No Pain, No Gain.
That's the slogan I expect to see at the gym in the weight room where men with muscular arms and fat stomachs are groaning beneath bars of weight to show off their prowess to other men groaning beneath bars of weight.
However, that same slogan should probably be stuck in big, bold letters on the front door of every spa in America. I know, because I love going to the spa as much as I love the grueling workouts of trail running, Ashtanga Yoga, and kickboxing. There's something in me that likes the pain of the challenge and the success when I push through it to the end. And the results - firm legs, shapely arms, a flat stomach. It's worth every drop of sweat in my opinion.
But it's spa services we're talking about right now, not fitness routines.
This weekend, I went to the spa to try something I hadn't tried before - a full facial. Everything started off wonderfully - like they always do. Dim lights, soft new-age music with Native American flutes and the sounds of waves crashing on a beach, the faint but distinct scent of some deliciously perfect essential oil permeating the room. In this particular instance, I was lying naked between soft sheets on a heated massage table with a bolster expertly arranged beneath my knees. Perfect. Heaven on Earth. Exactly what I needed after a week of 12 and 13-hour days of intense work, wifing and whisking my children to this event and that appointment.
As I said, everything was blissful. I should have just paid the people to leave me alone in the room and wake me when an hour was up. But NOOOOO. I wanted to chalk up a new adventure in my spa experience. It was at the point when the aesthetician began to press firmly on my right nostril (she claimed she was removing a white head) and I could no longer breathe, my eyes began twitching with the pain of the blunt instrument pressing down on my skin, and I felt that blood had been drawn, that it all came back to me. Everything. Every "first" spa experience.
There was my very, very first massage - pregnancy massage when I was 28 years old and in the final weeks of my endless pregnancy with my first son. All I have to say is I was carrying a 9.5 lb baby and he was 9 days late. No massage could comfort me - physically, mentally or spiritually.
Ah - my first bikini wax. Before I go into this, I have to share that I endure the pain of a bikini wax EVERY 2-3 months because the results are indescribably sexy and smooth in an area that is not naturally very sexy and smooth if you don't get a wax.
Anyway, I was presenting workshops at a hotel on Biscayne Drive in Miami Beach. On the last day of the conference, my presentation ended early and I didn't have plans until later, so I decided to get a pedicure and try a bikini wax since I'd heard so many wonderful things about the results. Strangely, no one had EVER mentioned there would be pain involved.
The Puerto Rican woman working on me was pleased I spoke Spanish and we exchanged pleasantries in her native language as she swiped alcohol on the inside of my right thigh. I was laughing about something she said when she applied the first layer of burning hot wax on my pelvis. I stopped mid-laugh and sat up abruptly from my supine position. "Uh, wait. What was that? Is it supposed to be that hot? Can it be a little cooler?"
I remember the aesthetician looking at me with these dramatically made-up smoky-eyes and asking me in heavily accented English, "Is this your first wax?" incredulously. Like every woman in the world over the age of 18 gets bikini waxes every other month. Come to think of it, they probably do in Miami Beach. But whatever... "Yes," I answered cautiously. What did this mean? Should I be prepared for something?
Too late. She had already begun pressing a rectangular cloth to the waxy area on my pelvis and inner thigh, and RRRIIIPPP. The hair was gone and all of the air in my lungs was too. I grabbed the woman's wrist as tears came to my eyes and I whispered, "wait." That's all I could manage. And the technician - dear, sweet woman that she was - just smiled and rubbed the back of my hand like the nurse in the labor and delivery room when I gave birth to that 9.5 lb child a few years before.
A procedure that normally takes about 10-15 minutes, took 30 minutes that day. I cried, I whined, I prayed out loud in two languages. The nice waxing lady held my hand, patted my thighs and pelvis, and cooed at me in calming tones.
I remember the drive from Miami Beach to my mother's house in Miramar like it was yesterday. I had every window on the car down, the sun roof open and my panties and shorts off. I had my left foot propped out the window and my right knee as far to the right as driving would allow. My seat was reclined as far back as I could go and still see the highway. I didn't care about the truckers driving next to me and honking their blaring horns. I just needed the breeze to cool the painful fire of the waxed areas and I didn't want ANYTHING to touch my skin around "there."
