In these times of human distancing it’s such relief to walk in nature or in a garden; to walk amongst trees with no apprehension. Feeling safe and offering no threat. Recently the thought occurred that as the human realm is swept with an invisible danger, the trees are impervious, not knowing of our dilemma, physical and psychic. (Or are they? That is a question for another time). But there is a strong sense of the shield between us and them; a boundary not to be crossed.
Then I remembered some years back when an epidemic of phytophthera invaded native trees. We called this root fungus Sudden Oak Death. Another unseen attack, but this time humans were immune, though not unaffected. Our trees were dying and scientists, arborists and foresters all scrambled to limit the damage.
The first important form of mitigation turned out to be distancing. Parks and trails were closed. Workers were advised to wrap their boots so as not to track the fungus to new areas. This rallying to trees’ defenses shines a light on the mutuality of life. And in these times of human isolation plants offer to us their own kind of solace.
Spring still drives the flower through the branch reminding us of perseverance and renewal. Floral fragrance and color stimulate insects and birds to action. While we may sit inert, separated from routine, we see that the work of the world goes on and we may in turn take action. Planting trees and flowers for a future we know will come though changed it will be.
Here at the Osmosis garden we’ve slipped into this hiatus – a chance to renovate our welcome garden. New additions of lavender, sun rose and germander complement last year’s make-over of an adjacent area where we added a prodigious Japanese lantern accompanied by flowering currant and hellebores. And as we work we see peaking around the corner the flowering crabapple, here since before the beginning, reminding us that along with the future is the past giving context to the present in time of trial.
In our busy lives it can be hard to find time to connect with our partner in ways that strengthen our relationship and create more intimacy. Giving your partner a simple at-home massage can be a great way to boost intimacy and help your partner feel nurtured. You don’t need to be a professional; all you need is some great massage oil (we recommend Kate’s Magik Aphrodisian Fire Body Oil), relaxing music, a bed, and your own two hands. With Valentine’s season upon us, it’s a great time to light some candles, turn up the heater, and pamper your partner using these easy to follow steps for a simple whole body massage. No experience necessary!
About Kate’s Magik Aphrodisian Fire Body Oil: Alluring and sensual, aphrodisian fire enhances romance and excites the senses. Evoking Aphrodite, this exotic blend highlights wood and flower notes. Sandalwood and patchouli are deep and sensual, while sultry rose and flowery ylang ylang instill a sense of passion and romance.
Prepare your massage space
Cover your bed with an old towel or blanket that you don’t mind getting oily. Have one or two pillows on hand to make your partner more comfortable. If you’d like warm oil, you can fill a large bowl with hot water and place the oil bottle in it. Have an extra towel on hand to clean up any messes.
Your partner may be more comfortable lying face down with a pillow under their chest, then they can turn their head to one side. Have your partner put their arms along their side, with palms up.
When your partner turns face up, they may want a pillow under their knees or head.
Use your whole hand while massaging, palm and underside of fingers will be touching your partner’s skin.
Keep your back straight while massaging and use the weight of your body to put pressure, rather than just your hands.
Before you start, place your hands on your partner’s back, and take several deep breaths together. Set an intention to be the giver, and honor the gift you are about to give your partner.
Massaging in the Back
Sit at your partner’s head, preferably in a kneeling position. Sit on a pillow for extra knee support. Rub a few squirts of oil between your hands. Place your hands, palm down, at the base of your partner’s neck, with the spine between your thumbs.
Glide your hands down your partner’s back, staying next to the spine. At the top of the buttocks, glide your hands out to the top of your partner’s hips, then slide your hands up their sides and onto their shoulder blades.
Make several circles with your whole palms over the shoulder blades.
Starting with hands-on their shoulder blades, glide your hands down their back with your hands moving toward each other so they come together over the top of your partner’s buttocks. Again, glide over the top of their hips, then slide your hands back together over their low back.
Slide your hands up their back with the spine between your thumb edges.
At the top of the shoulders, slide your hands out over the tops of their shoulders and then slide them back together to the base of your partner’s neck. Repeat 3 – 5 times.
