I am lying on a bed of chamomile, deeply inhaling its gentle fragrance as I listen to a waterfall flowing behind me. I don’t want to leave here but am too energized to stay, so I rise and follow a stone path around a heart-shaped koi pond and across the small waterfall.
There, I take one last look at the guardian stones — boulders, practically — and wish them well.
“Every Japanese temple garden has these three stones, kind of a trinity of spirits to watch over the well-being of the garden,” Osmosis founder Michael Stusser had told me during a tour of his haven that morning. “They’re usually quite small and subtle. It’s a break with tradition to have guardian stones so large.”
FREESTONE, Sonoma County – Everything I’d read and heard about Osmosis – and it was all good – included a breathless claim: “It’s the only place in America with a Japanese enzyme bath!”
So my first question for Michael Stusser, who created this “om” of an oasis in the postage-stamp town of Freestone 20 years ago, was, “Why is it the only one?”
His answer was long, but it boiled down to this: high maintenance.
“Anybody can throw a few drops of scented oil in a tub and call it a spa treatment,” he said. “But making an enzyme bath is like making wine and cheese; each batch has to be closely overseen, and each is different.”
In these hyperactive, hyperstressed times, it’s good to know there’s a place of perfect peace and calm where the tensions of life evaporate like the morning fog.
Where is this place? Look no farther than inside yourself. But to get there, you may need a little help and support. That’s the purpose of the new Zen-inspired meditation garden at Osmosis Enzyme Bath and Massage in Freestone.
The garden, designed by Osmosis owner Michael Stusser and his friend Robert Ketchell of England, with construction overseen by Zen priest Steve Stucky, head of the Dharma Eye Zen Center in San Rafael, combines traditional Japanese and Chinese elements to symbolically represent the personal journey inward toward harmony and tranquility.
I am getting married in eight days. In. Eight. Days. I still don’t have all the RSVP’s so I can’t tell the caterer final numbers, the adorable tin bottles I got to put flowers in turned out not to be waterproof. El Nino shows no signs of abating an it’s supposed to be an outdoor ceremony, my future mother-in-law won’t come to the family dinner because we invited my fiancé’s father, and I recently took the cat to the vet so my arms are covered with scratches and I’m wearing a sheer-sleeved gown. I Am! Stressed! Out!
From the outside, in keeping with the spirit and ambience of the tiny hamlet of Freestone, Osmosis resembles nothing more than a Victorian general store. Next door, after all, is the first schoolhouse in the county, which dates back to 1853. Once guests pass through the door, however, they enter a different world – one of Japanese serenity that offers a spa experience that many claim has no equal: the enzyme bath.
The enzyme bath is composed of aromatic cedar powder, rice bran, and a mixture of enzymes imported from Japan. Judiciously mixed together, these ingredients begin to ferment. Guests are gently covered with the moist, slightly granular mixture up to their chins, and the heat generated biologically by the fermentation process warms and relaxes the body. The enzymes in this mixture and the oils from the rice bran suffuse the skin with their soft healing qualities. The claims made for this novel treatment by those who have received it are myriad; they range from better digestion to the disappearance of minor aches or the end of arthritic pains.