A spa experience is as much about our state of mind as it is about care of the body. As much as we revel in the world’s many and diverse spa experiences, sometimes we need to stay in. Here are some ways we replicate the spa experience at home.
How to Spa at Home: Ideas for your body and mind
The Basics: A Long, Hot Bath, Onsen-style
The Japanese bathing tradition of Onsen translates very well to the home. We won’t have a view of Mt. Fuji, or of the cherry blossoms emerging. But we can still achieve the same sense of peace, with mindful preparation.
Japanese bathing is one of the “cleanest” bathing traditions we know. Rather than the western tradition of taking a hot bath in which we cleanse the body and relaxe in the same (not so clean) water, in Japanese bathing, the cleansing comes first, and the contemplative soak comes after.
Think of this as a multi-step ritual of purification – body first, then spirit afterwards
Unlike the western shower, the Japanese showering tradition is seated. This is tidier – there is not water splashing all over. It also allows for focus. Seated on a wooden bench, with a shower nozzle, a basin, soap and a scrub brush or rough cloth, you can focus on each part of the body in turn. Improvise a similar set-up at home, with a plastic stool in the shower perhaps, or by sitting safely on a folded towel at the edge of the bath.
As you work over your body, empty your mind of any other concern. Focus not just your cleansing but also the whole of your attention on each part of your body in turn. Have you ever bathed an infant? Try that kind of loving attention, but focused on yourself, with gratitude for all that your body does for you.
Of course, we’ll be a little more vigorous than we might with an infant. Our goal is to emerge much cleaner than we do from a maintenance shower that we take after the gym or between tumbling out of bed and going to work. The process should be a combination of deep cleansing and an invigorating massage. We’ll finish with firm, sweeping strokes of your limbs in the direction of the heart. Then a final rinse, either with the shower nozzle or by dousing ourselves with basins full of water.
If you did your ritual cleansing in a shower, you can draw a warm bath at the same time so it’s waiting for you. Otherwise, wrap yourself in a thick robe and wait for the bathtub to fill. How hot? Exactly as you like. Choose the water temperature that will relax you the most, and make sure it is warm enough to stay in as long as you like.
If you are so fortunate as to have a bathtub with a view, enjoy it. Otherwise, we can create our own environment with candles and perhaps some light scent. In the bathwater, we put nothing at all so as not to overwhelm the senses or oil up our now exquisitely cleansed skin. If the water is quite hard though, a handful of baking soda can make it silky soft.
The rest is up to us. As much as we are able to cleanse our minds, the more we get out of it. Those of us who are not practiced in meditation may have trouble shutting off our thoughts altogether – I know I do. But positive reflection – gratitude in particular – can also be deeply beneficial.
No special masks or creams on hand? So much the better. This at-home self-care ritual will be completely natural and free of chemicals. We will use whatever we have in the pantry and whatever grows in our window boxes.
A Hamam Treat for the Face
We’ll start our facial with a skin softening steaming, which both relaxes skin and coaxes open the pores. First, we’ll gather a large towel and some smaller towels, some clean cotton pads such as we use to remove make-up, and a large bowl of porcelain or glass. Then we’ll put some water on to boil. In the meantime, we’ll choose some herbs to add fragrance to the steam.
If we need to relax, rosemary is wonderful. Thyme, sage, and eucalyptus are all beneficial for mild congestion, and all smell wonderful. Chamomile is gentle and soothing. Some fresh grated ginger root can be invigorating.
Now, we sit with our face suspended comfortably over the bowl of fragrant, therapeutic steam. Facial skin is delicate- make sure to maintain a comfortable and safe distance between the steam and your face. To keep the steam and fragrance concentrated, we can place the large tower over our head and the bowl to create a closed environment. We can relax like this as long as we like, and as long as our neck can manage it. Now we sweep our sweaty, steamy skin clean with the oils and dirt that have come to the surface with the cotton pad.
A Gentle Exfoliation
After the steam, our skin is soft and plump, so we don’t want to get too rough with it. Oatmeal makes the ideal gentle exfoliant. Not only does it have the ideal texture, but it also contains cleansing phytochemical compounds called saponins that are great at removing oil and dirt. We can place a couple of teaspoons full in the blender to make a powder, and hydrate them with water plus a little honey, or yogurt, or both. Let the exfoliation also serve as a facial massage, as we work slowly around the face with small circular motions. And let’s not forget the lips – the gentle scrub will leave them soft and smoothed. Now we rise clean with tepid water.
Natural Facial Masks
This exfoliating scrub makes a nice mask too, in which case we can just mix up a double batch. It already has three of these beneficial, natural ingredients.
The probiotics in the yogurt are beneficial to the skin, and the lactic acid will gently fine-tune the exfoliation while tightening the pores.
This beauty powerhouse is anti-bacterial (nice for suppressing break-outs), packed with antioxidants, and a natural humectant. This means that it draws moisture to the skin and retains and preserves moisture, for a lasting effect.
Oatmeal has both antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. It both removes excess oil, and acts as a natural moisturizer – great for balancing the skin.
Matcha – powdered whole green tea leaves – is antibacterial and rich in antioxidants that combat acne and improve elasticity. Best of all, it is an excellent source of ECGC, a wonder-compound which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and evens skin tone. Matcha can be mixed with a little yogurt for a beautiful green mask.
For another green mask, try silky rich avocado. The oleic acid – healthful fat – is a wonderful moisturizer. Your skin will feel nourished, soft, and plump.
Hydrated coffee grounds – leftover from the coffee filter are ideal – are excellent as an exfoliant and also as an ingredient in a facial mask. It is high in antioxidants, reduces redness, and tightens the skin. It tightens blood vessels and also removes water – making it great as a pack for reducing under-eye puffiness. Pair with a moisturizing ingredient. As the mask is going on already-exfoliated skin, apply gently.
Besides smelling delicious, cocoa is full of polyphenols – powerful micronutrients. It is also full of antioxidants, and serves to both soothe and nourish the skin.
Another fragrant nutritional powerhouse, bananas contain potassium for hydration, vitamin A for smoothing skin and evening tone, vitamin B for moisture and aging prevention, and vitamin E for protection against free-radicals. It also is thought to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and help defend the skin against UV rays (but we never forget to use strong sunscreen!)
Hair Treatments – Less is More
We love a rich and silky conditioner, and the brilliant shine it brings. But sometimes we find our hair is simply limp rather than silky, and the brilliant shine dulls. More conditioner is not the answer. We have two natural hair and scalp scrubs to cleanse and invigorate the scalp and remove the dull build-up of hair product weighing us down.
Baking Soda and Vinegar
After wetting our hair and scalp thoroughly with warm water, we make a foamy paste of baking soda and vinegar and gently massage the scalp and hair thoroughly. Then we rinse, shampoo, and shampoo again to remove all traces of the soda.
The hydrated coffee grounds left over in the filter make a fine scalp and hair massage. We wet the hair and the scalp thoroughly, rinse, then shampoo. After using either of these masks, our hair feels light and bouncy, and has a beautiful natural shine. When we use conditioner again, we find it penetrates more effectively into hair and leaves it silky and shiny again.
Reconnecting with Nature, Reconnecting with Ourselves
An at-home spa day can be as relaxing and rejuvenating as a day at a luxury spa. In the peace of home, there is time for reflection. Moreover, using all natural products can be profoundly balancing. Not only do we save ourselves exposure to chemicals and artificial fragrances, but we connect again with nature, giving us a renewed appreciation and, above all, a deep sense of gratitude.
Thank you for reading. We wish you good health, inside and out.