Starting at the base of the neck, slide your palms out over the tops of your partner’s shoulders. Slide onto their very upper arm and then slide each palm all the way down their arms, onto their hands and then slide off their hands with your fingers going between theirs.
Repeat these strokes 3 – 5 times, varying direction and combining them as you like. Use more oil as needed.
Massaging Back of Legs
Sit at the outside edge of your partner’s lower leg. Rub some oil into your hands. Start with your hands, palm down, on either side of your partner’s ankle.
Glide your hands up the sides of your partner’s leg, all the way to their hip and inner thigh. Bring your hands together at the top of the thigh and slide your hands all the way down to their heel. Repeat 3 – 5 times, applying more oil as needed.
Now slide your way up the back of your partner’s leg making circles with each palm in an alternating pattern. (right-hand circles over middle and side of leg, left hand circles over the middle leg and inner calf/thigh, move up a few inches and repeat). Go back down the leg with the same pattern, alternating the direction of your circles.
Repeat on the second leg.
Massaging Neck and Arms
Turn your partner face up and sit above their head. Rub some oil on your hands. Place your palms at the base of your partner’s neck, with fingers facing your partner’s upper back and palms against the base of the neck where it meets the shoulders. Glide your hands out to the tops of your partner’s arms, then glide down over the outside of their arms down to the elbow. Slide your hands under their arms and then glide back up under their arms, under their upper back and up to the base of their skull. Repeat 3 – 5 times.
With your fingertips at the base of the skull, on either side of the spine, make small circles, letting the fingers move the muscles slightly. Check-in with your partner about pressure, the more you press your fingers up, the more pressure they will feel. Continue making small circles on the neck muscles, moving downward toward the upper back.
Slide your hands under your partner’s upper back, with your fingers on the muscles between the shoulder blades and spine. Glide your hands up to the base of the skull. Repeat 3 times.
Sit at your partner’s side near their hand. With oil on your hands, place one hand on your partner’s wrist. Slide that hand up their arm to the shoulder, followed immediately by your second hand. Slide one hand under their shoulder and keep the other hand over the front of the upper arm. Slide both hands down the arm to the hand while squeezing your hands slightly to create pressure. Repeat 3 – 5 times.
Repeat on the second arm.
Massaging Legs and Feet
Sit at your partner’s side near their ankle. With oil on your hands, place your palms and fingers on either side of your partner’s ankle. Slide your hands up the sides of their leg to the upper thigh/outer hip.
Bring your thumb edges together at the middle of the upper thigh, with your palms and other fingers resting on the sides of the upper thigh. Slide your hands away from each other toward the sides of the leg. Move your hands down a few inches and slide your hands away from each other again. Continue this down the leg to the ankle, watching out not to press on the knee bone or the shin bone.
Repeat these two steps 3 – 5 times, using more oil as needed.
Place hands on foot, with one palm on top of the foot and other on the bottom. Slide your hands up and down your partner’s foot, from toes to heel/ankle, pressing your hands toward each other. Repeat several times.
Using fingers, make circles around the ankle bones. Rub your palm in a circular motion over the front of the ankle. Finish by rubbing your palm in a circular motion over the bottom of the foot, from toes to heel and back again. Use a loose fist to make circles if your partner wants more pressure.
Repeat on the second leg and foot.
When you’ve finished massaging your partner, place your palms on the bottom of their feet and take several deep breaths together. Take some time to snuggle up with your partner and let them give you some appreciation, in whatever form it comes. Enjoy the time you’ve spent together, even if you stumbled through, and know that moments like these are precious. And make sure to find a time when your partner can take a turn as the giver too!
Heather Bishop is the Massage Therapy Supervisor at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary. She has been practicing massage and bodywork for over 17 years and performs a wide variety of modalities, specializing in deep tissue and east-west fusion massage. In addition to massage, Heather is also a Registered Yoga Teacher of 15 years and teaches at Soulstice in Santa Rosa. She loves having daily opportunities to help others and is a proud member of the Osmosis team.
