Wine Optional: The Five Best Ways to Unwind in Sonoma County

by Katie Chang

Forbes

Pagoda massage osmosis day spaWhile most people flock to Sonoma County for its world-class wines, low-key vibes, and exquisite natural backdrop – it encompasses more than 1,600 square miles, with seemingly endless lush, rolling hills and stretches of clear sky – there’s more to chilling out in wine country than, well, wine.

The area also happens to be home to a bevy of exceptional spas, and other surprising sources of well-being and health. So here, I share the five best ways to unwind in Sonoma County (wine totally optional)

Pools and Cabines at Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Plan in advance to score a reservation (especially during weekends) at this sparkling, 3,600 square-foot swimming pool, located at one of Sonoma’s most celebrated wineries. Why? For starters, it’s among the few truly family-friendly spots in the area. Plus, the European-inspired Cabines – there’s 28 available – offer private changing rooms and showers, towels, shaded lounge chairs, and 4 complimentary Sofia Mini singles. If you’re in the mood to burn some calories, try your hand at bocce ball at one of the adjacent regulation-sized courts. And when the pool closes in the evening, beeline to RUSTIC, Francis’s Favorites for dinner. The winery’s bustling restaurant features the celebrated director’s favorite dishes, including Habit-Forming Ribs, Marrakesh Lamb, and Mrs. Scorsese’s Lemon Chicken. If you can snag a table outdoors when the weather’s fine, you’ll be rewarded with some pretty breathtaking views, too.

Sonoma Golf Club and Willow Stream Spa at The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

This storied Sonoma property is practically faultless on all counts, and its spa and neighboring golf club are no exception. The Willow Stream is a spacious and airy oasis offering an extensive list of specialty treatments, which fall into three categories: relieve,restore, and results. No matter what you select, though, arrive at least an hour early to take advantage of the signature bathing ritual, which includes use of an exfoliating shower, mineral water soaking pools, herbal steam, dry sauna, and cool down showers. In a more active mood? Set up a tee time at the Sonoma Golf Club. The scenic course is lush and immaculately maintained, very walkable, offers water – so you don’t have to lug around your own bottle – at each hole, and plays fast. (It’s mostly local players who know the course well).

The Spa at Farmhouse Inn

Understated yet luxurious, this spa is totally one of a kind. The space has a rustic design – think whitewashed wood, paintings of horses by artist Tina Wainwright, and sliding barn doors. Naturally, the treatments also draw inspiration from the farm, and many of the ingredients used are sourced from the inn’s gardens and neighboring purveyors. Seeking a custom-tailored experience? Try The Personal Apothecary, so you can select your favorite blend of oils for a wrap, scrub, or massage. I opted for the house best seller, Catherine’s Favorite. It’s a blissful duo combining a lavender-orange hair and scalp treatment with a lavender-tangerine body massage and foot treatment. I was lulled into such a deep state of relaxation, I snoozed off mid-session more than once.

Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

Founded by Michael Stusser in 1985, Osmosis is so much more than a spa. Over the years, it’s evolved into a true haven of well-being, complete with meditation gardens, a Japanese tea garden, Field of Hammocks, and even pagodas – where you can experience bodywork in true privacy and peace. But Osmosis’ claim to fame is the Japanese-inspired Cedar Enzyme Bath Experience. Exclusive to the spa, it involves being submerged in a tub filled with a finely ground mixture of fermented evergreens and rice bran. An attendant periodically checks in with cool water and towels for your forehead – the fermentation process naturally creates heat, so you’ll start sweating quickly. After 20 minutes, you shower off and can continue with a massage, sound therapy (music intended to lower brain wave activity for a calming effect), or a light, healthful lunch.

The Spa at Hotel Healdsburg

They aren’t the first to pioneer the farm-to-spa movement, but the spa at Hotel Healdsburg is certainly raising the bar when it comes to using the natural bounty of Sonoma – like wine grapes, meyer lemon, lavender, and honey – to nourish your skin and soothe your soul. In the Meyer Lemon Massage, for example, your therapist works out even the toughest, most stubborn knots with a whipped, lightly fragranced body cream – as opposed to oil, which can leave you feeling uncomfortably slick. While the facilities themselves are fairly fuss-free and standard, the care and technique delivered is top notch. And when the weather’s warm, retreat to the charming courtyard to unwind even further post-treatment, or take a dip in the pool and jacuzzi.

TWEET THIS

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

Osmosis represented at International Japanese Garden Conference

garden bird

by Michael Stusser

Over 150 delegates from around the world gathered the National Japanese Garden Association Conference at the Morikami Gardens in West Palm Beach Florida March 7th and 8th. Leading experts from Japan and Europe along with US counterparts provided two days of inspiring content at the home of one of the most celebrated Japanese Gardens in the United States.

