Author Archive

Stressed out? 5 spas that will help soothe body and soul

by Sheryl Jean

Chicago Tribune

Osmosis Day Spa Meditation GardenThe baby is crying, the dog just knocked over your coffee and you have a report due in 30 minutes.

Sound like an average day? That’s life. It’s complicated and filled with stress. Because stress is so pervasive, it may be one of the most underrated causes of health problems, including ulcers, heart disease and diabetes. Up to 85 percent of all health-related problems are linked to stress, according to research by B.L. Seaward, executive director of The Paramount Wellness Institute in Boulder, Colo.

In today’s digital world, people are under more stress than ever. Call it information overload.

More than a third of American adults experienced increased stress last year and more reported extreme stress, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association.

Yet, stress is natural. It’s the body’s way of reacting to physical and emotional demands. The key is how you manage stress — and that’s led to an explosion of spas and treatments.

“Positive forms of stress, such as birth, a new job and marriage, can help the growth of neural pathways and rewire the brain to adapt as needed,” said David R. Vago, an associate psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory. “But if stress stays too long and you don’t recover soon enough, it can have long-term physical effects.”

Research shows that relaxation methods — from meditation and hydrotherapy to massage and other spa-like treatments — can help reduce stress, increase a sense of well-being and improve health.

Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, coined the term “relaxation response” years ago as an approach to relieve stress and lower blood pressure and heart rate.

The idea is to “break the chain of everyday thinking, which is often done through repetition of words, sound, prayers or movement,” Benson said. Similar techniques are found in scores of spa offerings — from yoga to tai chi, he said.

A day spa may be the easiest and least expensive relaxation method.

Day spas

Posh Chuan Spa on the fourth floor the Langham Hotel in downtown Chicago bases its treatments on the holistic approach of traditional Chinese medicine.

“This isn’t gimmicky,” said Director of Spa William Wesley Myers. This isn’t something new. This is ancient tradition.”

Spa guests fill out a questionnaire to determine which of the five Wu Xing elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) needs the most balancing. The spa employs an Oriental medicine master, and a 30-minute consultation is required for anyone wanting a traditional Chinese medicine treatment.

Before an appointment, visitors can relax in a Himalayan salt sauna or herbal steam room, take a cool aromatherapy rain shower or swim in the 67-foot-long pool. Afterward, they can sip tea and experience sensory therapy while lounging in the Dream Room.

Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in the hamlet of Freestone, Calif., is best known for its Cedar Enzyme Bath ($99), a Japanese heat therapy in which the whole body is submerged in a fermenting mixture of soft ground cedar and rice bran that boosts metabolic activity. But the real secret of this boutique spa about 60 miles northwest of San Francisco is its several Zen-inspired gardens.

Find nirvana strolling through the Japanese meditation garden — designed with help from a Zen priest — or laze in a cushioned hammock while listening to soothing sounds.

Owner Michael Stusser, who studied Zen meditation and landscape gardening in Japan, sees nature as a key part of healing. “It helps arrest people’s standard MO,” he said. “Our basic intention from day one was to reduce tension.”

Meditation and yoga

Rolling Meadows Retreat in tiny Brooks, Maine, adds silence to meditation and yoga, which “requires people to look inward” and away from the distractions of modern life, said Surya Chandra Das, co-owner with his wife, Patricia Brown. Its four- and seven-day retreats on a restored 1840s New England farm are limited to 11 people.

It’s all about being completely unplugged at this country haven about 200 miles north of Boston. Rolling Meadows doesn’t offer spa services, and cell phones, novels or magazines aren’t allowed, but visitors can swim in a pond or meander across its 100 acres.

Danika Jefferson Leeks, a busy single mom of an 11-year-old boy and small business owner in the Dallas area, can attest to the healing power of yoga.

“I’m juggling a lot of balls,” said Leeks, who attended an ashram in the Bahamas last year and plans to go on a six-day yoga retreat in Belize this month. “I do it to reduce stress and step away from my life for 60 to 90 minutes.”

From desert to water

If the desert is your thing, head to Miraval Resort and Spa, a luxury retreat on 400 acres outside Tucson, Ariz., to learn how to better manage your stress.

Its “mindful stress mastery” class — complementary to resort and spa guests — highlights the roots of stress and how to better regulate reaction to stress. Its “living a true life in balance” class teaches people how to balance a busy life by examining daily choices.

