Your Own Oasis

Day spas and those at resorts can help you detoxify, wind down and rejuvenate.
Here’s what Directors of some top spas say about how you can
create the experience at home.

September 2012

by Allan Richter

What sport massage with the scent of eucalyptus oils and subtle classical guitar tones wafting in the air put you in nirvana. But now that you’ve lifted yourself off the soft massage table and returned the plush robe to the spa attendant, you’re left wanting more. So why not create an oasis of calm and restoration at a familiar address you may not have considered—your own?

An array of fancy products are available to help you closely match the experience of your favorite resort or day spas. There are heating elements that can be installed beneath your floor tiles and heated towel racks for your bathroom, not to mention your very own infrared sauna. But you don’t need polished white marble and chrome or floor-to-ceiling stone fountains at home to attain the same kind of rejuvenation that you would at a multimillion dollar spa.

With the right attitude and just a few key additions to the rooms that give you the most peace, security and well-being, you can recreate that spa vibe and do wonders for your physical, emotional and spiritual aches and pains right at home. Many spas view their clients’ homes as an extension of their facilities.

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa in Paradise Valley, Arizona, for instance, features a Massage 101 program so clients can learn massage techniques and take them, as well as a number of sundries in its spa shop, such as a battery-operated faux stone that warms up, home with them. “We’re not just focused on pampering you for a day,” says Sanctuary Spa Director LaRae Verros. “We’re wellness professionals, and we want you to take these lessons home with you and we want you to make those lifestyle changes. We’re trying to create those educational sessions so you can do that.”

Like Sanctuary, most spas have shops with products that can help you recreate the spa experience at home. One way to choose from the multitude of products, spa directors recommend, it to consider what you will need to treat each of your five senses. Verros’ top three are candles or other aromatherapy products, such as oil and a diffuser; music or the sounds of nature; and some private, comfortable space where you can relax in a zero-gravity chair or throw some comfy blankets or mats. “Some people like to lie back,” Verros says, “and some people like to sit in a yoga pose.”

Less important, Verros says, are the visual elements. “A lot of people like to do meditation, so the scent and the music is important, but a lot of people like to close their eyes.”

But visuals can also go a long way to helping you create the mood you want, says Serene Sanders, spa director at the Mii amo destination spa in Sedona, Arizona. “Pink is a fantastic color for calming energies. So anything soft pink, not the hot pink, but that soft baby pink will calm energy down and give you the sense of peacefulness around you.”

Nicole Weigand, Area Director of Spas at The Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air, says sight is among the easiest of the senses to address within your space. Lower the lighting, add some candles and turn bright lights off, Weigand says. Employ dimmer lights. “If you really want to add some creativity to your space,” she adds, “you could add components that create light therapy to help you slip further into bliss.”

The Right Touch

Asked for her top recommendations for recreating the spa experience at home, Spa Director Ellen McGinnis of the Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Pennsylvania favors nourishing the sense of touch and the body’s largest organ, the skin. Once you determine your particular skin type’s needs from a professional, get quality skincare products for the face, then consider the range of body skincare products, from oils and butters to exfoliant scrubs. For both face and body, she adds, remember to tailor your regimen to your geography’s climate and to change it seasonally.

Finally, McGinnis says, address your home ambiance. “ That could mean whatever is important to you,” McGinnis says. “Some people love music. I happen to love textures and the way things feel and smell. For me it’s about comfortable natural fibers, whether it’s a robe and corresponding slippers and comfortable throws. People love that when they go to the spa, but why not have that at home?”

Also on the sense of touch, don’t be intimidated by those high-end massage tables you’re used to at the destination spas. If you don’t have a partner to share a massage with, you can experience the pleasures of massage on your own, observes Sanders, the Mii Amo spa director. Even a simple oil scalp treatment that you massage in yourself could go a long way toward destressing. “It’s going to open your mind and relax you,” Sanders says.

Such treatments need not be expensive because there are plenty of recipes for homemade treatments. Sanders suggests mixing your favorite massage oil with brown sugar.

Jennifer Lynn, spa director at the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, creates an exfoliant by mixing raw granulated sugar with rum. “It’s mostly about the sugar, but you need something to emulsify the sugar itself, and since rum is a sugar-based alcohol it’s just kind of fun. It’s not too overpowering; it runs off. And because it’s rum, it always feels like a tropical experience.”

Barbara Close, founder and president of Naturopathica, an East Hampton, New York holistic spa, outlines a number of recipes with natural ingredients for body treatments in her book Pure Skin: Organic Beauty Basics (Chronicle Books). Close outlines various natural ingredients and identifies whether they are suitable for various skin “personalities,” or types. For example, apricot kernel oil, with a high fatty acid content that helps devitalized skin and has a light texture that is good for face serums, is suitable for what Close calls hormone-reactive skin, meaning skin that breaks out before a menstrual period or that was blemish-free until one’s late forties. Close is also the creator of The Spa Deck, a handy deck of cards with beauty recipes, such as for a chamomile compress, and tips, for outdoor massages, for example.

