One of the great wonders of travel is that a journey far from home can actually take us deep inside ourselves. When we surround ourselves with new locations, the dusty tangles of everyday worries and responsibilities drop away, and we see our lives in a new light. With this release, a vacation becomes much more than just "time off." After all, the word vacation comes from the Latin word vacare, which means "to be empty or free." A spa journey is the quickest, most effective -- and if you choose, most luxurious -- route to this very special kind of freedom. It not only offers an opportunity to "empty" yourself, but to fill up with more positive ways of being.
Linda bathed in the springs every day for a week, and copied the local Indians, taking the water in her cupped hands and pouring it over her heart. As the week passed, she had a few cries and plenty of rest. Her energy and optimism began to return and, with them, a renewed appetite for life. "I had been at a crossroads in my art, too," she says. "But I saw new possibilities. I decided to learn more about hot springs and healing sites and capture them on film. When I got home, I was also able to face the end of my relationship with a little more peace. I was ready to let it go." Like millions before her, Linda had discovered the rejuvenating power of spa life.
Many Americans still think of spas as places to go to have their toenails buffed, or their eyelids draped with cucumber slices, or to starve themselves into twigginess on a diet of steamed lettuce leaves. Personally, I've never encountered a facialist holding anything resembling a cucumber (though I have seen the vegetable used in foot baths), and most spa food is anything but Spartan nowadays. You can begin the day with stuffed French toast and end it with a chocolate napoleon dessert. A spa journey has become about much more than shedding fat and getting a good massage. In this day and age, everyone knows that dieting is not the answer to a weight problem. Losing weight and keeping it off requires a change in lifestyle.
In the last two decades, millions of people have become interested in self-improvement and transformation, and have recognized that spas are among the best places to make progress in these pursuits. Spas have become like academies, where visitors train themselves in the art of living. At many, wherever you turn, there is a yoga or meditation class, a seminar o the latest relaxation techniques, or a lecture from a renowned mind-body expert. You can even star in your own private Oprah or Dr. Phil show and hash our problems that have plagued you for years.
When I began writing about spas almost ten years ago, I had never had a massage or a facial. At first I found these treatments a little boring, and I hated the phrases "let go" and "take a deep breath." Nor did I like the idea of people covering my body with gunk, whether it be crushed pineapple, Dead Sea mud, or melted chocolate. I started writing about spas because I loved travel as a means of escape and insight. Entering a new culture is as dramatic as stepping inside a movie screen. Suddenly, one becomes part of a new world of flavors, colors, and customs. Every detail of life, from ordering breakfast to walking down the street, becomes an adventure. At its best, travel is not only a diversion from our everyday lives, but an intensification of life itself, enhancing our appreciation of the world around us, opening our minds to new perspectives.
During my first few spa trips, I realized spas are ideal places to deepen that shift in perspective. Many are in exotic locales and near sites rich in history. They also provide lots of time to sit still, reflect, and learn. My spa journeys have made me stronger, more confident, and less fearful. When I arrived at a small spa in British Columbia, I was afraid of horses; by the end of my stay, I was cantering through the meadow with the wind blowing through my hair. Later, I used the Equine Program at Miraval to explore my attitudes towards control, anger, and fear.
"Signs appear to those who look for them," wrote playwright August Strindberg. And spas are great places to look for those signs. One woman told me that as she was hiking during a spa journey, she realized how hard she was on herself. "We were on this muddy trail and I couldn't keep up with the group. I started putting all kinds of pressure on myself to catch up. Then I took a deep breath and I saw the mud as old negative habits that were pulling me down, and I realized that my concern about 'keeping up with the rest' was something that dogged me all the time. And then it came to me: It's okay to go at my own pace. I should be kinder to myself. Now when I start getting hard on myself, I remember my trip and stop."
The spas in this book have been chosen not only for the quality of their treatments, food, and amenities, but for their unique features and programs that allow visitors to glean life-changing revelations. The selection is diverse, for spa journeys can be as varied as any vacation experience. But there are basically two distinct types: one, known as a destination spa, focuses primarily on getting fit (only low-fat food is offered); the other is a resort spa, which offers the spa lifestyles as one of the many options. But every spa listed in this book offers a host of activities beyond massages and facials. You can stroll the hills of Tuscany, climb a waterfall in a Hawaiian rain forest, or take a helicopter ride over the Canadian Rockies. More adventurous souls can go whitewater rafting, rock climbing, or mountain biking.
Of course, if you prefer, you can just sit by the pool all day, get a good massage... and look for signs that will bring you closer to the secrets inside yourself.
© Annette Foglino
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