oils, is spread all over the body, massaged into the skin and rinsed by multiple showerheads.

Common salves for the European elite also included milk, almonds, vanilla and honey, says Hercik. Those ingredients are combined in a paste and used to enrobe the body in the L’Envelopement de Nectar. The soothing concoction is massaged into pores and rinsed off in a stimulating vichy shower.

Ten Thousand Waves
Santa Fe, N.M.
(505) 992-5025
Guest rooms: eight cabanas
Meeting space: none

Frequented by locals and travelers in downtown Santa Fe, Ten Thousand Waves spa recently built an adjoining hotel. There is still no meeting room at the inn, but the spa does offer nine tubs, some of which hold up to 12 people.

Owner Duke Klauck bought the property about 20 years ago, when it had a few tubs and one massage room. Klauck now runs a staff of 100 massage therapists and has created an Asian oasis, with rock gardens, bonsai and handcrafted furnishings placed according to the feng shui philosophy. Guests receive kimonos upon entry.

There are seven private and two communal baths. Among the private baths are the Imperial Ofuro, an indoor tiled spa with a private bathroom, sauna and two balconies that look out to the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Another private bath features water spilling into a cold plunge pool and a private steam room where bathers can warm up.

The water theme is maintained in some massage therapies. The Waterfall bath is the treatment room for the Aquatic Massage, where a therapist supports the client’s body in the water and performs stretching exercises and deep muscle massage.

Facial treatments follow in the Japanese tradition. One for the not-too-squeamish spa-goer is the Japanese Nightingale Facial, which uses imported, pulverized and sanitized nightingale droppings with essential oils to lighten and smooth facial skin. This exceptional excrement was apparently used by Geishas and Kabuki actors.

Miraval Life in Balance Resort and Spa
Catalina, Ariz.
(800) 825-4000
Guest rooms: 106
Meeting space: 6,800

During the three-hour Equine Experience, participants never mount a horse. In fact, says the program’s manager and creator, Wyatt Webb, “This has nothing to do with horses. It has to do with how people conduct their lives.”

Far from having a history in the spa culture, the Equine Experience was gleaned from behavioral therapy. Webb, a psychotherapist for 19 years, used a treatment very similar to the one at Miraval on children with behavioral problems. “These children were treating the animal primarily how they had learned how to treat people,” says Webb, who would watch children become angry with the horse or try to manipulate it using soothing words, which never worked.

At Miraval, groups of 10 to 20 people gather around a horse inside a stable. “We tell them they will be building a relationship in small increments with something they’ve never met before, namely the horse,” says Webb. Participants are given instructions on how to approach a horse, clean its hooves, walk it and eventually to “work it in circles,” when the horse moves at a faster pace than walking but slower than trotting, says Webb. Then each person is given the chance to successfully command the horse.

Webb recalls one group where the president was the first to try to verbally direct the horse. It was only after he ended up on the ground, when the horse refused to lift its hoof, that the man admitted to not remembering instructions, says Webb. Being the CEO, Webb recalls, he felt it was his job to perform perfectly, despite not having remembered what to do. He confessed that projects at work were very similar. During the exercise, “He had people crying,” says Webb. “By looking [fallible], he allowed everyone else to show their insecurities.”

Global Fitness Adventures
Aspen, Colo.
(800) 488-8747

This adventure company is perhaps in its own category altogether. With a bevy of therapists and hiking guides in tow, Global Fitness Adventures escorts groups to serenely beautiful destinations where they explore, meditate, eat macrobiotic food and enjoy massage therapy.

Early morning stretch: A group of Global Fitness adventurists in Sedona, Ariz.

Kristina Hurrell, former spa director of California’s well-known Ashram in Calabasas, says the long waiting list of Ashram devotees led her to launch a traveling spa. From the red rock formations in Sedona, Ariz., to the rainforests of Dominica to the plains and highlands of Kenya, Hurrell offers a variety of itineraries. Groups, ideally 50 people, stay in accommodations such as haciendas, ranches and jungle lodges. In most places, they are joined by local guides or masseurs. For example, Masai tribespeople join hikers in Kenya.

Typically, a day begins with an early-morning yoga session and guided meditation. Then, the group heads out for a hike (muscles will be sufficiently stiff by late afternoon, massage time). Day hikes early in the program begin at around five miles and build up to 15 miles. This is no leisurely stroll. “They are encouraged and inspired but not stressed by the challenge,” says Hurrell. “Everyone feels like a hero at the end of the trip.”

“Meeting rooms” in the past have been hilltops and lakeside fields. Hurrell also has arranged for speakers to visit from the local area. Currently, Global Fitness Adventures offers U.S. programs in Aspen, Colo.; Santa Barbara, Calif., and Sedona. Offerings abroad include Como, Italy; Devonshire, England; Dominica; Kenya; Bhutan, and Guatemala.

Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires
Lenox, Mass.
(800) 742-9000
Guest rooms: 127
Meeting space: 3,500 square feet

The Winter Snow Adventure at Canyon Ranch is not for the fainthearted. “We had two women who were training to hike Denali,” says Jude McCarthy, director of outdoor sports, hinting at the kind of clientele attracted to the activity.

Duking it out: At Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires, guests have a go at the boxing bags.

The excursion sounds like a perfectly adequate warmup to hiking a 20,320-foot-high mountain. The six-to-seven-hour trek covers about 20 miles of New England wilderness by snowshoe, cross-country ski and hiking boot. The group of about six trekkers actually skis up Saddleback Mountain and on to a second peak before descending. Depending on the weather, adventurists could be exposed to sub-zero temperatures. Those who can still feel their legs can recuperate in comfort in the Canyon Ranch Jacuzzi.

For those who are fit enough to withstand the severe conditions, the Winter Snow Adventure is a true bonding experience. “It’s shared misery,” McCarthy says. “Going through something one day can bring people together faster than working together for years.”

The popularity of the extreme excursion has spurred other exercise-intensive programs. The resort will be offering an introduction to mountaineering on nearby Mount Greylock, where groups will scale 1,500 feet on a sheet of packed snow. Also this fall, Canyon Ranch is hoping to schedule its own version of a triathlon: a five-mile kayak paddle, a 12-mile ride on mountain bikes and a four-mile trail run.

The following definitions, courtesy of the International Spa Association in Lexington, Ky., should help novices translate a menu of treatments.

Ayurveda: Traditional folk medicine from India that uses nutrition, herbal remedies, aromatherapy, massage and meditation to restore balance to the body.

Chakra: From the Sanskrit word meaning “wheel,” this refers to the seven energy centers of the body.

Feldenkrais: System developed by Moshe Feldenkrais that attempts to reprogram the nervous system through movement augmented by physical pressure and manipulation.

Glyco-peeling: An alphahydroxy acid-based peeling derived from different fruit acids to improve skin’s texture and appearance.

Pilates: Strength-training movements involving coordinated breathing techniques, developed in Germany by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s.

Shiatsu: The Japanese term means “finger” (shi) “pressure” (atsu). Shiatsu works with vital points and energy meridians and uses finger-thumb-palm pressure to stimulate the body’s healing powers.

Watsu: A massage treatment where the therapist and client are in a warm pool. Rhythmic movements, pressure-point massage and stretches lead to a state of deep relaxation.


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