My Own Private Spa

Following my amazing virgin spa experience at the Washington Mandarin Oriental, I set about to re-create the peace and calm in my own home, with relative success. For me, it was all about mind-set, and if you can mentally calm yourself, you’re already there. The proper atmosphere helps, and here’s how I set about it:

Dim the lights (it helps if you have dimmers – however, when I do this in Boston a few glowing candles does just the trick, and sometimes it’s even better that way – the dancing of the light is a soothing visual, the waves of flickering beams bathing the walls, catching in the falling droplets.) By dim, I mean dim – lower than you think you want to go. The point is to make your eyes have to adjust. You want the pupils to dilate, to go as big as possible, to take in all of the little light.

Set up a big fluffy towel and your favorite robe for easy access when it’s time to dry off. As much as I enjoy an outrageous ostrich-feather-&-velvet number, for spa moments I find it nicer to use a simple waffle-weave or fresh terry cloth robe. The goal is simplicity – to clear the body and the mind.

Turn the shower on hot, hotter than you’re accustomed to. It’s important to get a healthy wall of steam around you. It should blanket the mirrors and the shower door/curtain, surrounding you with a cloud, obscuring the clarity and the light. (I don’t do baths, but I imagine the same principles would apply if you prefer them.)

The result should be a little womb-like space – dark and warm and pulsating with heat and fluid. Your own little cocoon, wrapping you with filaments of soap and water. Speaking of soap, this is of paramount importance: find something you really like, with a focus on the fragrance. My taste is all over the map – depending on the mood it runs from green tea to pepper to neroli to mint to lavender – and there are so many variations and combinations that you only need to look to find something you enjoy.

In the background, I like to have some music softly playing – preferably something ambient and light, with subtle Eastern influences. Classical is always a peaceful standby, as are solo instruments – guitar or piano or harp. The point is to find something that makes you relax – something without lyrics or a driving dance beat. (It’s the one time even a Madonna ballad is out-of-place; the music should be colorless and for background purposes only. Once you bring words into it, the magic dispels.)

With the scene set and the preparations made (doing it all before you begin is part of what makes the experience so relaxing) there’s no clumsy search for a towel as you traipse a trail of water across the floor, no frantic cursing for forgetting the shampoo or washcloth. Take your time. Slow your breathing. Relax and go easy. At first, this may be the most difficult part of the whole thing, and my mind usually races with the thoughts and worries of the day, until I focus on the simple tasks at hand – the soap, the shampoo, the lather, the sound of the water, the comfort of the heat. Soon, the mind clears, the body relaxes, the tension dissipates. It’s a discipline, in a certain sense, but one that ultimately gives way to a soothing calmness, if you let it.

[For those who worry about the hot water and energy expense involved, I believe that if you keep your regular showers to five minutes, a little indulgence and a lengthier, hotter shower experience once a week or so won’t do any more damage than has already been done to the environment. A little pampering is worth more for my peace of mind than just about anything else.]

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