Miraval also offers a long list of treatments, such as floating meditation and Himalayan sound therapy, walking trails and a labyrinth. This year, the spa renovated its guest rooms, lobby and lounge.

Remember “Calgon, take me away!” The phrase was used in 1970s advertisements touting home bubble baths as a way to melt away stress. Hydrotherapy — water, steam or ice — has been used since ancient times to improve health.

You might recognize the brand Kohler from your bathroom faucet, but Kohler Co. also runs several spas that offer therapeutic water treatment.

Its flagship Kohler Waters Spa in Kohler, Wis., about two hours north of Chicago, links to a five-star hotel. If you don’t want to drive that far, Kohler runs a day spa in Burr Ridge, about 20 miles south of downtown Chicago.

“We’re all about the therapeutic benefits of water — the use of water for well-being and relieving discomfort and stress,” said Garrett Mersberger, director of Kohler Water Spas and development at Kohler Co. It also offers some therapies specifically for men.

Treatments, such as massage, with Kohler’s Vichy shower help wash away stress, Mersberger said. A sleek, horizontal shower bar with six tiles hangs over a table and sprays in a random pattern, which helps people sink into a deep state of relaxation, he said.

Visitors also can lounge in the relaxation pool with an 8-foot waterfall or a plunge into a cool pool. Waterfalls are even built into the walls so the sound of falling water is ever-present.

“Water is essential to life,” Mersberger said. “It absolutely can help stress.”

If you go

Chuan Spa, Chicago, www.chuanspa.com/en/Chicago: Day spa prices start at $175, depending on the season and treatment. Langham Hotel rooms start at $395 per night for two people.

Kohler Waters Spa, Kohler, Wis., www.americanclubresort.com/spa: Day spa prices start at $70, and hydrotherapy starts at $170. Packages (spa and hotel) start at $199 and go up to $429 per person/per night.

Miraval Resort and Spa, Tucson, Ariz., www.miravalresorts.com: Spa and lodging packages start at $499 per person per night, including meals. Day spa services start at $199 with some complimentary services and lunch.

Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, Freestone, Calif., www.osmosis.com: Prices at this day spa start at $99.

Rolling Meadows Retreat, Brooks, Maine, http://rollingmeadowsretreat.com: Prices for retreats with lodging start at $650 for four days.

Sheryl Jean is a freelancer.

Stressed out

More than one-third of American adults (34 percent) reported increased levels of stress last year, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association. And 78 percent reported at least one stress symptom, such as headaches or trouble sleeping.

Top reasons for stress

1. Money: 67 percent

2. Work: 65 percent

3. Family responsibilities: 54 percent

4. Personal health issues: 51 percent

5. Family health problems: 50 percent

6. The economy: 50 percent

SOURCE: American Psychological Association 2015 Stress in America survey

Garden Journal for Autumn 2016

japanese garden master pruner

by Michael Alliger

Astrologers say that August is the gateway to autumn and here in Sonoma County that seems to be so true as we see the light become more golden, trees turning color and we sense the occasional cool lilt to a breeze. Changing seasons always brings pause to the garden and the gardener. Autumn is especially a time for reflection; spiritually, soulfully, and in the garden.  Looking back we may ask: what have we accomplished?  Which of our plans have reached fruition? Which are still developing?  And our reflection may lead us forward.  What will we be focusing on this winter, time of dormancy, by way of preparation for spring?

Yet autumnal weather also offers us some opportunities for pruning and general garden care.  Here in Northern California while the season becomes milder we know that there is a likely possibility for high temperatures still to come.  This is an excellent time to replenish garden mulch with a nutrient rich compost or humus-y blend.  This will help retain precious moisture as we enter the driest period of the year. Here at Osmosis we prefer composted material rather than mere bark for mulching because plants get the added benefit of natural fertilizing as the winter rains leach nutrients into the soil. Along similar lines it’s important that drip irrigation remain functional and on even as expectations of rain increase.

