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I was recently in Jamaica, floating in a pool on my back, looking at the big blue sky and feeling very zen as pool water sloshed around in my eardrums.
This was not that.
I didn’t know what to expect when Nadeem Jiwani, founder and owner of Float Valley in Markham, invited me to try float therapy. Float Valley is like a hyperspecialized spa – they only have the one treatment (two if you count their meditation room), but the decor is very spa: soft blue lights, clean white surfaces, a plethora of gourmet teas in the relaxation room, and another separate room where they offer yoga classes.
I actually began my first ever float therapy in a very zen-like state. As the lights came down I closed my eyes and focused on breathing deeply. I marveled at the way the 800 pounds of magnesium-rich Epsom salts buoyed my body in the few feet of water in the float chamber.
I had heard weird stories about float therapy and sensory deprivation in general. I expected dizziness and disorientation, which I did not experience. What I wasn’t expecting was to feel restless after just 20 minutes in the chamber. By around the half hour mark I was experimenting with the light switches – one that turned the blue underwater lights on and the other an overhead changing starscape of coloured lights. I got out of the tank once to take a bathroom break and come back, but my concentration was broken.
Side note: because of the Epsom salts, float therapy can really dry you out after a while, so it’s important to drink water before and after; the problem is if you’re in the tank and you have to pee, that really stands in the way of reaching that higher plane of consciousness!
Maybe it was the fact that it was the middle of the day and I was heading back to work afterwards, or maybe I just missed my smartphone too much, but I couldn’t make it the full hour of the treatment. I felt a little like a two-year-old in a bath after a while and I was a little ashamed that I wasn’t doing it right.
“It takes practice,” Nadeem remarked when I told him afterwards. Float therapy is a good way to get used to meditation, he said. It’s like the mindfulness gateway drug, and I really do want to get hooked. Next time I plan to go on my day off, fight the smartphone withdrawal and Om my way to a zen state. Hopefully practice will make perfect.
When you visit a new country, are you the type of traveller who searches out familiar dishes or are you looking to try local delicacies? If you identify more strongly with the latter, you might appreciate these spa treatments featured at InterContinental Hotels & Resorts around the world. These regionally-inspired spa packages reflect the unique cultures that they are embedded in:
The spa at InterContinental Presidente Cozumel Resort & Spa offers treatments that allow guests to experience the mystery and magic of Mayan culture, including the 170-minute Mayan Lovers Ritual. This treatment begins with a traditional Mayan Temazcal, a sweat lodge concept dating back centuries to when Mexico’s Mayan Rivera was wilderness and Mayan civilization was at the peak of its power. Guests embark on a private journey with their loved one while they relax in a generous soaking tub containing aromatic salts and essential oils, finished with a side-by-side massage.
Miami, United States
MySpa at InterContinental Miami introduces travelers to the wonders of citrus grown in the state with the Gentlemen’s Ginger-Lime Scrub. Men are invited to relax after a day of activities in the vitamin D-rich Florida sun, with this citrus treatment designed to calm and awaken all of their senses.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Travelers can pamper themselves with an amazing combination of treatments that take them on a wellness journey at Akua Spa at InterContinental San Juan. The Caribbean Indulge treatment, inspired by the island, starts with a coconut sugar exfoliating scrub paying homage to one of Puerto Rico’s most popular foods, coconut, which is followed by a soothing mango wrap. The treatment ends with a relaxing Swedish massage or organic glow facial.
A treatment at InterContinental Presidente Cancun Resort’s Ikal Spa includes the Signature Mayan Honey Exfoliation that allows guests to pamper themselves in a delightful blend of local honey and fresh yogurt. The experience melts tension away and instantly revives dry skin. The locally produced Mayan honey is recognized for its extra sweetness and health benefits.
By Kelly Townsend
Club D’Elite has several charms. The tropical decor, complete with palm trees and a clear blue sky overhead in the lounge area, immediately instilled a feeling of relaxation and comfort. When my colleague and I visited the spa in November, we felt immediately transported stepping into the warm waiting area on a chilly evening.
The staff members were friendly and accommodating–if a little too eager to check in on us every few minutes–and each room we visited was clean and spotless. The food provided in the buffet area was savoury and a departure from the tapas-style meal offerings that have become quite common among spas. The buffet style meal is inspired by spas in Asia, according to Club D’Elite’s head chef.