I called my girlfriend, Yvonne, on the cell phone and recounted the horrifying (but beautiful results) story as 18-wheelers honked and SUVs beeped at me like I was a porn star driving on the Las Vegas Strip. She laughed and I could tell she was crying from laughing so hard.
Two months ago, I decided to try something called a "Hip Bath" at JeJu Spa. JeJu is an authentic Korean bath house outside Atlanta. One day I'll share my first experience going to JeJu and meeting 8 strange women I didn't know for a birthday party completely butt naked. But that's another story for another blog.
Anyway, during previous trips to JeJu, I'd seen women sitting under heavy drapes on short stools talking quietly to one another. It seemed like a peaceful experience and one I might enjoy. So, one weekday evening, when the spa was practically empty, I stripped down to nothing but my bikini wax and signed up for the Hip Bath. The animated Korean woman pointed me to a low box with a round hole in the center. I squatted down, got as comfortable as possible on a box with a hole in it and allowed the woman to encircle me in a rubberized drape that sealed at my neck - kind of like at the barber shop or beauty salon. But this drape completely covered me and rested on the floor around the box. A pillow was propped behind me and the woman brought me an ice-cold bottle of water. Cool. This was going to be nice.
The Hip Bath technician parted the front of my drape and began to stir herbs and leaves and what looked like salts into a crock pot beneath the hole in the box. Soon it seemed like a good-smelling stew was brewing beneath my va-jay-jay. The tech stirred the concoction with a big wooden spoon, then resealed the drape and went away to talk with her friend in the body scrubbing room. At first, things were fine. I was getting warm and I could feel beads of perspiration gathering beneath my breasts and running down my torso. Good. Great. I could literally feel the toxins pouring from my body.
Hm. Wait a minute. Things were starting to get a little hot "down there." I opened my eyes and starting looking around for the technician, but I was completely alone in the room, tied into a floor-length drape, sitting on a box with a crock pot boiling steam up a hole into my cootchie. This was no longer comfortable or feeling good. This was hot and I desperately wanted to drink the water sitting only inches from me on the floor. But I couldn't get my arm out of the drape. As I looked, longingly, at the beads of condensation rolling off the sides of the bottled water, my mouth literally went bone dry and I thought I was going to pass out from dehydration right there on the Hip Bath box in a Korean bath house on Pleasant Hill Road.
As a tear began to form in my right eye, the tech came walking into the room. I really thought I could hear angels singing around me. Deliverance had arrived.
"You okay?" she asked me in choppy, heavily-accented English.
"Um," I croaked through cotton mouth. "It's hot." That's all I could manage to say.
She mumbled something in Korean to herself, parted the drape in the front, and I sighed with relief as fragrant steam billowed out of the front and a rush of cool air enveloped my private areas.
"Water. Please." I whispered faintly. She unscrewed my water bottle for me and put in my shaky hand sticking out of the front of the drape. I put it to my lips and sipped gingerly. There are not words to describe the feeling of gratitude that rushed through me in that instant. As I sipped, she stirred more herbs and plants into the crock pot.
"You get hot - you open this," the tech said as she pointed to the crack in the front of the drape. I won't bore you with more details of the Hip Bath experience, but I will tell you that I truly enjoyed resting in the cold whirlpool afterwards.
Anyway, you get the point. Some of the things that happen in spas are not always pleasant experiences. But I for one am addicted to them. I get acupuncture, massage, reflexology, and pedicures every month. I love sitting in steam rooms and dry saunas or whirlpools. I even take my sons to the spa.
My 8-year old has enjoyed reading next to me in an "igloo sauna" while his older brother swam in the coed lap pool at JeJu. I want them to know that a massage, meditation, or a body scrub is for everyone regardless of sex, age, income, race or religion. Hopefully they will have more gain than pain with their spa experiences. Woo Sah...