Hinoki japanese tree pruning

Hinoki Tree – Unpruned and Pruned

Falling Leaves


It may go without saying that the falling autumn leaves demand regular raking and sweeping.  Not only the paths and beds are swept, but the plants themselves which collect fallen leaves must be groomed daily.  The large bay trees along Salmon Creek bordering our garden seem to be among the first to drop, though being evergreen their color show is limited to a cinnamon brown.  It is interesting to note that nearby redwood trees are also losing leaves at this time.  Even evergreen trees lose leaves in autumn; though with conifers and other evergreens it is subtler than with deciduous trees and may even bring alarm at first sight.  At Osmosis we have a number of hinoki trees (a species of Chamaecyparis) whose inner leaves turn brown though they tend to persist until brushed off, another seasonal chore.

Conifers

Hinoki japanese meditation garden trees

Hinoki Tree – Unpruned & Pruned

With regards to pruning this is an excellent time to attend to some of the projects that the busy spring and summer postpone.  Many of our conifers (junipers, spruce, cedar) are tended to now.  In the event of a spike in heat they are generally tough enough to bear it without signs of stress while their slow-growing nature allows them to be pruned just once a year.  We also find time to address some of the background material: a large domed English laurel,  California myrtle hedges,  and sheared yews, for example.

At Osmosis we employ the Japanese garden approach to these shrubs wherein we value the older wood for its character and clear some of the young upstart shoots.

A number of other semi-focal or auxiliary plants receive attention now.  Nandinas may be thinned and shaped.  The European or western approach might be to cut away the old growth in an effort to “renovate” the plant.  A beautiful and delicate plant is the Pieris japonica which is actually related to manzanita and rhododendron.  Like it’s two relatives pieris sets its spring flowers in summer/fall.

Magnolias

Conflicting with these developing flowers are last springs spent flower parts and this is a perfect opportunity to clean these off though it takes a careful eye to distinguish the two at first. Late summer/fall is an excellent time for cutback, thinning and styling of magnolia trees.  Magnolias represent another instance of a plant setting flower buds in fall for spring show.  Magnolias are amongst the first of the spring blooms and here in Northern California they’ll actually be opening in January and February.  This limits the notion of winter pruning since we try to interfere with flowering as little as possible while making the tree’s overall appearance exemplary.  Pruning in late summer allows enough time for the tree to establish flower buds to replace any lost through shaping.

Fall is the recommended time for thinning bamboo.  Thinning bamboo is important because it allows the coming spring’s energy to go into making sturdier more demonstrative culms (shoots).   Thinning also reduces the plant’s urge to spread as it has more internal space with less crowding.  Fall is also a good time to apply slow release organic fertilizer to bamboo thus encouraging the best new growth in spring.

autumn in freestone at osmosis day spa sanctuaryWhile there are specific tasks for fall the brief pause can be welcomed with an out-breath of gratitude for all that has gone before and the deep rest that garden life will receive during  the coming winter.

 

Forest Bathing at Osmosis

by Michael Stusserforest bathing shinrin yoku

Beyond our daily routines and to-do lists the world goes on with or with out us. The world of nature is generating its serene healing energy abundantly all the time if we could simply open ourselves to receive it. When, where and how we make our connection to this larger-than-human world is part grace, part circumstance and partly up to us. As we drive back and forth continuously in our cars and in our minds between the same points daily, our connection with nature and ourselves can unconsciously erode to the point where we hardly know much at all about our true selves.

The Big Question

What could one do in the time span of a day to go deep into a direct experience with nature and inner truth? We have been turning this question for over 30 years as we have developed our facilities, grounds and the way we serve at Osmosis.

From day one a core intention has been to create a meditative environment. The deep level of relaxation from spa treatments opens the door to greater sensory awareness, quietude and receptivity to present moment.

Shinrin Yoku Forest Bathing

What is Forest Bathing?

Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is a relatively new movement that is growing rapidly in Japan and around the world. The lead proponent in the United States is Amos Clifford, founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. He has provided training to establish programs at several different spas. The spa environment could be an especially effective gateway to an optimal forest bathing experience.

Amos has worked as a wilderness guide since 1972, pioneered eco-therapy programs connecting troubled teens to nature, worked in the arena of Restorative Justice and is the founder of Sky Creek Dharma (Zen) Center in Chico.

Shinrin-yoku” is a term that means, “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest.

The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved. 

We have always known this intuitively. But in the past several decades there have been many scientific studies that are demonstrating the mechanisms behind the healing effects of simply being in wild and natural areas. By breathing in the essential oils produced by trees (known as phytoncides), forest bathers can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and restlessness. These organic compounds support our “NK” (natural killer) cells that are part of our immune system.

