How do we relax?

Catching Up — By on July 18, 2010 2:45 PM

I just recently had my first experience at a Turkish/Russian spa.

What an adventure!

It was a Saturday morning in my little corner of New Jersey.  I was supposed to be meeting a friend from my yoga class, Veronika, and others at this Turkish/Russian spa in Southampton, PA, just a half hour from my house.  I spoke with Veronika that morning and she asked me if any of my friends might like to join us.  I wasn’t sure but told her I would make a few calls.  On my way to a private yoga session I called my friend Linette to see if she was able to join us that afternoon for some relaxation and pampering.  I told her to meet me at my house so that I could pick her up on the way to the spa after my class.  She never actually answered me as to whether or not she would join me.

An hour later I was leaving my student’s house- who also decided to come join us at the spa.  I never heard back from Linette so I headed off to the spa alone.  Of course, on my way there, I got a call from her telling me she had been waiting at my house for the past half hour!  I told her to meet me at the spa, ensuring her that it would be worth it and that it wasn’t that far away.  I got confirmation from Veronika and my yoga student that they were all on the way as well. Ruth, my yoga student, arrived about 15 minutes before me and called me when she got there.  She said it didn’t look like a spa from the outside but she said she would go in and wait for me.  I had looked at this spa online and it looked beautiful and elegant, I couldn’t imagine what it was that she was looking at in front of her.

I got a call about ten minutes later from Ruth and she proceeded to describe to me the interior of the spa- telling me it was a little scary and she didn’t think she could actually stay there!  WOW!  She said there were a lot of wet men and women sitting around and it wasn’t indulgent, pampering and elegant at all.  I was in such shock.  How could this be?  Ruth left.  Oh no!  What have I just asked my friend and yoga student to get involved in, I felt terrible.  Images of some sleezy place, that coupled as a ‘pick up joint’, ran through my head.  At the same time I got a call from Linette, I told her to stay home.  I didnt want any more casualties.

I finally arrived and found Veronika pulling in just behind me.  We walked in together as I told her the story of the experience of my yoga student.  She was shocked because she had been there many times with her husband, Oleg.

Just looking at the outside of this spa I could completely understand what my yoga student had been describing.  It sort of looked like a bowling alley that had a new sign on it that said “Southampton Spa.”  I had to give it a chance though- I walked in with Veronika.  We were greeted by a Russian man who proceeded to give us a tour of the facility.  I looked around.  The reception room looked like that counter at a bowling alley where you get those ugly bowling shoes!  The design style was from the 70’s, linoleum that resembled stone work was rolled out and glued onto the front side of the reception desk and there was cheap metal trimming the edges of the counter.  The Russian man was in a t-shirt and jeans, witha bad 5 o’clock shadow.  He walked us into the next large room that housed the big swimming pool I saw online where there were several tables and chairs for relaxing.  It reminded me of the public pool I went to when I was young with plastic white chairs and those heavy-duty plastic white tables to match (they didnt show that on the website!).  Some of the tables were dirty and people were sitting around the tables, talking, with old, dingy white robes that you get from the spa, when you pay your $32 entree fee.  Everyone was smiling and laughing and seemed to be very relaxed and healthy looking. The tour continued.  The next room was actually a really long hallway that had several shower stalls, doors to five different saunas, a dark, square hole in the ground filled with freezing cold water and many wet people in bathing suits running around, in and out of the showers, and relaxing in the saunas.  At the end of the hallway were a bunch of orange buckets that reminded me of ones you would find on a construction site with cement or nails in them.  The buckets in this hallway were filled with dark colored water and stems of what looked like tree branches sticking out!  I turned to Veronika and asked her about them.  She laughed and said they were branches from a maple tree that you buy when you are here, as a more intense healing technique.You soak the leaves of the branch bunch and have someone essentially beat you with them.  Interesting!  I guess you have to pick someone that you like and, more importantly,who likes you.  It is supposed to help with allergies, chest congestion and back pain.  I personally think it’s to liberate one’s fetish.

This was definitely not a spa I would be familiar with in America!  An American spa is plush and elegant.  It smells fantastic of aromatherapy products, everything you touch feels luxurious and new, and you receive the ultimate pampering and tending to your every whim.  Ahhhh, now that’s a spa.  In America, you go to a spa to have a staff of people treat you like royalty.   They help you relax with amazing experiences such as herbal wraps, aromatherapy, massage and facials.  They give you fluffy, white robes and slippers that look brand new.  They take you from one room to the next that are visual delights and help put your mind and body at ease from the intense pace of life.  You float away on a cloud of deliberately conceived relaxation techniques.

Russ and I are going on a spa vacation at the end of this month and when we were talking about it we both made comments that seemed kind of silly at the time but reasonable enough.  I made a comment that I wished I had a little bit of a sun tan so that I didn’t look so pale in the white robe and Russ mentioned he wanted to take a few pounds off so he would feel better about being in a robe or just a bathing suit.  Why did we even feel we needed to change these things just to go and relax at a spa?

I started thinking about the comments Russ and I made that day and all the comments I have heard in the past from people with similar plans- going somewhere you would like to look “better.”  It really hit me a few days after visiting the Southampton Spa -remembering all the girls and guys in their bathing suits of all ages and shapes, walking around without robes, not thinking anything about their bodies being out of shape or pale.  They were just relaxing and having a great time.  It was then I realized something so profound when I began to compare the people at each spa.  In American spas, we have people and an environment that helps us to decompress.  At the Turkish/Russian spa there is nothing and no one like that at all.  The people that go there know how to relax on their own.  They don’t need someone telling them, “just relax” or “is this temperature right for you?” or “are you comfortable?” or “what else can I get you today?”  I was amazed when I realized we, in America, really don’t know how to relax-not even for a spa experience.  I am a yoga instructor and I found myself wanting to look better before going to a spa- a place you are supposed to go to forget about life and its pressures for a while.

Well, I couldn’t actually stay at the Southampton Spa with Veronika because I had to go let Linette into my house(long story) but I very much want to go back and experience what it is like to relax without any encouragement from anyone else but myself.  To walk around in a bathing suit without feeling self conscious or having my brain run through all my flaws.  What freedom!

It’s time to celebrate our bodies, all our shapes and sizes, and look within to find both comfort and relaxation in both our physical and mental being.  Relax and enjoy the beautiful being that you have become.



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