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Spa mystery decoded

Dimmed lights, soothing music, and pampering touches make the Spa experience synonymous to relaxation and de-stressing for the harried residents of the Middle East. Usually people just lay down and surrender their bodies to the skilled hands of the masseuse to emerge refreshed and re-energised a few hours later. But what exactly is this magic that the spas envelop us in? No matter how tight the budget is, people are finding ways to slip into a spa for a nice little treatment. Looking beyond the dimmed lights, Ria Mendoza tries to discern what those heavenly scents and ointments are that revives the body and soul.

Though the spa can be related to the pretty recent interest in health and wellness, it has been around longer than many can imagine. In 500 BC, the Greeks were already enjoying the benefits of water tubs or hot-air baths – what we could call spas in our time. The royalty and the aristocratic courts enjoyed this privilege but with the passage of time, the upper class citizens began copying this past time and the Greeks' love for baths was spread far and wide. Today, the spa is not only a place for bathing – it's a center for overall well being. Depending on which spa you go to, spa services now ranges from massages, facials, body scrubs, reflexology, nutrition advice to yoga classes and more, with specialty services inspired from different corners of the world.

Scrubs and massages
At the Orchid Spa at the Karisma Ladies Centre (
www.karismacentre.com), they have three main items in their menu: massage, body treatment and foot massage. A glass case just before the spa rooms, showcases the products used within. Some of them were ornate cups filled with different-coloured ground materials. These are used for the body scrubs, explains Alison Poter, the Head of Operations at Karisma. Body scrubs remove the dead skins on the body to reveal the new skin beneath. After such treatment, the skin looks refreshed. Alison point to each cup and explains that the brown one is coffee, the white one is salt and lemon and the last was sesame.

“When you go for a Moroccan bath, they use a loofah, it's very strong but this is a more gentle way,” she explains. “They take the seeds and they mix them, they put them in the oil so it's a gentle exfoliation of the skin.”

Beside the cups were small green vials that had labels on them, it read: lotus, rose, lemongrass, frankincense, basil, eucalyptus and orange. These are the essential oils – used for the massage treatments. Alison shares, “When you're doing the massage, you need the oil for three reasons. One is to lubricate the skin so that the hands of the masseuse can move over without friction; secondly we need the oil to start to sink into the skin so that it can reach to the muscles. And we need it as a carrier; we need it to carry the essential oils. Essential oils are a form of medicine.”

She adds that these essential oils can have different effects on our moods and health. If you want to be energised, you need ginger, pepper, cayenne; if you want to be calm you need basil, lavender, sage or rosemary; and if you want to be refreshed, take anything that is citrus. But she stressed, you need to be careful about picking up refined oil, instead of pure essential oil, which might look the same but will not have the same benefits and may in fact, be more harmful to your health. She explains, “The body is covered in skin, the skin is in a way feeding the body as well as detoxifying it. When your sweat comes out of your pores, toxins deep inside, come out of the body. So it makes sense that whatever you put on your skin goes back the same route.”

Much like the treatments at Orchid Spa, the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Dubai uses aromatherapy oils to create a unique selection of treatments. “The term ‘aromatherapy' describes the use of essential oils for therapeutic activity,” clarifies Catharina Panjaitan, Willow Stream Spa Manager. On their menu, a client can also opt for Real Aromatherapy Massage where they encourage clients to customise their treatment.

With the help of the therapist, the client will choose different oils for relaxation, improved sleep, clarity of mind or enhanced sense of well-being. All these uses essential oils which Catharina explains are, “The ‘essence' of the plant and contains the concentrated power of its life force. Therefore, to preserve this vital energy, the cultivation of the plant and the extraction of essential oils require high importance.”

Keep it pure
With that same belief, the Orchid Spa, uses only pure natural oils. Alison elaborates that they also look for oils that are abundant in the region. For example, in Thailand, because they offer authentic Thai massages with their therapists all coming from that country, they get coconut oil which is very cool for the body. And when it comes to the Middle East they choose almond oil or olive oil because of the availability of olives in Jordan. In colder climates, she explains that mustard and sesame oils are must-haves. Those two oils are very heavy and give warmth to the body. She adds, “Here, our base is sesame oil because we do our massage with air conditioning and so, we are always looking at the temperature being cooler than the body temperature so we use a warming oil.”

She stresses over and over again that choosing the purity of oil is very important because it is absorbed by the body. “We keep to organics because you will have less bad reaction and it's the same as drinking, your whole body will absorb it,” she says but was quick to add, “We are not anti-chemicals. Used in the right way for the right reasons they have benefits for us. But with the spa with massage through thousands of years, the oils are always organic.” In fact, many treatments at the Karisma Ladies Center use well-chosen chemicals for different treatments.

But when it comes to Thai massage, oils are not required because the masseuse uses pressure points instead of gliding pressure. In a cosmopolitan place like Dubai, where people are mostly chained behind their desks or behind the steering wheel of their cars, blocks along the back can easily form. The massage frees these blocks and keeps a healthy flow of blood going throughout your system. “When the spa industry started in Thailand about eight, ten years ago, it was very exclusive, very culture oriented facilities in hotels. Whereas, it has developed now as a necessity for health. If you have preventative health, you should have a massage everyday. Everyday, all of those blocks should be cleared in order for your system to be clear. It prevents diseases.”

Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Dubai offers:

Willow Stream Sunrise:
Uses essential oils including pink grapefruit, rosemary, and juniper berry to revitalize and refresh you for the week ahead.

Willow Stream Sunset:
Sample a combination of lavender, ginger, and black pepper essential oils to soothe and relax muscle tension after strenuous physical activity.

Time Zone Rejuvenator:
Essential oils including pink grapefruit, rosemary and juniper berry are used in this treatment to energize your body and mind, especially after a long flight.

Real Aromatherapy Massage customized spa treatment.

Source: Arabian Woman
Posted: 29/06/2008


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