Using every sense to embellish the basics

By Hilary Nangle
Globe Correspondent / February 28, 2010

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Spa veterans are familiar with the basics and their varieties: Swedish classic long-stroke relaxation treatment; sports massage geared to a specific activity like skiing or tennis; deep tissue, for those who prefer firm pressure. In my travels, I’ve come across vaiations on the standard and some unique treatments.

I’m a fan of deep tissue massage, so when I heard the description of an ashiatsu massage at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek’s Allegria Spa in Avon, Colo., near Vail, I knew it was something I had to try. It is often referred to as barefoot massage, and appropriately so. During the massage, the therapist hangs from bars attached to the ceiling and uses her feet and body weight to achieve an extremely deep massage. 970-748-7500,, from $160 for 50 minutes

Although I had been determined to remain mentally present during my Spirit of Life treatment at the Golden Door Spa at The Boulders in Carefree, Ariz., I ended up slipping blissfully under the influence of this Ayurvedic experience. It began with a gentle exfoliation, followed by a light massage, and then a cocoon-like wrap. But when the therapist began massaging warm oil into my hair and scalp and followed that with a light facial, I was barely conscious. After nearly two hours, I had all I could do to dress and head back to my hotel room. 800-553-1717,, from $285 for 110 minutes

While traveling in Quebec, I discovered Balnea. Treatment here, like at other Nordic spas, is based on alternating hot, cold, and rest in a repeated sequence. I spent my first 15 minutes in the Turkish aromatherapy bath, followed by one tortured minute under an icy waterfall in an outdoor plunge pool, finishing up with 20 minutes in the cinema. My next sequence began in the outdoor whirlpool, progressed to a plunge in an indoor cold pool, then to a lounge chair by the aquarium. Then I combined the sauna (with panoramic windows to the snowy world outside) with a return to the waterfall and quiet time by the fire in the igloo. The result was a relaxation unlike anything I had experienced. I finished with a massage, which rendered me useless. 450-534-0604,, $35-$55 for day use, 60-minute massage begins at $85

The Delphi Mountain Resort’s Adventure Spa in County Galway, Ireland, draws its inspiration from the sea. The attendant brought me to an oversized bathroom, where a deep soaking tub had been filled with warm spring water and hand-harvested organic seaweed, which is prized for its healing properties. Such baths are reputed to ease tension, increase circulation, and moisturize skin. When the attendant departed, I immersed myself, adding hot water as necessary. When I emerged after 50 minutes I was rehydrated, relaxed, reenergized, and silky smooth. 011-353-095-42208,, $68 for 50 minutes

Then there are waves without water. That’s what the Sea Waves Massage at the oceanfront Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, delivers. The massage takes place in a room with surround sound on a massage table that vibrates gently, mimicking the rhythm of waves. The therapist uses a personalized aromatherapy oil and coordinates long, relaxing strokes to the sound of waves rolling in. 207-799-3134,, $150 for 90 minutes

And now here’s a bit of a different treatment. The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, just outside Phoenix, is owned by the Gila River Indian Community, which comprises the Pima and Maricopa tribes. Aji Spa’s treatments draw from tribal legends, lore, and practices. The Pima Medicine Massage (from $145 for 50 minutes) uses ancient Pima healing techniques, but for a completely different experience, book a healing (from $270 for 110 minutes) with Belen Stoneman. Stoneman’s healing abilities were recognized by Pima tribal elders when she was a child, and they’ve shared their wisdom with her as she has matured. She now calls herself a “baby elder,’’ and treats body, mind, and spirit using a combination of techniques. 602-225-0100,

Hilary Nangle can be reached at