Do you find exercise excruciating or equate massage with misery? Does focusing on flab and wrangling with wrinkles leave you lamenting? Here are a handful of havens so different from stereotypical spa resorts, they'll convert even a nonbeliever like yourself into a hard-core devotee of the power of spas.
Ten Thousand Waves
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Americans have a tendency to want to get things done, even when they go to the spa. They want to whittle away their to-do lists: lose weight, check; learn Pilates, check; stop smoking, check.
Not so the Japanese, whose traditional spa experience is all about having a good time in a beautiful place -- a la Ten Thousand Waves, in Santa Fe, NM.
The haiku-like name of this landlocked spa refers not to location -- this is sun-baked New Mexico, after all -- but rather to activity. The emphasis here is on bathing in the Japanese tradition. The healthful effects of bathing oneself in hot water were the focus when the spa opened in 1981, and still are today. All the massages, treatments and skin-care regimens are designed to elicit the universal "ah" that bubbles up when you settle into a big pool of hot water.
A most unusual treatment (by modern, Western standards) is the aptly named Nightingale Facial: An earthy-scented mask is concocted from nightingale droppings that are harvested on farms where the birds are fed special diets. Kabuki and Geisha relied on this detoxifying treatment back in the day when their makeup contained lead. The facial also softens, lightens and hydrates the skin.
Ten Thousand Waves prides itself on being authentic, not only in its Japanese philosophy, but also in its aesthetic. As a result, it has earned impressive kudos from spa-going aficionados for its Japanese-inspired interior design.
Indian Wells, California
Add water to clay and you have mud. Throw in a therapist, and you have a mud treatment. Mix in artistic inspiration and a spa-going companion for good measure, and you have Pittura Festa: a painting party.
With brightly colored mud and clay, Miramonte guests can paint their own bodies, faces and hair, as well as those of their partners and friends. A shower and a massage or lotion application finishes off this festive treatment.
Miramonte's artsy sense of rejuvenating fun doesn't end with Pittura Festa, however. Case in point: the BellaBody service. What expectant mother could possibly resist a cast in the form of her bulging belly? It's a fitting memento of a time when nothing fit, and of a place where people waited hand and foot on her.
Speaking of which, the signature treatment here is Map of the Foot/Heart of the Hand, a 90-minute exploratory service that includes pressure-point reflexology and hand analysis.
The underground waters at Miramonte run deep, historically speaking; this region was an oasis for Native Americans crossing the Mohave. The centerpiece of the Mediterranean-style spa is an outdoor grotto with a waterfall.
Not many spas could get away with this: a leather-skinned cowboy named Wyatt hands a hoof pick to a paying guest, points out a horse in need of a pedicure, and calls it grooming ... for the guest.
While many guests at Miraval sit poolside in the Sonoran desert, contentedly sipping biodynamic wine after succumbing to the signature hot-stone massage, vast herds subject themselves to this spa's self-discovery programs. One of the most popular of these programs is the Equine Experience -- a dusty, half-day encounter that leads, predictably if amazingly, to clarity of mind.
Miraval is all about body mindfulness. Even as it pampers guests, it challenges them to new awareness levels, whether they're drumming, serving a tennis ball, salsa dancing, rock climbing or balancing feathers in their palms. In addition to more than 100 a la carte activities, Miraval offers 9 Life in Balance programs to guests who want focused guidance, on everything from midlife concerns, pregnancy, weight loss or healing.
Situated in the saguaro-dotted foothills of the Catalina Mountains, this high-desert haven makes the most of a spiritual setting; the monsoon season is especially enchanting.
If you're inclined to believe that timing is everything, you'll want to hurry up and write Spa Avania on your calendar. Avania's time-focused philosophy is grounded in simple but neglected daily rhythms. The spa's total immersion experience -- from the music, teas and cuisine, to the therapists' techniques and treatments -- is synchronized to respect your body's changing demands for equilibrium depending on the time of day.
Avania's mission in the morning is to awaken and revitalize; in the afternoon, to balance and restore; and in the evening, to relax and repair.
The spa's indoor and outdoor spaces promote rest, relaxation and reflection. The treatment rooms are art-and-light-filled, and the treatments themselves are novel. If too much texting and typing at your job have taken a toll, go for the blackberry balm hand massage. If life has taken its toll, go for the signature mineral massage -- a blend of techniques that involves movement therapies, semi-precious gemstones and essential oils.
A renowned women's-only retreat for more than 40 years, TheGreenhouse is no new kid on the spa block. Lots of tried-and-true indulgences still resonate today with guests, such as awakening to breakfast in bed, beginning the day with a morning walk and eating dinner by candlelight before an evening tuck-in massage.
But those typical spa indulgences are peppered with some very extraordinary opportunities.
Guests can spend a week at the spa with bridal experts, planning the big day. They can also bring their babies along for parent-child yoga and aquatics classes, or attend expert lectures on the latest in baby nutrition and massage. In additon, some of the spa's special events allow for hobnobbing with Hollywood legends and fraternizing with famous women of screen and stage, as well as the chance to work on laugh lines during Comedienne Week.
Guests can do all these things and more at any number of Special Weeks scheduled here annually. A hands-down favorite is Book Lovers' Week, during which authors and literary experts share in TheGreenhouse guests' passion for the printed word.
TheGreenhouse exudes an intimate hospitality. With a staff-to-guest ratio at an indulgent 4-to-1, the spa's capacity is just 39.
The sense of being taken care of can begin before you arrive at the Southern-style mansion, and continue after you leave. All guests can opt to have their bags picked up from their homes and delivered directly to the spa and back again.
Given that it's a salt-of-the-earth (with a twist) kind of spa, it's probably not a coincidence that the signature treatment is a Himalayan body peel featuring the purest salt found on the planet for reenergizing the body.