Sweet Sounds

You can be as creative with music as you can addressing the sense of touch, maybe more so, says Weigand, of the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air. “Play your favorite CD, listen to your favorite book on audio, or even play a meditative CD,” she says. “Your selection doesn't have to be new age in style; it just has to be relaxing to you.”

To give yourself the most music options, take advantage of new technology, recommends Matthew Dower, spa director at Mirbeau Inn & Spa in Skaneateles, New York, in the state’s Finger Lakes region. Tap the Internet music service Pandora, which provides new age channels with more broadly defined music than just soft piano or guitar, Dower suggests. You can choose ambient sounds, such as ocean waves or forest noises, or synthetic sounds, such as low-frequency tones designed to soothe your nervous system. “It’s kind of a scientific approach to music,” he says. “Everybody has a smartphone. Just throw it on your counter, listen and relax.”

Or make your own music. Sit at the piano and play the same slow, repetitive series of notes. If you want to be more comfortable and sit on a floor pillow, play an acoustic guitar. To bring on a meditative state, you don’t need to play well. Pluck the same one or two strings repetitively, and then experiment by holding a string or two down on a fret. The meditation is in the rhythm, and the rhythm is in the repetition. Nor do you have to be a seasoned musician to play a few notes of a recorder, ocarina or, providing among the more beautifully lulling sounds, a Native American flute. Weigand, the California spa director, suggests having a few “celebration” flutes around so you can “have a low-key party for yourself.”

Replicating the spa experience isn’t limited to what goes on outside the body, but what goes into it as well. “The piece people don’t think to do for themselves is to enjoy a glass of champagne or some frozen grapes,” says Sanders, “and really create that environment for themselves. Frozen grapes are really yummy, especially when it’s warm out.”

“A glass of wine or champagne would be popular choices for this category,” concurs Weigand. “But why stop there? Select your favorite fresh ingredients and custom-create a drink or snack you love that is dedicated to your ‘spa’ time only. Let your treat be something you don't usually indulge in.”
Adds Dower of Mirbesau: “A big part of the spa lifestyle is the food, so if you have a great smoothies recipe or a great dinner that night, incorporate that into it as well.”

Small Spaces, Small Kids

True enough, your home spa has different constraints than a destination spa. You could be cramped for space.

And you could have distractions, like kids, from the quiet time you crave. But these are not insurmountable challenges. As Lynn of Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas knows from her own practice, your space need not be bigger than your shower stall, bathtub or a corner of your bedroom to find the peace you need. As for children, you can share babysitting duties with a friend. Or, if the kids are a little older, you can make them a part of the home spa activities, even if it’s quiet reading time.

More than the space and amenities, spa directors say making the time for yourself is most important. “It’s about making a commitment to reenergize yourself at home and setting aside time, whether that’s a little each day or a weekly ritual,” says Lynn.

Devise your own relaxing spa-like rituals throughout each day and week, and make at least several rooms in your house relevant to those rituals. “Create your own rituals, whether you’re having that calming tea before sleep or using that aromatherapy mist on your linens before you go to sleep, or using that body brush before you go into the shower to increase microcirculation,” says McGinnis of the Omni Bedford Springs.

“It’s not even about space; it’s about mindset,” she says. “In the spa industry we don’t talk about it as pampering anymore or luxury. We talk about it as preventative and total commitment to wellness. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Do it on a regular basis.”


Recipes from Pure Skin: Organic Beauty Basics (Chronicle) by Barbara Close:

 Tea Tree and Lemon Foot Balm

 1 ½ teaspoons shea butter

1 teaspoon grated beeswax

1 tablespoon lecithin

1 teaspoon sweet almond oil

1 teaspoon avocado oil

2 tablespoons lemon balm infusion

8 drops tea tree essential oil

6 drops lemon essential oil

 2-ounce glass jar 

Place cosmetic jar in a saucepan filled with water and gently boil for 5 minutes to sterilize jar. Melt the shea butter, beeswax, lecithin, sweet almond oil, and avocado oil in a double boiler or in a heat-proof measuring cup set in a pan of simmering water. In a separate pan, heat the lemon balm infusion until almost boiling and then slowly add it to the oil-and-wax mixture while beating with a whisk. Remove from heat. Add essential oils as mixture begins to cool but before it sets. Pour into jar and use for a foot massage. Keep refrigerated to discourage spoiling. 

Note: Lecithin is available at many health food stores.


 Almond Paste Body Scrub 

2 tablespoons sweet almond oil

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 teaspoon aloe vera gel

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup ground almonds 

Place the sweet almond and coconut oils, baking soda, aloe vera get, ansd vanilla extract in a blender and puree until smooth. Add the almonds and blend on low speed for 60 seconds. While skin is damp, apply liberally to areas of dry, flaky skin. Let skin absorb almond paste for several minutes, and then rinse off with warm water.


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