Facial gua sha is a form of gentle massage, using a smooth object or stone. It was adapted from the traditional body gua sha massage technique used in Chinese Medicine.
While gua sha bodywork involves vigorous and deeper pressure that’s meant to increase blood flow and Chi to areas of the body in need of healing, facial gua sha uses a gentle but firm, slow pulling of the skin. This benefits the skin by moving lymph and increasing blood flow and blood volume. By manipulating subdermal fascia, it activates and promotes tissue healing. This helps to not only promote overall wellness by detoxifying, boosting the immune system and calming the nervous system, it also greatly improves the complexion! It can help clear the pores, firm and tone the skin, soften lines, lighten hyperpigmentation, and give the skin a radiant glow. With the face carrying over a third of the body’s lymphatic system, facial gua sha can be an incredibly effective tool to promote both overall well being and skin health. Some results are seen immediately while others develop over time with consistent gua sha practice.
The Numerous Benefits of Gua Sha
Stimulate the lymphatic and circulatory systems and boost the immune system – Practicing gua sha regularly helps to move and renew fluids including blood and lymph. This improves circulation and clears stagnation. In Chinese Medicine, stagnation of lymph and blood flow or Chi can be the root of illness. It can also be the root of many skin conditions and signs of aging. The lymphatic system plays an important role in our immune function. It helps the body rid itself of toxins and moves white blood cells to where they are needed for fighting infection.
Calm the nervous system – This gentle massage technique is exceptionally calming and soothing for our nervous system. When we are in a relaxed state, our immune function works more optimally and the body can naturally heal.
Promote collagen production – Stimulating the lymphatic and circulatory systems through facial gua sha can help increase collagen production. This increased collagen helps to fill in wrinkles and plump the skin.
Smooth fine lines and wrinkles – We often hold emotion and tension in our face. This can lead to tissue adhesions and cause lines and wrinkles. When we relax the face through gua sha massage and release tension and tissue adhesions, we can smooth out these lines and release the emotions and tension behind them. The stimulation of the circulatory systems increases blood flow and blood volume and opens up channels for chi flow which also aids in plumping fine lines and wrinkles.
Lift and firm – This massage technique manipulates the fascia, muscles, and layers underneath the dermis which helps to contour and lift the skin.
Reduce puffiness and enhance eye area – Puffiness is usually caused by fluid accumulation due to toxins, or excess salt in the body. Gua sha can help move and drain this excess fluid and help to move toxins out of the body. It is particularly helpful in depuffing the eye area. It can lift hooded lids so the eyes can open wider. Additionally, it helps release tension between the brows softening of any furrows.
Lighten hyperpigmentation – By stimulating blood and lymph circulation, we are aiding the body to repair micro-wounds, scarring and hyperpigmentation
Make skin glow – Moving the lymph and blood detoxifies and brings nutrients and oxygen to the skin, giving it a healthy natural glow and awakening dull skin.
Facial gua sha massage has countless benefits and is a beautiful and nurturing ritual for self-care.
Summer’s here in Sonoma County California and the rains have stopped. This means it’s time to water. Since water is increasingly precious it’s important to use it to best effect. My pruning mentor Dennis Makishima enlivened in me the love of growing trees in containers and it was he who said, “Watering is an art”. Those words changed me forever, remaking what might have been a mindless routine into a conscious relational act bordering on spiritual. As I came to understand it watering is a complex, intriguing aspect of plant care.
Effective watering depends on a plant’s needs, soil composition, sun and wind exposure, and temperature. A recurring concern is how much water and how often. Over-watering is especially problematic since we generally don’t see the effects until it’s too late with no remedy short of re-potting. To avoid this dilemma we learn from bonsai artists to use soil mix that is virtually without organic matter consisting only of drainage material. Most bagged potting mixes have high levels of humus, compost, etc. which retain water in such varying and unknown quantities that accurate assessment of soil moisture is difficult. Using the high drainage formula allows excess water to drain immediately. While eliminating the fear of over-watering this mix also means we must guard against drying out. So a regular seasonal schedule of watering is required. To help gauge soil moisture an inexpensive hydrometer may be available at local hardware stores or nurseries. In the absence of a hydrometer, a quick check of water retention can be done by lifting the container (when possible) to judge weight. A light container likely means it’s time to water. A plant that has seriously dried out can be dunked in a bucket of water; holding the soil level below water will elicit bubbles as air spaces are filled with water. Remove the container and water runs out to proper level. Another aspect of humus-free mix is that fertilizing is up to us. Proper fertilizing is an art unto itself and too lengthy a discussion for the current effort. Stay tuned.