The most damning flaw of Club D’Elite is its inability to serve all body types, instead catering to slimmer clientele. I am by no means a thin person, nor am I morbidly obese, but after several failed attempts to find a proper robe size, it was made clear to me they didn’t have proper attire available for women above a size 14. Staff members were apologetic, as I spent the rest of the visit in my street clothes, but it was disheartening to discover that not all spaces are designed for body positivity and inclusivity. Truth be told, I was ready to leave then and there, but stayed on for the sake of giving a full review.
The 45 minute back massage was not a relaxing experience. My colleague and I were informed beforehand that our two massage therapists had very different methods (one specialized in gentle massage, the other in deep tissue massage), essentially making it a coin toss for who would be waking up very sore the next morning (spoiler alert: it was me). The therapist made no attempt to learn if I had any focus areas needing attention and sparsely checked in to see if she was being too rough.
The foot massage, however, fared much better. While still rough at times, the ability to sit and enjoy drinks and a movie with a colleague while getting joint foot rubs was a luxurious experience. The spa is open until 2 AM, giving clients more than enough time to relax in their post-massage lull with drinks and a warm meal.
Club D’Elite is not for everyone, it certainly wasn’t for me, but for the clients it does appeal to, this spa is worth its very reasonable price tag.
By Hermione Wilson
When I headed to Ste. Anne’s Spa on a Thursday morning, my mind was preoccupied with the work I was leaving behind at the office. It helped that the drive up was smooth and relatively traffic free. It was clear from the moment I neared Ste. Anne’s that this place was way off the beaten track. I passed spa cottages nestled in trees with names like Birdsong and Farmhouse, sheep pastures, and the little Ste. Anne’s Spa Bakery. It was all very peaceful and very far from the hustle and bustle of the city I had just left behind.
Still, I arrived the spa feeling a little frazzled. I was early, so I sat in my car for a moment, a bit nervous. This was only my second time visiting a spa and I was convinced I was somehow going to do it wrong.
When I got inside I met with a very friendly staff member who gave me a quick tour of the main building. I promptly forgot half the directions she gave me and had to retrace my steps a bit later, but I did remember her saying the building was shaped like a W, which helped. Down in the change room I realized I should have questioned her more closely about how to open the lockers. I fiddled with the key pad for a few frustrating minutes until suddenly, as if summoned by my confusion, my guide appeared behind me to give me more detailed instructions.
Finally free of my bags (and most of my clothes) I headed to the outdoor pool to spend the few hours I had to kill before my first treatment. After a half hour spent doggy paddling and floating back and forth, and then sunning myself poolside, I was starting to feel a lot more zen.
That being said, I was beyond excited for the Eucalyptus Body Wrap I had been booked in for. It was everything I hoped for and more! After picking me up in the waiting room and ushering me into to the steam room for a very moist 10 minutes (I loved every minute of it), my therapist wrapped me up in warm eucalyptus-soaked towels and bundled me in plastic. I felt like I was in a cocoon as she massaged my scalp and rubbed hydrating lotions into my face and feet (Ste. Anne’s new Drench Mineral Mask for my face and their Foot Cream for my feet).
Aside from being snug as a bug in a rug, I loved that, after every treatment, my therapist would leave her hands in place for a moment – on my head or my feet or wherever she happened to be at the time. Although we were basically strangers and hardly spoke, her touch felt very loving and comfortable. I don’t mind telling you that I very nearly drifted off to sleep several times.
With a smile and a recommendation to drink lots of water, my therapist ushered me back to the land of the living. I had just enough time to grab a delicious cranberry biscotti snack before I met with Ste. Anne’s director of sales and marketing Wanda Hoehn for lunch. I ordered not one but two specials off the menu (because, why not?): a cream of broccoli soup with grated cheddar and a red snapper done up with bean sprouts. I topped it off with a rich chocolate spice tea (Rooibos and chocolate, described as “caffeinated chocolate”) which was dessert enough for me.
Can I just say, as a virtual spa virgin, what an unexpected pleasure it is to wander around the spa in nothing but a swim suit and a robe. Sitting in Ste. Anne’s well-appointed main dining room and sipping my spicy tea, I felt like I had slept in on a Sunday morning and then wandered downstairs in my bathrobe to enjoy a meal someone else had prepared. So this is what being a lady of leisure must feel like!
All too soon it was time to tear myself away from this charming country retreat and face the frightful traffic heading back to the city. Still, I carried the bit of peace and quiet I’d gained back with me.
Special thanks to Wanda Hoehn, my lovely therapist Cherlyn, and all the lovely Ste. Anne staff who made my spa day such a success!