Forest therapy approaches such as Shinrin-yoku have roots in many cultures throughout history. John Muir wrote, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” He is one of many people who can be included when we think about the origins of the practice.

Forest Therapy combines leisurely walks on gentle paths under forest canopy with guided activities and meditations to help you open your senses, hone your intuition, and experience the forest, as you never have before. It draws upon mindfulness meditation practices, and the techniques of deep nature connection mentoring. The Way of Council for group discussions is also used at several points along the walk, to help participants learn from and teach each other.

Evolution for Expanded Awareness

Blending spa treatments with elements such as mindfulness practice and focused nature experiences such as Forest Bath present an exciting evolution for expanded awareness. As pioneers in the wellness and vitality movement, we at Osmosis look forward to providing special opportunities for individuals to make their connection to the larger-than-human world of nature.

amos clifford**The inaugural day-long spa Forest Bathing retreat at Osmosis with M. Amos Clifford, the founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. Along with Nicole Daspit, a Certified Forest Therapy Guide took place in 2016. Amos facilitated a series of invitations that progressively deepened connection with the more-than-human world of nature.

His perspective is that the forest itself is the therapist; as a guide, he opens the doors of sensing, embodiment, and presence that allow the forest to come into a person’s consciousness and do its healing work. We will be breaking new ground by combining the tension releasing benefits of our unique Cedar Enzyme Bath, 75-minute massage and a specially tailored program of Forest Bathing combined with time in our tranquil meditation garden.

Check our Event Page Here for our next Forest Bathing Retreat!

Top 10 Outdoor Activities in West Sonoma County

Nature is Our Sanctuary

More and more data is revealing that spending time outdoors can actually make you healthier. Escaping to the woods, mountains or a walk along the beach helps both your body and your brain. At Osmosis, we recognize communion with nature is a key element to healing, rejuvenation and mental and physical wellness.

Our extensive grounds are designed to give our guests unique experiences in nature. From enjoying a massage in one of our creekside Pagodas, sound healing in our Field of Hammocks, or a relaxing stroll through our Japanese inspired meditation gardens, we have you covered!

We feel very blessed to be located in West Sonoma County with so many scenic wonders. Bodega Bay and the rugged Sonoma Coast are just minutes away along with charming redwood ringed Freestone and Occidental—there is so much outdoor allurement in West Sonoma County this time of year! The Sonoma Coast offers some of the most spectacular grandeur in all of California. Rolling hills with rich biodiversity meet the wild Pacific Ocean on Sonoma County’s 62-mile stunning coastline.

For your end of summer enjoyment, we have compiled a list of our Top 10 Outdoor Activities in West Sonoma County that can actually make us healthier. Read on to learn more.

Infinity HikeHIKINGPomo Canyon Trail – One of the best hikes in Sonoma County, the Pomo Canyon to Shell Beach hike offers a little bit of everything, from towering redwoods to pounding surf, from ferny dells to ridge-top vistas.

KAYAKINGWaterTreks – Where the river meets the waves in the heart of Sonoma Coast State  Park and the Greater Farallones Sanctuary

STAND UP PADDLE BOARDING – Located in the heart of the Wine Country, just south of Healdsburg, Russian River Paddle Boards offers both tours and rentals on some of the  most undisturbed and pristine bodies of water in the county.

ZIP LININGSonoma Canopy Tours – Marvel at panoramic forest views and deep ravines. Discover the world-famous California Coastal Redwoods in a way you never imagined.

BICYCLINGWest County Regional Trail – The West County Regional & Joe Rodota Trails are built along land that was once the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway, a line that linked Petaluma and Santa Rosa with Sebastopol and Forestville. The trails total fourteen miles long. The trails are paved for walking, bicycle riding, and roller skating.

WATCH THE SUNSETBodega Bay – Enjoy spectacular sunsets along this shallow, rocky inlet of the Pacific Ocean on the coast of Northern California in the United States.

SURFINGSalmon Creek State Beach – North Salmon Creek Beach is right off Coast Highway 1 just north of Bodega Bay. Surfers areOsmosis happy couple often out in the waves north of the river mouth.

FISHINGRussian River – Summer’s warm water provides small and large mouth bass, along with bluegill—the slow, lazy waters provide easy fishing from the banks. You can also fish from a boat. Drop in a line and let the day float by.