Hose-end hand watering is best with a gently showering nozzle. This implement avoids splash-out of soil while freshening foliage without damage.
Most considerations for watering containers are applicable to watering in-ground plants. While clearly we are not responsible for overall soil conditions in our garden (e.g. loamy, clayey, sandy) amending that soil is critical. Adding humus-y composted material is almost always a good idea. It adds nutrients, aerates, and paradoxically improves both drainage and water retention. Hand-watering (holding a hose in hand) is generally ineffective for getting water to the roots of all but the slightest of bedding plants. For trees and shrubs a simple inexpensive sprinkler does the job nicely, especially when combined with a calendar and a standard household timer. For most trees, it’s best to water infrequently and deeply: every 3 to 4 weeks; 45 minutes; shrubs 20-30 minutes. Native plants may require less water, but please remember that drought “tolerant” plants may actually do somewhat better with slightly more water. Careful experimentation is the key. Established trees and shrubs should be watered out to the drip line (foliage circumference) as this is where the feeder roots grow. Watering at the trunk is largely ineffective. Newly planted specimens should be watered so as to encourage roots to spread out.
Regarding drip irrigation, there are pros and cons with both containers and in-ground gardens. On the plus side, drip allows us to water without being present and it can be automated. It helps sustain life, especially with initial planting. On the other hand, while seemingly carefree drip irrigation requires regular attention. We must examine emitters for location and potential clogging due to soil and bugs. Tubing should be checked for leaks, disconnects and kinks. Also, dissemination of water is limited by emitters (narrow gravity-driven trajectory) and sprayers rarely get deep enough. In addition emitters are rated at gallons per hour and it’s unusual to see a system set for more than 15 to 20 minutes. This might be ok for bedding plants but has little effect on trees and shrubs. Just as we water the newly planted increasingly toward the drip line, drip emitters must be periodically moved outward to accommodate spreading roots.
For me the biggest drawback to drip is that it separates us from actually tending to and interacting with our plants in an essential way. Hand-watering, when done consciously, affords an opportunity to inspect our trees forinsects, disease and general well-being. We become familiar with a healthy look and are therefore more aware of changes that indicate stress or threat. Perhaps the most profound benefit is the intimacy it brings – a chance to say hello to each plant and to bask in the silence of its reply.
The Crunch: The spa industry has grown as consumers become more focused on natural health and wellness. But, by marketing themselves as places for pampering and emphasizing beauty over wellness, many spas have strayed from their original purpose. Osmosis Day Spa offers guests an authentic experience that incorporates the meditation-inspiring traditions of Japanese gardening with the health benefits of the cedar enzyme bath to deliver total rejuvenation. Through its community involvement and sustainability efforts, Osmosis Day Spa strives to educate and restore the connection between personal and environmental wellness.
Spas are known as places for relaxation and escape from the stresses of modern life, practices that have become scarce in both consumer and corporate culture.
Over the last several years, Americans have become more conscientious about taking better care of their bodies through natural foods and products, exercise, and holistic health care. And the day spa industry has grown in response. In 2017, Americans made 184 million visits to spas — up from 176 million the previous year.
Michael Stusser founded Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary to create a place of nurturing services in resonance with nature.
But, as spa businesses seek to attract more clients with an array of youth-preserving and beautification services, the predominant marketing message consumers hear is that spas are more about vanity and luxury than a quest for fundamental vitality.
