Prior to setting off, I’d only had one professional treatment in my life — a heavily discounted massage by a student at one of the Aveda Institutes — so I was like a kid in a candy shop on this trip.
There were so many options at each location that I didn’t even know where to begin. In the end I chose treatments that reflected the location and personality of each resort in some way, and ones that represented emerging trends on the wellness scene.
Here’s a roundup of the most unique treatments I experienced on my Road to Wellness adventure:
1. Honey Heaven
The Bee Beautiful treatment at Carmel Valley Ranch, along with the salt scrub and lavender poultice massage I experienced first hand, are prime examples of the trend toward farm-to-spa treatments. The idea is to have guests collect the ingredients that will be used in the treatments they receive — or at least witness the collection process as it happens. In the case of Bee Beautiful, guests don bee-keeping suits to visit the hives, then are wrapped in a warm cocoon of freshly harvested honey later that day.
This is followed by a facial massage with royal jelly (the nutrient-packed magic potion excreted by worker bees that female bees eat to become queens) derived from the same hives, and topped off with a honey and shea butter body massage. While Carmel Valley Ranch is helping to lead the way in farm-to-spa treatments, I think this trend will continue to gain momentum in the wellness world.
2. 02 Radiance
Like most life on Earth, I can’t survive without oxygen. But I had no idea it could be used to plump out my pesky crow’s feet and worried-brow wrinkles. Thankfully, Cavallo Point is in on the secret and offers this refreshing treatment along with a growing number of spas that have realized how to tap into the element’s health benefits.
After opening up the pores on my face with steam, my therapist, Gail, used a special machine that puffed 100 percent oxygen into them, then applied a mix of fermented pumpkin, phytonutrient-rich algae, minerals, and vitamin C to my face. After that cocktail of goodness I felt like I was glowing. Because the treatment is all natural, Gail described it as “gentle enough to have that afternoon and be able to go out the same evening, but still effective enough to see visible results.”
3. Ancient Healing
Many people who are uneasy about the fact that we’ve lost touch with Mother Earth are looking to ancient practices to reconnect — and this is most certainly true in the wellness community. From shamanistic drum circles to tribal sweat lodges, timeworn wisdom has found its way on modern spa menus. Case in point was the Kuyam Experience at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, which claims to be the only treatment of its kind offered in the U.S. Kuyam translates to “a place to rest together” in Chumash, and if you opt for the group session this is exactly what you do.
Attendants slathered three mineral-rich desert clays — each with slightly different properties — all over our bodies. Lemon grass essential oil was infused in the dry, hot air that we inhaled as we lounged on chaises in a tiled, Morrocan-themed room. Once we got settled in, Chumash elder Grey Wolf led us in a meditation. I sweated buckets while Grey Wolf’s soothing voice washed over me. And though I never saw the bright white dot of enlightenment, my skin was soft for days.
4. Watsu Therapy
Of all the treatments I experienced, watsu was by far the strangest — in a good way. “It’s very difficult to describe,” my practitioner at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, Jill Sclease, conceded. “It’s kind of like massage and yoga combined, but submerged in water.” After I stepped into the tub of warm water, she said she’d be leading me through a series of stretches and would listen to my body and breathing to make adjustments as she went. Next, she had me face away from her, close my eyes, and relax into her arms. Then began the dance.
I went through a series of stages. At first, I felt like part of a figure-skating duo as she moved my body into different positions and twirled me around in the water. As I became more relaxed, I had the sensation of floating in a womb, then, towards the end I felt like a seal twisting and arching my body as I shot through the ocean (this was my favorite part). When we had finished, Jill said: “Some people describe it as an out-of-body experience.” While I didn’t quite get there, I definitely felt light and limber — a feeling that lasted all day.
No matter how you pronounce it, perscentoelogy is a mouthful. It’s a method — created and refined by Marie Bernat at CopperWynd Resort near Phoenix — of analyzing personality type by reading toes. Yes, toes. But that’s not the only body part that enters into the equation. As soon as I walked into the treatment room, she told me that the shape and placement of my ears show leadership ability, that my downturned nose suggests I’m not quick to trust, and that my forehead screams “adventurous but calculated.”
Using biofeedback to discover and manage personality quirks has been gaining in popularity in spas and (albeit a more clinical version) medical institutes. Marie explained that what the physical body tells us about our personality allows us to “nip our faults in the bud before they cause issues both personally and inter-personally.”
During my session, Marie explained that the big toe is the “life toe,” the one next to it is the “community toe,” the middle toe is the “anger toe,” next to that is the relationship toe, and the pinky is the “security toe.” As I recently became engaged, I was intrigued when she told me that the position of my relationship toe revealed that I needed to take extra care not to be too critical of my partner. That night, when I recounted all of this information to my fiancé over the phone, he thought it was all a bunch of mumbo jumbo, until I got to that part. “She’s got a point there you know,” he concluded.