Saturday, May 28, 2022
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Day break

Spas help take the stress out of our lives — one treatment at a time

Day break
Day break Photos: The Aura Spas, The Park Hotel

If you are tired, stressed and wishing you could take a practically possible break, you have come to the right place. Metropolitan lifestyles and constraints of time have made day spas popular stress-busters. They are easily accessible, can be fit into a few hours, are quite world class and require about as much planning as a phone call. “Our regular clients come by once a week or once in 20 days,” says Deepa J, manager, Oryza Rejuvenation Day Spa, Bengaluru (it has a branch in Chennai). “They are very busy people and by spending a few hours, which they may start with a hair spa treatment and end with a foot reflexology session, along with a scrub-soak-massage-steam-shower ‘body beautifier’ therapy, they feel they have taken care of themselves.”

Health complaints most common to metropolitan day spa trawlers are upper and lower back pain, neck aches, insomnia and lifestyle disorders such as obesity. “Our most sought-after treatment is called ‘the stress-buster’,” says Dr Anuradha Mathad, associate director, Aura spa, The Park, Chennai. “It’s a contemporary full-body massage that includes some stretching. Our clients find it very relaxing.” 

Spas try to offer, if not a remedy, at least some enjoyable relief from contemporary problems. “I drive an hour and a half to work, and then back, every day,” says Ashish Shah, project manager, Wipro Technologies. “I like going to a spa because it de-stresses me and I also get relief from my knee and back pain. Best of all, it’s a total cut-off from my routine.”

Long hours of sitting in front of a computer, lack of physical activity, the absence of healthy eating habits and intensely competitive target-driven work have all contributed to a pervasive feeling of ill-health. “Our ‘rugged for men’ package includes a light and nutritious lunch, an earth stone massage that uses heated and chilled basalt rocks, and ends with a stress-busting reflexology session,” says Ritu Srivastava, spa manager, Ista, Hyderabad. Ista is part of the same IHHR Hospitality group that is behind the award-winning Ananda in the Himalayas. “It takes less than three hours and is meant to be a sensuous experience that alleviates sore muscles.” 

Know your massages

Typically, gym memberships are paid for but not used for lack of time. Indeed, time is that most precious requirement in short supply. “Most modern maladies are self-inflicted and caused by time constraints,” says H Subramaniam, general manager of Angsana, Bengaluru, part of the super-luxury international spa chain. “We have many people, especially from the IT industry, coming over for a day visit. We are fully booked over weekends and, even otherwise, I would advise calling for appointments at least a week in advance.”

Abroad, spas are better-understood destination experiences sought with specific wellness goals that are stated at the time of making reservations — it could be weight loss or stress relief or particular health issues. In India, there is a tendency to equate spas with glorified massage parlours but this perception has been changing as everything from yoga to meditation to healthy food is offered as part of the spa experience. “Massages are only one part of a wide range of treatments offered,” says Mathad. The absence of a regulatory body allows one-room tel-maalish enterprises to call
themselves spas but increasing numbers of reputed brands are clearly defining themselves in a different league. 

“It’s very therapeutic,” says PM Shaji, managing director of air-conditioning maintenance firm Cold Point. “I have been indulging in a spa experience every 10 days for the past 20 years. I love to de-stress and it’s a must for me. I just spend about an hour and a half and it’s a vacation I give myself.” 

All in a day’s leisure

Day spas are not necessarily constructed as such. Angsana is a destination spa resort but accepts day guests. While the Oberoi hotels’ spas welcome only house guests, the Taj’s Jiva spas also serve a visiting clientele at their metro properties. Places like Oryza, Kenko (it offers fish manicures and pedicures) and Influence function only as day spas. It’s a concept that’s perfectly timed. 

“We have women executives who haven’t had the time to take off the nail polish since their last visit, and men with common, lifestyle-related problems like lower back pain and hypertension,” says Oryza’s Deepa. “They all just want to get away for two-three hours, detach themselves from everything and feel refreshed before going back to their hectic work.”  

“None of the good spa treatments are just physical, though they may appear so,” says Mathad. “They have to do with the body, mind and spirit. Aches and pains manifest at a physical level but there is a deeper, more subtle imbalance in our internal energy.” A tranquil ambience, the right music and lighting, pure ingredients and herbal drinks, together make sure all the senses benefit from a spa experience. Mathad adds, “Right from the moment you enter the spa to the time you leave, the entire experience is very important.”