Michael Stusser, Founder of the Osmosis Day Spa, believes that catering to a sense of vanity rather than a desire for well-being misconstrues the purpose of spas and fails to meet the true needs of their clientele.
“When you talk about what represents authenticity, one of the biggest disservices to our industry is the use of the word ‘pampering’ in advertising. It’s a term that doesn’t capture the sincerity and quality of the work that many people are committed to doing with massage,” Michael said. “We have a responsibility to step up and provide something much more substantial — and people want it.”
Located in the tranquil, historic town of Freestone, California, Osmosis Day Spa weaves together Michael’s studies in Zen gardening and traditional therapies to offer the wholly rejuvenating experience spa guests are looking for.
“What we’re about is the sincere act of giving from the heart — something that’s deep, profound, and makes a difference in people’s lives,” Michael said.
From its carefully landscaped gardens to the healing properties of its cedar enzyme baths to its gifted, dedicated staff to its sustainability efforts and community involvement, Osmosis Day Spa helps guests recenter and revitalize through simplicity and serenity.
Bringing the Healing Power of Nature and Japanese Culture to the US
During Michael’s time at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in the 1960s, he developed an interest in environmentalism and sustainable gardening. His later involvement in the horticultural community of Northern California laid the groundwork for an understanding of the role of nature in fostering wellness and vitality.
“I began to recognize that gardens were about more than soil-building, food, and diet leading to a healthy lifestyle. Gardens put people in connection with the rhythms of nature, and that has a healing property to it,” Michael said.
Another quality Michael recognized in gardens is their ability to feed the eyes — and the soul — with natural beauty. “Garden art lifts people’s eyes to the horizon, creating a sense of connection to distance and time, and a perspective of longevity, which is an aspect of what draws people to spas. Being attuned to nature brings vitality, a core component of wellness,” Michael said.
In the early 1980s, Michael traveled to Japan, where he apprenticed in traditional Japanese gardening and became immersed in its history and its ties to Zen meditation. He also spent time in a Buddhist monastery, where he discovered the benefits of the cedar enzyme bath.
Michael returned to the US with a desire to share this knowledge with others, and he chose his former home of Freestone, California — a historic rural community with a rich artisan culture that sees thousands of tourists every year — to be the home of Osmosis Day Spa.
“When I thought about where I wanted to bring it, it seemed natural to come back here. It’s removed from the hustle and bustle, and the natural beauty is exquisite,” Michael said. “Quietude is an important element in the healing process.”
Since founding Osmosis Day Spa in 1985, Michael has seen massage and other spa therapies develop into professional art forms with growing receptivity and popularity, and his business has flourished along with the industry as a whole.
“People realize how important touch is to healing, stress reduction, and overall well-being,” Michael said.
Providing Guests with the Benefits of the Cedar Enzyme Bath & a Unified Spa Experience
Osmosis Day Spa’s menu of services includes massage, facials, and spa packages that combine garden views and tea service with aromatherapy and essential oil treatments. But the spa’s signature treatment is the cedar enzyme bath — for which Osmosis remains the exclusive North American destination.
The enzyme bath’s modern form dates to the 1940s — and it was popularized by Olympic athletes in 1972 — but it originates out of the centuries-old Japanese tradition of harvesting fruits, vegetables, and herbs in their prime and turning them into healing salves and tonics.
“When I first experienced the enzyme bath, I was healed from serious sciatica and felt my whole body transformed in a significant way,” Michael said. “It’s a very powerful cleansing and detoxification process.”
The bath combines three treatments into a singular experience: heat therapy, aromatherapy, and biologically active enzymes.
Michael had long been a fan of natural hot springs, and this heightened his appreciation for the therapeutic effects of heat — which include softening body tissue, dilating the cardiovascular system, opening pores, and inducing total-body relaxation.
But the cedar enzyme treatment doesn’t involve a tub of water. Instead, the medium is a powdery red substance comprised of ground-up evergreens.