For more on Ste. Anne’s Spa, lookout for our Fall 2015 Spalight feature.
By Hermione Wilson
I discovered something about myself during my first ever visit to a spa: I don’t relax very well.
There I was, getting an amazing double massage with my mother at Toronto’s Spa InterContinental and I was worrying about where to put my hands. Should I keep them tucked under the blanket at my sides or let them hang over the sides of the massage bed? And the silence was a bit maddening. I’m not a chatty person, but I found myself wishing my therapist would strike up a conversation to cover the sounds of our stomachs growling in concert with each other. Strange what your ears pick up when all you have to listen to are the faint strains of classical music.
The spa day was a gift from me to my mother, a package for two that included an hour-long massage, spa lunch, and a pedicure. When I presented her with the gift certificate I was crossing my fingers, hoping my mother would take me along as her plus one. Luckily she did, and my sister tagged along as well.
The day fell on the last day of a week long vacation, which should have meant I was in a state of maximum relaxation. Instead, I was wound up about going back to work the following Monday.
But about halfway through my massage I started to enter that longed-for state of zen. My mind emptied of racing thoughts and my breathing became slow and tranquil. I stopped thinking about work and worrying about whether my mother was having a good time next to me or whether I looked funny lying face down on the massage bed. When my therapist finally let me know he was finished and to take my time getting dressed, I didn’t want to move. My mother was snoring by the end of it.
After a wonderfully sumptuous spa lunch of salmon and wild rice in a lovely sun room we basically had to ourselves, my mom and I went for our pedicures. Now, I’ve had a pedicure at the salon before, but this was an entirely different thing. We were ushered into a private room where we received an unhurried foot grooming treatment. The best part was when they applied a mask to our feet and wrapped them in hot towels.
Throughout all the treatments I was captivated by the invigorating scents of the Aveda products Spa InterContinental uses. Rosemary and mint is my new favourite scent combo!
All in all it was a wonderful first time spa experience, especially since I was there with family and we had the spa almost to ourselves. Now that I’ve gotten my spa feet wet, I can’t wait to go again!
Read about my second spa experience at Ste. Anne’s spa here.
We’ve been to Los Cabos, Mexico, but we’ve never seen it like this before!
When Hurricane Odile touched down in Los Cabos in September 2014, it left a lot of devastation it left in its wake – an estimated US$1 billion worth of damage, in fact. For a resort town like Los Cabos, located on the Baja Peninsula, the possibility that the hurricane damage would keep the tourists vital to the local economy away was a frightening prospect. Fortunately, though, the community pulled together for an incredibly quick clean-up operation.
Over eight months later most of the resorts are ready to open for the summer. The recovery process has been a rebirth of sorts for a lot of businesses in Los Cabos. At the spas, this has led to a renewal of the desire to offer an authentic Mexican experience that utilizes indigenous ingredients. So, in honour of Cinco De Mayo, we present to you four examples of popular Los Cabos spa treatments now available. Consider this your #PeacefulPicoftheMonth of May!
Couple’s Obisdiana Sacred Stone Massage (Pueblo Bonito Pacifica)
Originally used by Indian tribes to rebalance the body’s energy, level body temperature and achieve muscle relaxation. Sacred stones are combined with therapeutic massage to achieve a state of harmony.
Quetzalcoatl Oxygenating Experience (Marquis Los Cabos Beach, Golf, Spa & Casitas Resort)
Inspired by the Aztec Serpent Deity, Quetzalcoatl, who represented re-birth and healing, this treatment rejuvenates the skin and body. The treatment begins with a calming eucalyptus footbath followed by a mineral-salt body polish and a derma-purification bath, which detoxifies the skin.
Temazcal Ritual (Hacienda Encantanda)
A traditional steam bath used by the pre-Hispanic Indigenous people of Mexico as an important source of healing. Benefits of the Temazcal steam bath include stress relief, muscle release, detoxification, elimination of negative energy and time for introspective exploration.
Vinotherapy (SOMME Wine Spa at Fiesta Americana Grand)
Mexico’s first and only wine spa offers a one-of-a-kind vinotherapy treatments. Vinotherapy is a combination of natural healing and the rejuvenating power of grapes from Baja California’s wine country, Valle de Guadalupe.
By Heather Ednie
With the hustle and bustle of life in my 40s, I felt like I’d won a lotto over the past couple months as I had the chance to enjoy not one but two spa days with some of my BFFs. What could be better than quality time with your favourite people, while getting pampered and treated like a queen? Nothing!