Therapists are not only trained in techniques, they have to follow SOPs and protocols. Most spas do not provide cross-gender (that is, women masseurs for male clients and vice-versa) massaging. Therapists are exhaustively trained and while techniques can be learnt, a good spa therapist understands the ‘art of touch’ and can ‘read a body’ to identify problem spots intuitively. “I would say technique follows perception,” says Megha Dinesh, spa director, The Park’s Aura spa, New Delhi. “Many a time, guests feel the therapists get to the troubled areas literally spot-on.” 

Pick and choose

What should you expect when you head to a spa? Spa menus usually feature ‘signature treatments’, which are unique to individual establishments. At the JW Marriott’s Quan spa in Mumbai, if the Allepey Body Polish uses fresh coconut and cardamom, the Kollegal version features sandalwood and the Malabar option comes with a spice and lentil exfoliant. “Facials are the only treatments that differ between men and women and this is due to skin conditions,” says Anna Fernandes, spa manager at Quan (Chinese for ‘the source of pure water’). “In fact, we have more men visiting than women.”  The most commonly found therapies across spas fall under the heads of body scrubs, massages and beauty treatments, with exquisitely presented options that promise sinful pampering in the price range of ₹2,000-5,000. Set aside two or three hours to enjoy something more than a massage, which, in itself, lasts about an hour.

Get going

It’s best to consult with the therapist to choose what suits your physical state and mental frame of mind at a given time. Be open to guidance. You might feel like having a strong massage for neck or lower back pain but a deep tissue treatment may not be the best thing for you as it may, in fact, worsen the discomfort. The right combination of treatments is ideally arrived at after a discussion with your therapist (neck or joint pain, loss of sleep or diminished energy levels, insomnia, or simply stress-busting and some R&R?). State upfront if you have any allergies, or have undergone surgery — massages are contra-indicated for the first six months and a good spa manager will guide you toward something you can enjoy without any risk.

The ingredients are used to compliment the technique as well as the mood of the client. Ph-balanced, mineral-rich (potassium, sodium and manganese) sea salts relieve pain and build cells by penetrating the skin and getting absorbed by the capillaries into the blood stream. Mud therapies have a calming effect. A blend of rosemary, geranium, cedarwood and lemongrass (Aura’s ‘freedom oil’) is recommended for its pain-relieving properties. Rose and jasmine, on the other hand, are mood-uplifting and trigger the production of ‘happy’ endorphins. Shirodhara, the Ayurvedic wonder treatment that dribbles warm, herb-infused oil continuously over the head, helps treat headache, migraine and insomnia in most people. 

The number of options in this increasingly competitive business leaves its clientele spoilt for choice. Quan specialises in water-based therapies. “Hydrotherapy is something that takes you closer to water and nature,” says Fernandes. “For example, our ocean rain shower treatment’s full body exfoliation uses sea salts, which have properties to beat stress and fatigue. The constant pressure of warm water flowing on the body helps relieve stress.” However, miracles cannot be expected — a holistic approach to well-being is advised. After all, no matter how enticing the ingredient or method, its application is only topical. 

‘Natural’ is the universal motto. Oryza’s Indonesian masseurs, for instance, are liked for their scrubs and wraps made with combinations of apple, cinnamon, ginger, pineapple, yoghurt and other organic ingredients. 

“We [in India] have a very strong cultural aspect of looking after people,” says Aura’s Dinesh. “Care and genuineness in hospitality comes naturally. When you are stressed out, you need people around you to calm you with their patience and willingness to help. It’s not only about technique.”

“I have travelled abroad extensively and invariably try spas everywhere, but I can say without hesitation that India’s best spas are the world’s best spas,” says Shaji, who also likes to get a scrub once a month. Shaji says his spa outings are not so much for stress-relief as they are to make skin feel supple and good. “I think it has something to do with the training. Every masseur appears equally well trained. A good spa will see to your every comfort, from the music to the lighting and the temperature, and it never gets monotonous. They get everything right and it’s simply very, very relaxing.”