The conference theme was: Towards a Healthier World – Japanese Gardens As Places For Wellness and Transformation.  The healing effects of this beloved landscape garden art form was presented from many perspectives ranging from public settings, studies of gardens built in the WWII Japanese internment camps, therapeutic settings and Zen Buddhist temples. In several fascinating presentations researchers presented their findings of scientific data on the effects of Japanese gardens on Alzheimer patients, hospice patience and community members with various handicaps. It was a profound confirmation of this fine tradition.

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The Osmosis garden fit right into this program.

Meditation garden designer Robert Ketchell came from England to join Osmosis founder Michael Stusser and pruning expert Michael Alliger to present the story of the spa’s unique meditation garden, how it cultivates awareness, tells a story beyond words, and nurtures a mood of repose. 

The 90-minute Osmosis session highlighted the founding intentions and collegial collaboration that seeded the success of the project. From the perspective of pruning it was shown how: anticipation and patience play out over time in ways that remind us of humility available to us in everyday life; the use of native plants reinforces a sense of place and human context in nature; the equanimity of empty space is shaped by pruning and design. The intimacy of detailed pruning techniques leads to a recognition of the unseen world of spirit.

The designer explained his use of narrative to engage garden viewers with his use of the Ox-herding parable from Zen as a way to guide on the journey to liberation. It was shown how spa programs use the garden for ritual; meditation, classes, and relaxation serve the deeper purpose of Osmosis  to synergize the renaissance in the healing arts taking place in our culture along with the distinct healing properties that have been identified in horticultural therapy. These elements along with the quest for awakening seeded by the arrival of Buddhism in America reflected in the Zen parable make for a potent combination.

The Ox herding story is cast in stone in the landscape garden. This parable is both the physical and physic heart of Osmosis. We cannot avoid being reminded of it each time we visit the garden. Every day the alchemy of this ancient tale works its magic on the hearts and souls of guests and workers alike.

Osmosis presence at this prestigious international gathering allowed us to join into the growing association among builders and curators of Japanese gardens who are focused on the healing aspects of this treasured art form.

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Left to right: Robert Ketchell, Michael Alliger, Michael Stusser and Martin Mosko

The Season of Renewal

Primed by the barrenness of winter, the renewal of spring inspires awe at the site of the smallest sprout emerging from the soil. Witnessing a tree glow with color again encourages hope for our own renewal. If we want to find inspiration in the blossoming tree and the sprouting seedling, we must also recognize the ecosystem supporting their growth and the often ignored interdependence of nature. Our society has lionized the rugged individual and forgotten the nourishing collective.

There is a revitalization that comes through connection. Our species thrives in an ecosystem of relationships and community. Vital gatherings catalyze the transformation and growth that we hope to experience as individuals and as a collective. 

The modern culture of consumption has eroded fundamental aspects of connection. Some aspects of community have been tragically absent since the demise of tribal and village culture. But our interdependent nature remains part of us; if unfulfilled, it is replaced with grief.

During this season of renewal, take cue from the soil teaming with myriad organisms that support one another in bringing forth new growth. Let yourself be nourished by the exquisite ecosystem of life. Partake in inspired gatherings.

Your first Cedar Enzyme Bath: A Self-love Story

You listen to your body

Stress fogs your mind and creeps into corners of your body. Joints and muscles ache from the burdens of life. Some nights you have trouble sleeping. Digestion issues are emerging. Your body is communicating imbalances to you. Finally, you listen. You need treatment. Searching for “Health Spa In Northern California,” you come across Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary and the Cedar Enzyme Bath. “Enzymes,” you wonder, “like the enzymes you take to help your digestive organs?” It seems strange but intriguing. The reviews sound positive, almost too good to be true. The photos of beautiful Zen gardens draw you in. What the heck, it’s worth a try. You book an appointment online.

Arriving at Osmosis

Driving into Freestone, CA, you marvel that these quaint little townships still exist. When you get out of your car at the spa, you feel a clean moisture on your skin and in your lungs.  Ahhhh, the ocean isn’t far. Every square inch of this part of the world is lush and seems to have received a special blessing from mother nature. You walk into stunningly architected gardens, like a layered sculpture of the elements. The terrace has the glow of lush Northern California landscape but the restraint and precision of a meticulously pruned Zen garden.

Walking into the spa, the aroma of wood and herbs strike you. The receptionist welcomes you and details how you will be guided through the bath experience. She seems to answer all of your questions before you’ve had the chance to ask them: how you’ll know when it’s time to go into the bath, what your options for clothing in the bath are, what you should do if you feel uncomfortable or have questions at any time, and what the steps are following the bath. This is a safe place, you can relax. Attendants will guide you.