CAMPING – There are four camping areas in Sonoma Coast State Park. Bodega Dunes Campground is the campground with the most amenities. Wright’s Beach Campground is a little less fancy. Willow Creek Campground and Pomo Canyon Campground are what the state of California calls “Environmental Camps” or primitive camping areas.

FARMERS MARKETSOccidental Farmers Market – Friday evenings from 5-8 p.m. June through October this quaint town comes alive! Great food vendors, live music and a unique mix of West County Locals. Sebastopol Farmers Market – Every Sunday all year round from 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Russian River Farmers Market – Stop by the Guerneville Farmers Market and have a family dinner with the wonderful selection of goodies for everyone, from fresh fruit and vegetables to baked goods. You can even get made to order food as well. This is a great way to spend a Thursday night!

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” –Henry David Thoreau

Healthy Summer Skin Solutions

Choosing a Safe Sunscreen

The long days of summer are here and increased exposure to UV rays is something we all need to be aware of. Are you prepared to protect your skin during this time of increased outdoor activity? We hope to offer some helpful solutions for your summer skin that are safe and simple to implement.

Prolonged sun exposure can lead to premature aging of the skin, wrinkling, as well as suppression of the immune system. Covering up, wearing a hat, limiting exposure during peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and using sunscreen are just a few ways to protect yourself while outdoors.

If using sunscreen, it is important to choose a product that is safe for your skin and also has broad spectrum protection, meaning it effectively protects against significant portions of both the ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) ranges of the light spectrum. The Environmental Working Group (EWG)* discovered that 80% of sunscreens on the market offer “inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients.” One ingredient commonly found in non-mineral sunscreens is oxybenzone. This chemical is a common UV filter in sunscreen and can disrupt the hormone system.

Classic vs. Mineral Sunscreen

Another important factor in choosing a sunscreen is classic vs. mineral. Classic and Mineral sunscreens are differentiated by their active sun protection ingredients. Classic sunscreens use chemical (also commonly referred to as “non-mineral” or “traditional”) active ingredients designed to absorb and dissipate UVA/UVB rays, while Mineral sunscreens use mineral (also commonly referred to as “physical”) active ingredients such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide to scatter and reflect UVA/UVb rays. Since mineral actives are not absorbed into the skin these formulas are less irritating to sensitive skin and are also less likely to be absorbed into the bloodstream as “traditional” actives are.

COOLA Mineral Travel Set

COOLA Mineral Travel Set

At Osmosis, we currently offer COOLA brand sunscreen. COOLA uses as many ingredients as possible that are natural, organic, sustainable and locally sourced. Green, yet still luxurious, each of their high performance products protect and nourish the skin with vitamins and age-defying antioxidants, while remaining free of parabens, paba, petroleum and phthalates. Additionally, they formulate with Plant Protection® rather than Oxybenzone, which allows them to achieve clinically tested, broad spectrum and antioxidant-rich protections while using fewer traditional actives. Better for your skin, better for the environment. COOLA also offers both Mineral and Traditional active based sunscreens, using the healthiest active ingredients possible!

This month we are featuring our COOLA Mineral Travel Set, which includes a quartet of COOLA’s bestselling luxury mineral sun care must haves, all in TSA approved carry-on sizes! These high-performance products protect and nourish the skin with vitamins and age-defying antioxidants, while remaining free of undesirable chemicals. All in a reusable, travel-friendly and limited edition COOLA travel clutch! Order yours now just in time for Summer!

Additional Info

*EWG provides information on sunscreen products from the published scientific literature, to supplement incomplete data available from companies and the government.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) sunscreen guide reviewed more than 1,700 SPF products like sunscreens, lip balms and moisturizers.

Since 2007, they have found a dramatic increase in the availability of mineral-only sunscreens, doubling from 17 percent of products to 34 percent in 2016. Sunscreens using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide tend to rate well in their analysis: They are stable in sunlight, offer a good balance between protection from the two types of ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) and don’t often contain potentially harmful additives.

Oxybenzone is a common UV filter in sunscreen. It is a hormone disruptor and allergen. Sampling by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection has detected it in the urine of 97 percent of Americans. Despite emerging concerns, the sunscreen industry continues to rely heavily on oxybenzone as an active ingredient: it was in 70 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens evaluated for this year’s guide.