Remember hotel spas, with their serene settings, lavish amenities and pampering treatments? The way a luxurious relaxing experience provided an escape from the stresses of everyday life?
Given that most luxury hotels and spas around the world are closed or operating on an austere basis, such a retreat may be off-limits during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t recreate the relaxing experience of one – at least somewhat – at home. And the price tag for this kind of self-care is significantly reduced.
“It’s simple and inexpensive to bring many elements of a fancy spa into your home,” says Snow Shimazu, a licensed massage therapist, certified yoga and meditation teacher and resident healer at Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown.
“This is a time when many of us are stressed and anxious and living with uncertainty so we need the calming effects that a spa can offer more than ever before.”
Carve out a sacred space
Jeremy McCarthy, the group director of spa and wellness for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, suggests designating a room or nook in your house as a place for well being.
Make sure that the area is clean, clutter-free and away from distractions.
“It could be your bathroom or a corner in your family room or bedroom, but like a spa, it should be an inviting space where you could sit and drink tea, meditate or curl up with a good book,” he says. For seating, a plush chair, oversize cushion and even a hammock all work.
Stimulate your senses
Shimazu says that your at-home spa can be that much more transportive with touches that engage the senses.
The space can have a potted plant, vase of flowers or favorite piece of art, for example. Lighting a scented candle or burning some incense is another idea and adds in an element of aromatherapy.
Shimazu personally loves diluting a few drops of an essential oil in water that she absorbs onto a cloth and uses to wipe the floor, doorknobs and shelves.
“I clean the space and make it smell great at the same time,” she says.
Holding crystals is also a luxury hotel spa standard that stimulates your sense of touch and has a relaxing effect at the same time.
And, don’t forget about the background music – or lack thereof.
“With us staying home much more than we usually would, we’re streaming more content than usual, and it’s OK to be in total silence to get a break from anything external,” says McCarthy.
If you do opt to listen to music, forget any notions that it has to be the stereotypical tinkling, soothing rhythms that you typically hear at spas. McCarthy says that anything goes, from heavy metal to Enya and Beethoven, whatever appeals to you.
Invest in the right amenities
Your home may not have a rainforest shower, hot and cold plunge pools and other features that make hotel spas stand out, but a few inexpensive accessories go a long way in replicating their lavishness.
Leila Fazel, director of wellness for Six Senses New York, is a fan of acupressure slippers that activate pressure points in the feet and cost less than $40 (you can find them online).
“Wearing them is like getting a reflexology treatment,” she says. “Each point is attached to an organ or gland, so the slippers have a restorative effect.”
A robe or a comfortable pair of pajamas that you don during your at-home spa retreat are also good to have on hand, and Shimazu recommends an eye pillow or hand towel that works as one.
“Add a few drops of an essential oil to either, microwave for 30 seconds and place over your eyes while you’re sitting back or lying down,” she says. “All your tension will melt away.”
Create a sense of ritual
Most spas don’t just immediately thrust you into a dark massage room and tell you to relax, says McCarthy. They create a ritual that helps you leave the outside world behind and settle into a deeper state of relaxation: you transition into a locker room, don a robe and slippers, try some heat and water therapies, relax in the tea lounge.
“At home, you can create your own relaxation ritual that brings you to this space,” says McCarthy.
Maybe it means taking a hot bath with soothing aromatherapy oils, sipping herbal tea and reading something thoughtful or inspirational, whether it’s a poem, book or quote. Definitely do not read the news and be sure to turn off your phone or any other tech devices.
McCarthy says that spas are one of the last places in modern society where we’re separated from technology, and this break is an essential part of the spa experience.
Massage your face, hands and feet
Alexandra Soveral, a London-based holistic skin specialist whose treatments are offered at the Four Seasons Hotels in Downtown New York and Boston, says that your face stores emotional and physical stress, which for many of us is heightened right now due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Your face needs an aid in order for it to look and be at its healthiest, and that aid is self-massage,” she says.
It’s not hard to do, says Soveral, but you should never massage dry skin. Use oil, even if you have an oily complexion. You can wash it off afterward.
Make circular motions upward and outward toward the extremities of the face and down the neck. This movement drains out the toxins from your skin. Be sure to use medium to vigorous pressure.
“If it’s too light, you’re not getting rid of the toxins, and the massage isn’t as effective,” says Soveral.
When it comes to your hands and feet, Sarah Gibson Tuttle, the founder and CEO of the nail polish brand and Los Angeles salon Olive & June, recommends a self-massage with a gentle scrub.
You can even make one at home by mixing together a little sugar with coconut oil or olive oil. “A scrub will get rid of all the dry skin and leave your hands and feet smooth and healthy,” she says.
Stretch your body
Admittedly, it’s hard to give yourself a satisfying body massage like a professional therapist can give to you, but you can treat yourself to a great stretch session to reap some of the same benefits as a massage.
“Stretching for just a few minutes can help with your digestion, muscle tightness and emotional state,” says Shimazu.
You can find dozens of stretching routines online or watch our stretching video with Shimazu as the guide. Her three key stretches are below:
Kneel down on a blanket and place your hands at the lower back with your fingertips pointing down. Move your elbows closer to each other. Inhale, move your chest forward, keep your thighs perpendicular to the floor, extend your spine and look diagonally up. Exhale, move your spine back into the natural position. This stretch improves digestion and eases any negative thoughts in your mind.
Sit with the soles of your feet together, knees apart. Interlace your fingers in front of your chest. Push the palms forward. Lean forward. As a variation, you can sit in a comfortable crossed leg position, hug yourself and lean forward. This stretch helps ease anxiety.
Sit with your legs in front of you. Flex your ankles and point your toes toward the sky. Exhale, hinge from the hips and lean forward. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees. This stretch helps rejuvenate your energy.
It’s vital that we carve out some quiet time for ourselves, now more than ever. And if all else fails, you can always take a nap.
Shivani Vora is a New York City-based writer who travels as often as she can, whether that means going on a walking safari in Tanzania, a mother-daughter trip with her 10-year-old in Istanbul or surfing in northern Portugal.