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Sound off

Silence, sounds and music as part of the unique spa ambiance

The spa is an oasis offering an escape from every day stresses – the daily grind of work, the pressures of parenthood, the addictive glow of smart phones – and importantly, a reprieve from the constant noise around us.

“What makes up the stresses in the 21st century, just one of them, is the unimaginable levels of sound pollution going on around us that we don’t even notice anymore,” says Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, founder of the Center for Neuroacoustic Research in California, where he studies the therapeutic applications of sound and composes meditative music.

But sound is more than just a nuisance. Some sounds, like music or nature sounds, can relax us and relieve stress. How sound is managed in the spa, by blocking out some sounds and introducing others, will have a big impact on the full spa experience.

Balancing Your Chi

As its name suggests, CHI The Spa at Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver is all about catering to your inner wellbeing. “It is very much about the individual journey,” says Liz Sperandeo, public relations manager at Shangri-La. The spa is designed to encourage privacy and peaceful isolation. “There’s not a communal change room or a communal lounge like there are in other spas,” Sperandeo says. “There’s a spa relaxation lounge where the consultants greet each guest and then they whisk them into their own private suite.”

To minimize the amount of chatter in the spa and maintain a tranquil environment for their guests, CHI asks their guests not to carry on large conversations in the public areas. When a spa party does visit, they usually buy out the spa so they can socialize to their heart’s content.

The tranquil atmosphere in the spa is further created by a musical soundtrack created especially for CHI The Spa. “It’s a consistent sound and ambiance and tone that’s set throughout all of the CHI The Spas around the world,” says Sperandeo.

Getting in the Groove

At the Hammam Spa in downtown Toronto, where the noise of urban life threatens to disrupt the peace of the spa, they have come up with a novel solution. “We have a big fountain feature at the front of the spa that helps to really buffer the sound,” says director of marketing Paula Aveling. “It’s kind of neat actually, when you walk in off of a really busy street and all of a sudden it’s just running water and music. It really slows you down and readies you to remove yourself from the outside world.”

When it comes to music, Aveling says Hammam doesn’t go in for chirping birds or babbling brooks. Instead, they embrace their urban identity with upbeat world music. “We try and be a little bit more urban, a little bit more fun,” she says “we very purposefully selected and curated a list of music that’s not the traditional.”

The Power of Sound

Sound is an integral part of the spa journey and experience. It is important that the sounds in a spa work in concert with the theme and ambiance the spa is trying to evoke.

“Being one of the senses, it’s a huge part of any spa in our industry,” says Aveling. “Trying to layer it all and be aware of creating an effective sound, to create a good environment, is really important.”

Resonating like a wine glass

Dr. Jeffrey Thompson of the Center for Neuroacoustic Research in California is a big believer in the power of sound to affect physiological as well as psychological changes in the body. His work in brainwave entrainment, based on the theory that the brain can be trained to a certain frequency through specialized sounds and equipment, has led him to compose a series of soundscapes and meditative music.

“We create this drifting hypnotic music with these pulses within the music that are timed to a delta brainwave state, which is the lowest, slowest brain state you go into in deepest sleep,” says Thompson. “Your brainwaves in an agitated, very rapid beta awake state are being pulled towards timing themselves to this delta state.” Thompson says this method has proven to be an effective drug-free treatment for people suffering from sleep disorders.

“It’s the scientific application of sound frequencies tuned to different body structures, specifically to resonate them like a wine glass,” he says.

Soundproof your spa

Izzy Gliener, founder of Acoustic Solutions in Edmonton, Alberta, has been advising businesses about noise control since 1973.

Here is his advice to spa owners:

Make sure all free-standing equipment is isolated from the floor to manage structure-borne noise. “If they’ve got vibrating equipment touching the structure, it’s going to carry all over the place,” says Gliener. “It should be done when the equipment is installed and the people that supply the equipment should be able to give them isolating devices – springs or rubber pads, etc.”

Make sure the reverb time in the spa is low. This has to do with sound that reverberates within the spa. There are formulas to calculate that and the ideal reverb time depends on how quiet you want your spa to be, says Gliener. “If you want a quiet conversational level, the reverb time should be down to something under one second,” he says. “If it’s not at that level, you have to add to the space materials that will do that, with baffles and panels and whatever else.”

When trying to create a quiet tranquil space, you shouldn’t do away with all sound, says Gliener. “You can’t make it too quiet. It’s not a burial place,” he says.Interior designer Carley Petillion of Creative Spaciz in Victoria, B.C. has a lot of experience designing commercial spaces. Here is her advice for spa owners looking to create a relaxing sound environment for their clients:

• Heavily insulate treatment rooms
• Use solid core doors and avoid pocket doors
• Add a water feature (like Hammam Spa)
• Make sure the spa is wired correctly for sound, so that ambient music is played at a uniform tone and volume throughout the spa

Hermione Wilson

Hermione has a background in lifestyle and entertainment journalism. After graduating from Humber College’s journalism program, where she wrote for the school’s newspaper and various magazines, Hermione interned at TV Guide Canada, writing television reviews, and at Canadian Living, where she sampled goodies from the Test Kitchen.

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