“It’s fragrant with oils from the most aromatic cedar in the world, along with the other wood species we use,” Michael said. “Research on essential oils has shown cedar to be one of the most efficacious in aromatherapy, with benefits such as deep relaxation. When you lay in a cedar enzyme bath, your entire body receives these vapors released in the steam of the fermentation process.”
The cedar enzyme bath provides a warm, familiar, rejuvenating experience for Osmosis Day Spa guests.
When guests enter the cedar enzyme bath, they find it familiar — yet hard to describe. “They say, ‘Oh, this is what it is.’ There’s something fundamentally familiar to it,” Michael said.
The cedar enzyme bath experience encourages whole-body relaxation and heightened awareness of one’s self and surroundings, and Osmosis Day Spa strives to evoke this response during the entirety of a guest’s stay.
“Our entire facility — the way we hire and train our staff, the way the parking lot is laid out, the way the walkways lead to the building, the way the gardens are built — is intended to bring people to that point from the minute they drive up,” Michael said.
Osmosis Day Spa’s five acres of Zen gardens — including the meditation garden by premier designer Robert Ketchell, the British horticulturist who interned with Michael in Kyoto, inspire communion with nature. The spa also features a Japanese tea garden, secluded pagodas, a Field of Hammocks, and intimate outdoor meeting spaces.
“The gardens have been designed to create a connection to a place that has a sense of unity and cohesion,” Michael said. “Our meditation garden is a huge conductor of quietude and tranquility that people are especially receptive to after they’ve had a spa treatment.”
Connecting to the Community to Foster Environmental Awareness
Connection is a core value of Osmosis Day Spa, and this inspires its involvement in the community of Freestone and beyond.
Osmosis Day Spa partners with local businesses to provide guests with access to lodging for overnight stays, restaurants, and area tourist activities. It also directly supports many community organizations and projects — especially those that teach the value of healthy living and environmental stewardship.
“Being a part of the community is an important aspect of our work and our story,” Michael said. “We’ve collaborated with our neighbors to improve the water system in our town, and we’ve also worked with some nonprofits to support them and create awareness.”
One of the ongoing projects Osmosis Day Spa supports is the Ceres Community Project, in which nutritionists and chefs teach teens about nutrition, cooking, and local sourcing. The food they make is distributed to families suffering life-threatening illnesses. Osmosis supports Ceres by donating the profits from the box lunches it offers to guests.
“A local farm-to-table restaurant provides the lunch at cost, and the markup is given to the Ceres Community Project,” Michael said.
Ten years, ago, Michael also played a key role in starting the Green Spa Network — a collection of businesses from around the US that work together to help the spa industry set an eco-friendly example.
“We’re trying to function as a nexus in our community to inform, educate, and provide experiences that will help awaken them to what it means to live a vital, earth-friendly lifestyle,” Michael said.
Creating an Experience that Awakens People to Care About Themselves & Their Surroundings
In an industry that often markets to consumers’ obsession with aesthetic beauty and youthfulness, Osmosis Day Spa stands out for its authentic approach and a focus on total-body wellness that awakens not only self-awareness but also consciousness of one’s world.
Spas are places where people make themselves vulnerable, and Michael believes the industry is in a position to have more than a superficial impact on people’s health and lifestyles.
“People are coming to spas looking to transcend a lifestyle that’s not sustainable and to align with something more substantial than these paradigms of excessive consumerism,” Michael said. “They’re opening themselves up and trusting they’ll be gifted something of tremendous value. There’s so much opportunity, given what we could be doing as an industry, to help influence the direction of our culture.”
Osmosis Day Spa provides a place where people can relax and rejuvenate, learn how to take care of themselves, and reconnect to the most important things in life.
“We’re more than just a day spa selling a menu of services — we’re recognized as a source for valuable information and guidance on how to improve the potential of one’s life,” Michael said. “We’re making that connection between vital people and vital planet. They go hand in hand.”
Jessica Sommerfield is a contributing writer for DealCrunch with over seven years of experience with online publications in the personal finance sector and other consumer-focused niches. Her 13 years of experience in brick-and-mortar stores prior to her writing career have also given her an insider’s perspective on the unique challenges that the retail industry faces.