I won’t wax poetic about my spa days. I don’t need to tell you about how divine it was to soak in the hot waters at Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant before and after my luxurious massage that was both deep and therapeutic, and heavenly relaxing. I won’t brag about how beautiful my feet looked after a sweet pedicure at Evelyn Charles in the West Edmonton Mall; soft as baby skin after the hot wax treatment, with the deepest purple on my nails adding a nice dramatic effect. I know our blog readers are spa lovers – so you know what I’m talking about!
What I do want to share are my musings about the two wonderful, but vastly different, girlfriend time experiences.
At Scandinave, I was with the incredible woman who is my “parenting partner” – that is, we each have 2 young boys the same age, and our family vacations tend to be together (parenting tip: find this perfect parenting partner family, and your kids will entertain each other). That said, being in similar professions, with similar families, we have similar stress levels – so a day at the spa was in order. Now, one of the reasons I consider myself fortunate to live in Quebec is the proliferation of top-rate Nordic spas across the province. I can – and I do – lollygag around the baths, saunas, steam rooms, relaxation areas for an entire day, though honestly I’m still a big baby when it comes to the cold dips. Though the golden rule at these oasis is to be quiet, sitting in a hot pool of swirling water, taking in the gorgeous sights and scents, is a perfect time to catch up, chat quietly, and plan your futures as ladies of leisure – I mean, why not? We booked simultaneous massages, so parted ways for a couple hours of 100% me time. And every BFF understands the importance of that hot commodity!
I’ve been to Nordic spas with one girlfriend, two, four and more – I do think it’s a perfect way to get together. Throw in a nice meal and exquisite bottle of red, and it can’t get any better.
At Evelyn Charles, it was fun to go for pedicures as a treat when I met with two fantastic women I only get to see rarely – living in various cities across the country, we were meeting up in Edmonton for a little merriment. The treatments were great, and the set up perfect for a girlfriends time: a semi-private space with four pedi stations, so we were facing each other and could chitchat throughout. That said, for me, it lacks the fantasy, the luxury, of a Nordic spa experience. The lights were bright, and I began to feel a bit awkward as we debated where to go for dinner over the heads of the three extremely talented aestheticians giving our feet their make-overs. I was reminded of a scene in a Sex in the City episode, when Carrie and her friends get together for a gab fest while getting pedicures. I guess I’m not made to be treated like a princess. A bit of unease aside, it was a nice way to sit still and have a relaxed conversation with friends I hadn’t seen for months, before we headed to the more lively night that awaited.
Whatever your pleasure, I do suggest spa days as a perfect girlfriend time. Do your research and find a spa with a stellar reputation you can rely on, and plan – we get so little time with friends outside of work and family, it pays to make sure it’s perfect.
No Pain, No Gain
By: Nick Heffernan
I am nervous as I’m ushered into eforea spa at Hilton Toronto/Markham Suites Conference Center for my first ever professional massage – a Thai Yoga massage. Lindsay, who you might be familiar with from this blog, has warned me that it might hurt.
Thai Yoga massage is a system of massage and manipulation developed in Thailand and influenced by traditional medicine and yoga. The massage typically takes place on a mat or firm mattress on the floor. The recipient is positioned in a variety of yoga-like poses while the massage therapist stretches the body and applies rhythmic pressure.
Despite my fears, I find myself relaxing and settling into the foam mattress as soft, soothing music plays in the background. Ten minutes in, though, I feel a knee go into my back. Before I know it my leg is being bent back and I feel my upper body being pulled up to form a letter C. It is about a second or two into that stretch that I start repeating a mantra to myself.
Show no pain. Show no pain. Show no pain.
I feel like I am two or three levels away from a James Bond torture sequence. I didn’t know my body could bend that way nor did I think it should. But now I know it needs to. After the initial bursts of pain, the “hold” is released I felt really good. It hurts, but only because I’m about as inflexible as they come (my therapist actually tells me this after the massage is done). My homework is to do more leg stretches.
Although some of the stretching hurts, it is never a bad pain and I feel amazing afterwards. I can’t remember the last time my body felt so loose and relaxed. Unfortunately, after a week of going to the gym, plus the stresses of work and life, I am tense and stiff again. I think I could really use another Thai yoga massage.
