Entering the K’Alma Spa at the Hotel Victor in Miami Beach involves more than being checked in at a reception desk and pointed to a massage room.
Guests are relieved of their phones and shoes, their feet are washed, and they’re guided down a chakra pathway to a relaxation room from which they might choose treatments such as crystal or aromatherapy, sound bowl healing, guided meditation, smudging, or an Andean energy ritual under the guidance of shamans and healers.
“We are so distracted by what’s going on around us that we totally forget one important thing: connecting with our souls,” said Marizza Contreras, cofounder of the spa, which also has a location at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago. “More than ever, it’s a need.”
Hotel, destination and day spas that once focused largely on facials and massages have started branching further into treatments to improve sleep, reduce stress and generally address not just clients’ physical well-being, but their mental health.
Demand for these services, after years of political polarization, pandemic lockdowns and other stress, is huge, according to the people who are adding them.
“The attitude has changed, as a result of everything we’ve been going through, that you have to put as much energy and focus into your mental wellness as you do into your physical wellness,” said Patti Biro, a business consultant to spas.
“It used to be that if you went to a traditional resort you thought of the spa as an amenity or luxury,” said Biro. Now, she said, “they’re not luxuries. They’ve really become part of a personal wellness regimen.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected people’s mental health, the National Institutes of Health reports. Nearly half of Americans say they are experiencing anxiety or depression. Ten percent say their mental health needs are not being met. And so many people have experienced sleep disruptions, according to the Sleep Foundation, researchers have given it a name: coronasomnia.
That’s a giant market, and one that many spas are seizing on.
The Mindful Meditative Massage at the Leaf Spa at Miami’s Hotel AKA Brickell, for example, begins with a guided meditation and sound bowl healing, which sends wave vibrations through the body; practitioners say it helps harmonize and restore balance to the mind.
The Leaf Spa in Chicago offers treatment for seasonal affective disorder, using an herb-infused body treatment it says helps clients adjust to seasonal changes.
The Elms Hotel and Spa in Excelsior Springs, Mo., combines acupuncture with sound waves, which it says corrects energy imbalances.
The spa at the Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, reports huge demand for time with the resident shaman, who offers rituals for rest, clarity, strength, and connection in a jungle setting with ocean views.
At the newly opened Six Senses Vana resort in India, Tibetan therapists administer Sowa Rigpa, a treatment for anxiety, stress, and insomnia based on Indian Buddhist tradition.
And Sense Spa at the Rosewood Sand Hill resort near San Francisco has introduced a sleep improvement package it calls the Rosewood Dreamscape, which in addition to accommodations and traditional spa services includes morning and sunset yoga, a “sleep box” stocked with CBD-infused teas and bath salts and “wellness-curated” bedtime snacks.
For all of the advantages of working remotely, “our clients were complaining they couldn’t sleep or they couldn’t switch off,” said Ania Mankowska, Sense Spa’s director. “People’s life balance has been really thrown off. They couldn’t find the balance of, ‘OK, now I’m done with my work life.’”
It’s also the case, Mankowska said, that “people are trying new things and going back to basics, both with spa treatments and in general with life. I’ve never seen such a huge uptake in booking those treatments.” The spa plans more over the next year.
The spa at the J House boutique hotel in Greenwich, Conn., has added energy healing sessions using the acupuncture therapy Jin Shin Jyutsu and other treatments.
“More people are interested in these types of eastern healing modalities and in regulating and balancing their energy,” said Daniela Ranallo, spa coordinator. “They’re just going within a little deeper. They’re not really happy living the day-to-day lives they used to live, and thinking that there’s something more.”
It’s not only about addressing their immediate problems, Ranallo said. “Sure, people are concerned about stress and want to work on that. But they’re also now just more interested in overcoming previous obstacles and challenges they used to push away.”
The spa at Boston’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel is offering several new services to deal with sleep issues, stress management, and anxiety — most notably, a Japanese-inspired “Shinrin-yoku” or forest-bathing treatment, in which guests are taken to the Arnold Arboretum to be immersed in nature. The ritual, which ends with a tea ceremony and meditation, is led by Nadine Mazzola of Acton, who has written a book about the practice.
“There’s not just massage therapists any more. There’s not just facialists any more. There’s all kinds of energy and emotional healers,” said Danielle McNally, the Mandarin Oriental’s marketing director. “Look at it like your doctor’s office adding alternative medicine therapies. Because that’s what the customer is looking for: ways to relax, ways to restore, that are so much more than a massage.”
Mental health professionals urge some skepticism about this.
“I think there are a lot of cautions,” said David Rosmarin, associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Center for Anxiety.
The best way to cope with stress is to confront it — “to face your fears,” he said. “You have to carefully and systematically move to higher levels of anxiety. These spas do exactly the opposite. And when the person comes back to real life, they’re less prepared” to cope.
Going to a place that takes away all stress “can actually make it worse. You end up thinking you can escape it, which you can’t. You’re being given false hope, and as soon as you leave the hope vanishes.”
It’s not a bad thing that people want to deal with their mental health, Rosmarin said, just as it’s healthy to get such things as colorectal screenings. “But that doesn’t mean if you screen positive you should go and see a shaman.”
Contreras, in Miami Beach, is undeterred. Among the tensions people have experienced over the last few years, she said, is that “we isolated more. There was fear. It triggered so many issues for people. There was less connection and less meaningful human interaction.”
At spas, she said, “we touch people’s souls. If we do that with one person at a time, our mission has been fulfilled.”
Jon Marcus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.