Magazine article Sunset

Your 90-Minute Recharge

Magazine article Sunset

Your 90-Minute Recharge

Article excerpt

No far-out treatments or long fee lists-in the West's new style of day spas, relaxation stems from one word: simple.

There's no signal that it's time, no watch on my wrist or clock on the wall. The rhythm has taken over. Somehow I know - not really me, my body knows? - when to lift myself from the zero-gravity recliner arid amble out of the quiet room and along the path to the 104° hot popi. Robe off, flip-flops off, glide to a perch opposite the rocky cascade, with a view of the surrounding hillside.

I'm going with the flow at Refuge, a new day spa in Carmel, California, following its suggested recipe for total relaxation: Heat up for 10 minutes, cool down for ?, relax for 15, repeat. At my disposal is a veritable arsenal of stress relievers: a cedar sauna, a eucalyptus steam room, io pools of varying temperatures, recliners that make you feel weightless, and Adirondack chairs lined up with views of the hillside, or circled around mesmerizing fi répits. Yet despite all the options, I never feel like I have to choose among them. Rather, I just drift one way or the other when the moment is right.

"We recommend you do the cycle three to five times to really get the feeling," says businessman Scot McKay, who opened Refuge a little more than a year ago as a sort of anti-spa - or anti- the type of spa that requires a long weekend and half a year's salary to visit. It has no superfood cafe or body polish treatments, masks, wraps, esoteric peels, or facials, each with its own sub-tier of add-on pricing. "All those things are distractions to really relaxing," he says.

Instead, Refuge is a kind of mini retreat, blending elements of Western Zen centers, natural hot springs, and European soaking traditions with modest pricing (and decorum - it's always coed, with swimsuits required) to attract a mainstream crowd looking for an afternoon away from it all. "I call it a break-cation," says McKay.

It's time to leave the hot pool for the cold plunge. Normally, I'd linger at the edge, tensing and dipping a toe in to test the water. But I'm on autopilot, and the cold water doesn't so much brace as reawaken before it's time to lounge again.

[Sidebar]

Warm pool or hot pool?" is the toughest decision you'd face at Refuge soaking spa.

[Sidebar]

WHY IT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD

Soaking in warm water causes your nervous system to lower blood pressure, slow brain activity, and increase circulation, says Dr. Bruce Becker, director of the sports medicine institute at Washington State University. A cold plunge triggers a "fight or flight" response. Return to warm, and the physiological changes "are felt as pleasurable."

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP Rather than pushing fancy treatments, down-to-earth day spas like Refuge focus on basics such as soaking pools of different temperatures, a steam room, sauna, and relaxing fire.

10 SIMPLE DAY SPAS

While the atmosphere and treatment options vary at these soaking centers, they all have "aah" in common.

1 CARMEL, CA Refuge, see story at left. Admission $39; refuge.com

2 SAN FRANCISCO Archimedes Banya, which opened in a fivestory building in India Basin a year ago, isa choose-your-own adventure of steam, sauna, soaking pools, whirlpool tub, TV and recliner room, clothing-optional rooftop deck with bay views, and surprisingly delicious Russian-style cafe. You even choose the level of modesty: The coedall-the-time facility has clothing-optional and clothing-required areas. Admission $30/3 hours; banyasf.com

3 PALO ALTO, CA A pioneer in West Coast soaking spas, the Asian-style Watercourse Way doesn't do communal baths. …

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