By: Jodee Cave
Medi-spas have taken the beauty and esthetics market by storm. They’re your one-stop shop for skin and beauty needs on a deeper level. If you’ve been following the blog you may know that one of my biggest insecurities is my uneven, sun damaged skin. I have tried countless serums, masks (both DIY and purchased), and peels – everything short of going straight nocturnal to shield my skin from the sun! The search for the solution to my skin insecurities was doubly hard, as I am of mixed ethnicities and have a darker skin tone. Because of this, a few years ago my options were slim, as lasers and IPL’s didn’t pair well with darker tones and even then treatments weren’t guaranteed to work or not harm my skin.
I felt that there was no treatment for my skin and almost gave up hope until I found Avenue Skin Care, a medi-spa located in the heart of Yorkville, where they focus on real results and solutions for their clients specific skin issues. I had the opportunity to visit their beautiful office and came to find that as technology has advanced, there are solutions for me and others like me with skin insecurities.
Based on my consultation, we decided that the VariLite Laser Treatment would be the best tool for my skin type. This treatment consists of a pinpoint precise laser that generates an intense beam of light on the treated area of the skin. This light is then absorbed by red blood cells and melanin and causes the unwanted pigmentation to breakdown by the heat of the laser while still keeping the healthy cells intact. VariLite can be used to treat a number of skin conditions such as rosacea, benign pigmented lesions, vascular lesions like spider veins, broken capillaries, warts and scars and is safe for people with darker toned skin.
The team at Avenue Skin Care are amazing! Medical skin care specialist and spa owner, Susan Shirriff, was very welcoming and helpful, and my esthetician, Erica, was so friendly and informative. I truly felt like I was in the right hands and I had no worries about the procedure. The whole treatment took about 20 minutes and the team advised me on what to expect and ensured my comfort. The pain was very minimal and I experienced a slight burning which was calmed by the wonderful mini facial post-treatment. In my case, 1-2 sessions are needed but it can vary based on the issue. It has been about a week since the procedure and I definitely see a drastic improvement! My freckles have darkened slightly, as they are scabbing (this can be combated with a bit of cover up) and within a short time they will diminish and disappear. With proper care and an abundance of sunscreen, my skin should be fully healed and freckle free within the next 4-6 weeks. Stay tuned for the updates!
By: Lindsay Grummett
A couple weekends ago my boyfriend, Mason, and I packed up our bags (and our kitty) and headed north to my parent’s cottage. It’s a relaxing place that my brother and I have loved going to since we were kids.
That Friday, while we were sitting around having some beers, my mom looked down at my brother’s feet and said, “Someone needs to do something about those things. I’m making you an appointment for a pedicure.”
“Ummm, okay,” he said unsurely and with a subtle hint of resistance.
“You’re going too,” she said to Mason.
And it was settled. She booked the appointments and the next day my brother, the tradesman, and my boyfriend, the construction worker, headed to the spa. And you know what? They LOVED it! But then again, why wouldn’t they? Not only are pedicures really relaxing, they also prevent ingrown toe nails, take care of calluses and improve overall foot health.
So why does it seem so hard to convince guys that a spa day should be a priority? For some, the spa just isn’t on their mind, and for others it’s the idea that facials, manis and body treatments are experiences that should be reserved for women. My brother and boyfriend fall into both categories, but they’re living proof that these types of guys can still have an enjoyable experience at the spa. So how can you get more guys into your spa location? Take a look at my three tips:
1) Talk to your female clients
Every one of your female clients has a man in her life: a brother, a best friend, a husband, a son. And if your clients are anything like my mom, they wear the metaphorical pants. It’s your job to give them a reason to book him an appointment. Explain the physical benefits of a pedicure and tell them about any upcoming deals or packages your spa may have that are exclusive to men.
2) Deals and Packages
Speaking of deals and packages, you can’t tell your guests about men’s only deals if you don’t have any. Start with some basic offerings that will get guys through your door like reduced rates for first timers and couples packages. At Avalon SalonSpa in Fredericton, New Brunswick they have a package called “Man Oh Man” that includes a hot stone massage and a foot detailing. I love the term foot detailing it has such manly undertones.
3) Men’s Only Area
Men don’t want to be surrounded by flowers and Cosmo magazine. They want deer antlers on the wall and the faint smell of cigars in the air. Okay, maybe you don’t have to go that far, but if you have the room to create a separate space for men then use it! eforea: spa at Hilton in Markham, Ontario has a room called the “Man Cave” where guys can go to get their treatments. Spa operations manager, Kim Assar, says that the space has been really popular because guys feel relaxed and at ease here.
My guys didn’t have a separate space, but they had each other and sometimes that’s enough.
If you have any strategies you’d like to share, comment below!