There's nothing more heavenly after a hard day than to lie back while expert, caring hands knead you into a deep slumber. Welcome to beauty's favourite new oasis: the spa. Spa is a word that conjures many different images. To some, the word inspires visions of a medicinal spring. The more geographically-inclined probably think of a particular town in Belgium. Others consider it a posh way of saying "beauty salon". While party animals imagine a frothing tub filled with giggling, bikini-clad girls... To set the record straight, a spa - in the modern sense of the word - is a wellness centre that offers treatments and, often, feel-good facilities to clients. Treatments include the holistic (massages, body wraps, essential oils, hydrotherapy) as well as the aesthetic (beautifying treats like hair services, facials, pedicures, weight-loss procedures). Facilities may include Swiss showers, heated jacuzzis, luxurious steam baths. Feeling all tensed up at work? Book yourself into a spa and get yourself pampered into a relaxed puddle by expert hands. Trust me. There's nothing quite like it. There's no denying the growing appeal of spas worldwide. Southeast Asia, in particular, is getting the hang of it. Sure, it's an indulgence, and most of us have bills to pay. But with the increasing level of work stress, and the wide choice of treatment centers peppered around, "spa-ing" is set to become a way of life for us. No clue what it's all about? We cut through the jargon to tell you all you need to know about spas before you embark on your first visit. Day spa or destination spa?
A destination spa is one that's located in a resort or hotel, where you can get away for a short retreat and focus on pampering and rejuvenation. A day spa provides an urban escape for those who can only spare a few hours. Plan a vacation around a destination spa like the Banyan Tree in the Maldives, or The Chedi in Bali for an all-out, full-on blissful retreat. Whereas day spas can be incorporated into your day-to-day lifestyle. Pick a date every month or two as your pampering day, and check yourself into a day spa. You'll emerge fresh and recharged, ready to face the world for the next few months. Wind up, wind down
Don't just zip in and out of the spa for your treatments. Relax in the tranquil surroundings. Some spas offer free use of their facilities for clients. Other charge a nominal fee. My advice? If they charge, pay up and get the full spa experience. You'll be twice as recharged than if you just had treatments alone. Check in an hour before your schedule appointment, hit the shower, get changed (bring your swimming cozzie) and head towards the hot jacuzzi. Relax there as long as you want (20 minutes is about enough), then head to the steam room. Spas are starting to incorporate essential oils in their steam baths. They smell great, and are fab for your skin too. But if you have sensitive skin, or any other allergies, do check with your therapist about what oils are pumped in with the steam. Hit the showers again to splash away the sweat from your steam bath (it's a room full of steam that includes sweat, not a real bath-type, mind). Wrap up nice and toasty in the bathrobe provided, and unwind in the relaxation lounge while you wait for the therapist to come for you. Extend the spa experience
Many spas use their own brand of skincare, bodycare and cosmetics. One way to prolong the soothing effects of your spa visit is to buy the products that were used on you (your personal therapist will be more than happy to help you pick these out) and do your own homecare. If you've had a facial and like how the products feel on your skin, buy the complete range of skincare (cleanser, toner, moisturizer, mask). If it was an aromatic message, get the body lotion version of the oils used in your treatment. Burning the essential oils in your room would also bring about a similar sense of euphoria as you experienced in the spa. Spas like Angsana Spa, Estheva and St Gregory all offer home-care versions of their products for purchase at their spa shops. A dummy's guide to spa treatments
Besides the essential massage, try the other skin-pampering treats that will have you positively floating out of there with velvety-smooth skin and a detoxed body. Start with a body glow; a full-bodied scrub where the therapist slathers your shoulders to the soles of your feet with your choice of scrubs (anything from a sea-salt to mint-tinted granules to yummy smelling strawberry) and gives you the ultimate rub-down. This prepares the skin for a nourishing body wrap (seaweed and mud are popular for their moisturizing properties, ginger ups circulation, while crushed grapeseed detoxifies and has rich anti-oxidants). Hydrotherapy sounds intimidating, but it's just a name for water jets that help in blood circulation and slimming. Ask away during your consultation session, and the spa staff will be happy to recommend the right treatments for you. Before the spa
Forget about cramming in that plate of spaghetti before rushing off for your appointment or you'll feet uncomfortably bloated throughout your session. But don't arrive hungry either, unless you want your therapist to hear your growling tummy throughout. Have something to eat at least an hour before your treatment. And keep it light, such as a fresh salad or tuna sandwich. If you're having an exfoliating body scrub, avoid scuffing yourself for the few days leading to your appointment. If it's a massage you're having, skip the body moisturizer before leaving the house. It's common spa etiquette to have a shower at home first, if all you're having is a massage. Most spas don't factor in time for you to shower there and then, so go squeaky clean. Massages
The highlight of any spa trip, massages can be invigorating, relaxing, anti-stress and soothing (for tired muscles). The most common schools of massage are the Swedish, Shiatsu, Aromatic, Lomi Lomi, Indonesian and Thai. Every spa usually has their own unique signature massage. Try that out if it's your first visit. It's usually the best. Swedish: Light, yet deep strokes are used to improve blood circulation, reduce tension and soothe sore muscles. This highly relaxing massage often lulls you into a state of peaceful slumber. Shiatsu: The release of trapped energy in the 14 body meridians (a belief subscribed to by the school of shiatsu medicine) and the restoration of balance and well-being are achieved with finger-thumb pressure. This is a cross between acupuncture and massage. Aromatic: Different essential oils are blended to the specific needs of clients, to induce different therapeutic benefits. Ylang ylang to balance raging hormones, citrus oils to energize, lavender and chamomile to soothe. Lomi Lomi: A sensual Hawaiian massage that involves rhythmic kneading and sliding strokes to relax. Fingertips are used to knead, while the entire lower arm slides soothingly across the back and legs. Spa etiquette
» Show up at least 15 to 20 minutes early for your appointment. There's nothing worse than being late, it causes later clients to have to wait because your treatment ends later than planned. Also, you'll need the extra time to change out of your clothes, rinse under the showers, warm up in the sauna or steam room, or anything to clear your head before the treatment. » Give yourself ample time to enjoy the benefits of your spa visit. Forget about planning something else right after your visit. You'll need some winding down time, as well as time to perhaps shower, have some time and even try out the jacuzzi or sauna facilities. » You're expected to remove your shoes and wear the slippers, provided. It's simply rude not to wear them. » If there's something you want to know or if you're uncomfortable with something at any time that you're on the premises, ask! It never hurts to find out if you can get an outdoor massage pavilion, or if you could use the sauna before your treatment. » Remember that trained spa therapists see hundreds or even thousands of body types and sizes. Be prepared to relax au naturel. You'll never enjoy the full relaxing effects of a spa if you're feeling so self-conscious. » Do tip therapists at destination spas in countries like Indonesia and Thailand. It'a always a nice gesture, and you'll be sure to get even better service for your next treatment. » Leave your cell phone and pager behind. The purpose of a trip to the spa is to relax and rejuvenate, not to get a massage while you think about tomorrow's presentation.