Meetings & Conventions - Special Treatments - September
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
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
Guest rooms: 35 casitas, 52 one-, two-and three-bedroom
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
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.
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
“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
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.
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
Miraval Life in Balance Resort and Spa
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
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.
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
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.
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.
WHAT’S A WATSU?The following
courtesy of the International Spa Association
in Lexington, Ky., should help novices translate a menu of
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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