Tea Ceremony

You’re guided by a kind woman named Shelley down a clean hallway. There’s a monk-like quality about her and this whole place feels like a temple. Peaceful. Meditative. Shelley leads you to a small room that opens up to an stunning courtyard garden and pond. It looks like you’re gazing at a framed picture, it is one of the most pristine gardens you’ve ever seen. “Am I still in the US?” you question for a moment. Shelley serves you tea and offers you a cushion to relax on. The tea is mellow and fragrant. The attendant tells you that the tea has enzymes in it that will heal your body from the inside out. That sounds wonderful! Healing from the inside out. You hadn’t quite thought of a trip to a spa in those terms before. While you knew that your body needed some love and attention—some deep relaxation—you’re starting to think that this enzyme bath experience might be more transformative than you’d anticipated. You take a deep breath and imagine the enzymes in the tea entering your organs. You hope that they’re combating the less-than-ideal foods that you’ve been indulging on lately.

The Cedar Enzyme Bath

Your told that it’s time for the bath and Shelley guides you from the tea room to the tub room. It’s warm and steamy. You’re struck by the size of these beautiful, wooden tubs. Their design reminds you of a Japanese architecture. A wall of windows to your right looks out to another incredible garden. This garden is more expansive and airy. You can see the steam rising off of the auburn-colored mixture in the tub. It’s hard to believe that it’s contents are finely ground cedar and rice bran! You dip your hand in to feel it out, the way one dips their toes in a pool to test the water before jumping in. The bath feels fluffy and soft, you spread the mixture across the back of your hand and you already sense the oils seeping into your skin.  Immediately you want to make the plunge.

Getting into the tub is easy. The mindful attendant has already explained to you how to climb into the nice little canal that’s been dug for you. Then Shelley covers your body with the mixture. As the soft, heavy mixture encapsulates you, a layer of tension escapes. The mixture is pillowy but supportive. Like the best kind of mattress only this supportively shapes to the most comfortable posture for your body. Once you’ve found your ideal position, the attendant piles more of the mixture over the top of you and makes a small mound just behind your neck to provide perfect support for your head and spine. Another layer of tension evaporates from between your shoulder blades and down the middle of your back. You want to burrow yourself inside this bath and never get out. Your whole body is pulsing with warm energy. You notice it in your toes, then in your knees and ankles. Your joints actually feel good. The warmth of the bath is permeating your entire being in a way that is gentle yet very powerful. Now you understand what “warm to the bones” really feels like. Your attention broadens and your entire body feels weightless and balanced and you drift in and out of consciousness. Dreamy.

Shelley asks if your comfortable and tells you that she’ll be back in five minutes. When she returns, she lays a cool, wet cloth on your forehead. It smells like lavender. This is the life of the gods. Then she offers you a sip of water. She asks if you’re too hot or need any of the cedar adjusted or if you’d like to get out. This process repeats every five minutes until you’ve completed the maximum time of 20 minutes in the bath. You to sit up and drink some more water. A thin coating of the moss-like mixture covers your ams. She helps you emerge from the bath. Your skin feels deeply moisturized. Your body feels more alive, more flexible, more capable. Though you just emerged from a dream-like state, you don’t feel groggy or cloudy. Rather, you notice that the fog of stress in your mind and body that led you here in the first place has lifted, like a cloudy morning in San Francisco suddenly transforming into a warm, sunny afternoon. Energized.

Following the Bath

You’re led to a private patio. Shelley uses a soft brush to sweep the cedar off of your back and then hands you the brush to continue sweeping the mixture off. Next to the patio is a shower that will rinse all of the remaining mixture from your body. You rub your hands over your body feel a heightened awareness. The feeling of your own touch is elevated. Your skin is supple in a way that it hasn’t felt in years. And you feel clean. Incredibly clean. You didn’t predict this sensation. Warm bath in cedar and rice bran: relaxing, yes. Moisturizing, possibly. But clean? Yes! Like all of the skin is fresh. Impurities on the surface removed. Sparkling.

After you turn off the shower, a mist turns on in the shower that sprays gently across your body. The mist has Vitamin C and other healthy supplements for your skin.

As you step out of the shower and put your robe on, you feel alive and clear-headed. There’s a sense of deep peace and love toward your body.

You’d be content and satisfied to go home at this point. But you will be guided further to other transcendental treatments of Sound Therapy, a facial and massage followed by a walk through the Zen gardens. On your meditative walk you’ll notice yourself slowing down and appreciating each moment with a calm, clear mind.

You leave Osmosis with a soft smile on your face that doesn’t seem to shake. You feel good inside. Your tummy feels calm and you notice the marked absence of muscle spasms in your back. You’re recharged, refreshed, rejuvenated.

This place truly did serve as a sanctuary and brought rejuvenation to your mind and body.