By Betsy Malloy
Osmosis Day Spa is a Japanese-style spa, opened in 1985 by Michael Stusser, who discovered enzyme baths in Japan, where he studied landscape gardening and Zen. For Stusser, the experience was life-changing and he resolved to bring the treatment to the United States.
Osmosis offers massage and facial treatments, but the Cedar Enzyme Bath is their signature treatment. It works like this: finely ground cedar-shavings, rice bran and Japanese plant enzymes are mixed, and the natural fermentation generates heat.
Clients sit covered in the mixture, absorbing the relaxing warmth. Besides the obvious benefits from the heat, some people also report improved digestion or a feeling of elation, attributed to the action of the enzymes.
Osmosis is a medium-sized facility, small enough to feel comfortable give individual attention. The main building is surrounded by a beautiful Japanese-style garden. If your treatment ends before dark, you can spend some time relaxing in the garden afterward.
Osmosis also takes great pride in being environmentally responsible, using natural products.
Review of Osmosis Spa
On my visit, I had a cedar enzyme bath and a Zen Harmony facial, skipping a massage because I’d just had one a few days before. However, after seeing their beautiful outdoor massage pagodas, private and heated yet open to nature, I wished I’d scheduled a massage as well.
The enzyme bath began with a cup of tea, blended specially blended to enhance the bath’s effect. My attendant served me the tea, told me about the steps we’d be going through and left me to enjoy a view of the gardens while she prepared my bath.
In a few minutes, I climbed in and she covered me with the cedar mixture. It felt a little like being buried in sand on the beach. I spent about 20 minutes in it, with the attendant coming in frequently to offer water and cooling towels. After emerging from the bath, I showered to remove all the shavings. If the enzyme bath is a client’s only treatment, they’ll be wrapped in a blanket and taken to a resting area afterward, but went on to my next treatment, a Zen Harmony facial.
In general, I’m not a big fan of facials. I find only minimal improvement immediately afterward and most of that is gone within a day or two. However, the Zen Harmony facial at Osmosis is something different, a combination of skin care treatments, a delicate Japanese facial massage and arm/leg massages. Owner Michael Stusser says having a client get so relaxed that they fall asleep is a therapist’s highest compliment, one that my esthetician Amy received as I drifted off about half way through.
Even better than the relaxing aspects of the treatment, my skin looked better for more than two weeks, smoother and with tighter pores, and I’m now regretting not having purchased the products Amy recommended to take home. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you can order some of their products online.
What You Need to Know About Osmosis
Osmosis gets fully booked on most weekends and holidays. Reserve at least two weeks ahead to avoid disappointment. They have a 48-hour cancellation policy. Arrive for your appointment at least fifteen minutes ahead of time.
Gratuities are optional, but 15 to 20 percent of the price of the service is typical. As you check out, you’ll receive envelopes that allow you to tip each attendant you individually.
You will be provided with lockers, robes, and towels. You may also find it easier to get all the cedar shavings off after the enzyme bath if you wear a swimsuit. However, the best way to receive a massage is with the body completely unclothed. The therapist is sensitive to the need for privacy and will keep your body draped at all times with a sheet, except for the area being massaged. If this arrangement is not comfortable for you, you may wear underwear or a swimsuit.
Anyone who is under a doctor’s care should check with them before taking any treatments. High-temperature treatments like the enzyme baths are not recommended for pregnant women.
You will be buried up to your neck in the cedar shavings for about 20 minutes. If you’re claustrophobic, you may want to choose a different treatment instead.
Getting to Osmosis
Osmosis is located in Freestone, west of Sebastopol in Sonoma County, about 1.5 hours’ drive north of San Francisco. You can find directions from anywhere in California at their website.
The second place I visited with my friend Kazuko Takahashi was in the middle of Tokyo. From what we have learned it is typical of the majority of the many small family enzyme bath establishments found in all parts of Japan.
Last fall my friend Duke from Ten Thousand waves, the Japanese style hot tub spa in Santa Fe New Mexico, forwarded me an article about the enzyme bath published in the Japan Timessuggesting there was growing interest in this esoteric therapy.
This article became the impetus to visit Japan for the first time in many years.