Live A Little: Going From Modern To Indigenous In The Spa


If variety is the spice of life, than why do so many of us stick to plain vanilla?

Take spa offerings, for example. Massage menus now read like directories from the United Nations, and yet many spa-goers keep ordering Swedish. We say: live a little. Discover and embrace indigenous spa treatments from all over the world. New pleasures and unique healing benefit’s await. Below, we suggest some indi treatments you might enjoy as substitutes for your old favorites.


If you like Deep Tissue Try Ashiatsu


Massaging the body with the feet is a hallmark of bodywork throughout India, Japan, China, Thailand, Africa, and the Philippines. For those who enjoy deeper forms of massage, the advantages are clear: the therapist may use his or her weight to effect stronger pressure. Barefoot massage is sometimes referred to as ashiatsu; in Japanese, “ashi” means foot and “atsu” means pressure.

One of the most popular treatments at the Spa Bellagio in Las Vegas, is Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy, a treatment that incorporates aspects of various forms of indigenous barefoot massage. The therapist steadies herself with a pair of bars affixed to the ceiling while using her feet to massage the body. Sometimes the heel or big toe is used to target specific tension points such as the shoulders or lower back; at other times, the entire foot is deployed for long, strong strokes. “Many people who try it out decide it’s their new favorite type of massage” says therapist Marcelle Ricci, who practices Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy at Spa Bellagio in Las Vegas and whose choreographed footwork feels as finely tuned as that of any deep-tissue specialist. “It’s deeply relaxing and yet leaves you feeling energized.”

If you like Swedish Massage Try Abhyanga Massage


Swedish massage is perhaps the most popular item on any spa menu. By relaxing the muscles through manipulation of the body’s soft tissues, Swedish massage is both pleasurable and therapeutic. But the Swedes didn’t invent pleasure or find the only therapy that can take you there. Among the many other cultures that have developed the art of the massage, Indian culture stands out as one of the oldest and perhaps most rewarding.

Massage derived from the ancient Indian system of medicine and healing, known as ayurveda, is called abhyanga, the Sanskrit word for an oil massage given to the whole body. Rather than emphasizing finger manipulation of the soft tissues, abhyanga is performed using long strokes and light to medium pressure. Abhyanga enhances immunity, increases circulation, and creates deep relaxation in the body and mind. “Abhyanga differs from Swedish massage in that there’s more repetition and friction, creating heat that breaks down muscle tension, allowing the body to let go,” says Holly Hatfield, spa director of the Chopra Center at the Dream Hotel in New York City.

Because the Chopra Center in New York City is sensitive to the nuances of ayurveda, any ayurvedic treatment begins with an analysis of the client’s dosha, or body type. The abhyanga is performed with an oil prescribed especially for each client’s dosha and may include the stimulation of ayurvedic marma, or energy points on the body.

If you like Anti-Aging Facials Try Acupuncture Facial Rejuvenation

Acupuncture is thought to have originated in China and is most commonly associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Clients seeking longer-lasting results from their facials are increasingly turning to Acupuncture Facial Rejuvenation to banish dark circles and improve their skin’s appearance.

At the Peninsula Spa in Beverly Hills, California, the treatment begins with a thorough cleansing of the skin. Next, up to forty tiny sterile needles are placed into the face by a board-certified acupuncturist. The needles are said to increase blood flow as well as collagen and elastin production, to relax overstressed facial muscles, and to stimulate the body’s own energy meridians. After the needles are removed, the face is massaged with a jade roller to cool the skin and further enhance blood flow.

“Even a single session of Acupucture Facial Rejuvenation gives the skin a radiant glow” says Bonny Kyle, director of the Spa at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. “But after a series of four to six, you really see measurable improvements in the texture, tone, and vitality [of your skin].”

Kyle is confident that clients will overcome any squeamishness about needles once they see the results. “It’s the wave of the future,” she notes, “but as a therapy with indigenous roots, it casts back in time to what’s been proven to work.”

If you like Steam Rooms Try Temazcal


Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, wrote, “Give me the power to create a fever, and I shall cure any disease.” In fact, the practice of improving one’s health by raising the body’s temperature through steam-bathing was not limited to the ancient Greeks.

The ritual ceremony of Temazcal was a widespread form of therapeutic cleansing in ancient Aztec and Mayan culture similar to that of the Native American sweat lodge. The word Temazcal comes from the Nahuatl word temazcalli, meaning “house of heat.” At the time of the Spanish conquest, these structures were so plentiful that one observer remarked, “There is no town, however small it might be, that does not have many of them.” Although the Spanish did their best to wipe out this custom, the battered Indians preserved it secretly in remote locations.

Recently, this healing ceremony has been rediscovered and reclaimed by many of Mexico’s most respected spas. At the Mandarin Oriental hotel in the Riviera Maya, the Temazcal Ceremony begins with a forty-five-minute scalp, shoulder, and foot massage to prepare the client for the journey. Wearing swimwear and a robe, the guest then follows a spa attendant to the Temazcal, just a short distance away. Giving thanks to nature and blowing a conch shell, a Mayan shaman ushers the guest inside the dome-shaped clay structure. At the center of the room is a pit of large, volcanic rocks, and guests sit on wooden benches around the perimeter. An hombre de fuego (fire man) arrives with red hot rocks on a special fork for the center pit, building heat throughout the session. As the shaman douses the rocks with herbs and water, he leads the participants through chants and a guided meditation. The ceremony completed, guests emerge feeling cleansed and purified.

“The Temazcal ritual is such a surreal and magical experience for everyone, even the hardest cynics find themselves chanting and listening intently to the words of the shaman”, says Spa Director Clive McNish. “Of course, by raising the body’s temperature, you derive a lot of the health benefits that you would get from a traditional steam. But the Temazcal Ritual has a powerful spiritual dimension that is not to be missed.”

Melissa, Editorial Director

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