Looking for a reason to go on a spa vacation? Spas have been known as places of healing for thousands of years. Native peoples, Roman soldiers, royals, and paupers all journeyed to bathe in warm mineral springs famed for their ability to alleviate pain and cure ailments. Today's spas are no longer tied exclusively to thermal waters, but they still promise relaxation, rejuvenation and a renewed sense of purpose.
At the basic level, spas offer therapeutic treatments like massage, body treatments, and facials, which improve your sense of well-being. At the highest level, legendary destination spas like Canyon Ranch Lenox can help you with medical issues or cope with a major life setback like divorce and death. Here are a number of ways to enjoy the health benefits of spas, and suggestions on where to go.
Destination spas are the best choice if you're looking to make a major some healthy changes and need some support. This small group of all-inclusive health spas offer good nutrition and exercise balanced with relaxing spa treatment. They range from affordable seasonal programs like New Life Hiking Spa to the legendary Canyon Ranch, with its unparalleled programming and medical staff. Destination spas are great for solo travelers.
The old "fat farm" days of 800 calories and all-day exercise for rapid weight loss are (mostly) over. Now most destination spas teach your how to eat for long-term health. Generally, you can eat as much -- or as little -- as you want. A few still have a strong weight loss focus, including The Oaks at Ojai. Super-exclusive Cal-A-Vie customizes the calorie counts for each guest. Duke University Diet & Fitness Center is another great choice for weight management, though you stay off-campus.
If you just want to get a few spa treatments, hang out by the pool, and eat cheeseburgers for lunch, try a resort spa. There's a huge range in terms of price, facilities and amenities. Ask if they offer exercise classes, how often, and if there's an extra charge. These are often the best choices for families because of kids club. Many also have golfing and lavish dining. California, Florida, and Arizona are the top three resort spa destinations, but you can find one in every state.
Great hiking programs are the backbone of many destination spas, including Red Mountain Spa and Green Valley Spa in Utah. They both roam over gorgeous federal lands, with different groups aimed at different fitness levels. But think about the temperatures and time of year when you book. Long hikes and low-season rates don't necessarily go together.
The food is so good at some destination spas that you might pack on pounds if you're not careful. Spas known for their excellent spa cuisine and cooking classes include Rancho La Puerta, Lake Austin Spa Resort, and Red Mountain Spa. Most resort spas also have fine dining with spa cuisine options -- though I've been told no one ever orders them.
Sex, death, divorce…these are the kinds of things best addressed at a place like Canyon Ranch. Psychologists trained in hypnotherapy can help you cope with grief and get a sense of the way forward. If you're worried about your heart in a more mechanical sense, board-certified doctors integrate the best conventional and complementary approaches in medical consultations. They can also help you come up with strategies to spark your libido, stop smoking and start sleeping better. All three actually go together.
Our environment has all kinds of harmful toxins -- physical and mental. A few select spas specialize in detox. How does it work? During detox, the body turns for energy to its fat reserves. As the fat breaks down, it releases the stored toxins into the bloodstream, where the body’s circulatory and excretory systems eliminate them. Another added benefit: you can lose up to a pound a day. Dedicated detoxers report better energy, clearer skin, regular bowel movements, improved digestion, and increased concentration and clarity.
Miraval is the place to go if you want to push through some old fears and habits. Working with a horse during "The Equine Experience" gives you insight into how you communicate (and regularly brings executives to tears). Or find new freedom and you climb onto a tiny platform and jump -- rope attached!
You can find yoga classes at just about every destination spa (and many resort spas). But some do it better than others. Rancho La Puerta has one of the best yoga programs, with top teachers, a huge yoga studio, and classes aimed at different levels of expertise. Kripalu is also famous for its yoga and reasonable prices due to campus-style and vegetarian food.
Spas are a great place to spend quality time with the people you love. Get a gift card for a loved one. Destination spas are especially fun for girlfriend getaways and quality time with your mom, daughter or sister. But destination spas can be social, so if you want to rekindle a romance, you might choose a small resort spa like Royal Palms in Phoenix. If you only have a weekend, look for on something in your own state.
Feeling uninspired? Many spas have programs that help you get in touch with your creativity. One of the very best is Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in California, where you learn from local artists how to work with oils, pastels, watercolor, make jewelry and paint silk scarves.
Become More Mindful
Meditation and mindfulness have numerous health benefits: improving relationships with family and friends, reducing stress and depression, and increasing one's sense of well-being and happiness. Spas go at a slower pace and are a great place to practice mindfulness as you get your treatment and enjoy the feeling afterward.