Body Blitz

Body Blitz: Photo by N.Irvine

Nestled on a side street in downtown Toronto, Body Blitz is an urban day spa with the tag line “Health by water.” It is Canada’s first, women-only water spa and is a funky place to hang-out for hip Torontonians seeking to refresh and detox. As I caught my first glimpse of the water, I saw that I was about to enter a modern day Roman Bath dedicated to urban goddesses. Naked and barely dressed women were lounging in deep pools or on oversized and overstuffed chairs, while attendants circulated among them carrying trays of pre-ordered herbal infusions and health smoothies. The mood-lighting played up the facility’s brick walls, wood tones, and chunky metal fixtures creating a stylish and chic environment.

There is a recommended circuit for taking the waters at Body Blitz. It starts off with a shower before entering. This is a good thing to do at any facility for sanitary reasons, but at Body Blitz, it is part of the experience. The showers here are the most luxurious public showers that I have ever experienced. They completely drench you with thick heavy drops that massage you, falling with their natural weight. The frosted glass cubicles are well stocked with Body Blitz’s own brand of natural bath products that are light and fresh. They use lime and mint to energize your skin and scalp while you suds-up.

Water Circuit: Photo by N. Irvine

The first stop on the “official” water circuit is the sea-salt pool. The description says that it’s purpose is to warm and relax your body to prepare you for the steam room. After my steam I rinsed the accumulated toxins off my body and marched into the cold plunge. This is one of the best steps, but it takes some courage to get used to. You need to stay in a heat source long enough to actually feel the benefit of a sudden cooling down and you also need to stay in the pool, up to your neck, for one minute. Doing this actually closes and refines your pores while stimulating your thyroid and regulating your heart rate. I find it exhilarating, but this time I was glad to know that I was on my way to the infrared sauna immediately afterwards. Though I am a sauna veteran, this was my first experience with the infrared variety. An infrared sauna uses radiant heat, instead of conductive heat, to warm the body creating an arguably greater effect than a traditional sauna. It was a good experience, though I did not find it to be drastically different in any way. After this, I was off for a rinse and cold plunge before heading over to the immune boosting, green tea pool. I got there just in time for my energizing smoothie to arrive. It was so heavenly I did it all again. Twice.

My Fingers When I Was Finished: N. Irvine

Body Blitz is conveniently located in downtown Toronto: on 471 Adelaide street, between appropriately named Spadina and Bathhurst streets. The various spa treatments available should be booked in advance but are not necessary to enjoy the facilities. Check out the treatment menu and before you go to maximize your spa experience and go on a Tuesday for an extra good deal on your soak.

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Banya5

Banya5 and Venik Lounge: Photo by Natasha Irvine

Banya5 is Seattle’s premier Russian sauna experience. It is self-described as an “extreme environment,” and with the sauna, or prilka, at 200 degrees they are not joking around. After initialing in at least five spaces and signing the waiver in the reception area I was able to watch a short video detailing spa specifics. I learned that, like their Scandinavian neighbours, the Russians also alternate between hot and cold temperatures to heat and cool the body and regulate the heart rate. The difference is that Russian hot is HOT! I was there for the real Russian experience, so after I changed into my bathing suit I walked passed the other tempting facilities (salt pool, hot tub, cold plunge and steam room) right into the sauna. After only 7 minutes I was cooked to the point where I felt like combustion was imminent. I walked the few paces to the cold pool and plunged in. Time to do it again? Absolutely!

Banya5 Layout: Photo by Natasha Irvine

Personalize your experience at Banya5 by booking a massage or a scrub. You can also enjoy a cup of tea or lemon water in the upstairs lounges perfect for napping, chatting, or reading. Just don’t expect a perfectly solitary retreat. With its modern industrial design this place is quite hip and social. It gets packed on weekends and in the evenings. Bring friends or join the regulars after your soak for a bit more of Russia at the vodka bar next door: Venik Lounge.

Urban Scandinave Awarded

Scandinave Les Bains Vieux-Montreal is part of the Scandinave Spa Group and the only urban spa of the four Finish style delights. It has been given the honour of the Governor General’s Award for Architecture 2010. The spa was designed by  Saucier + Perrotte Architectes. Watch their slideshow that shows the graceful light and lines of the spa and you will see why it deserves the distinction.

Hothouse

Photo by Natasha Irvine

On Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington there is a steep staircase going down behind the shops of an old building on Pike Street. If you ring the bell by the door at the bottom of the stairs you will be pleasantly surprised by what you find when the door is opened for you.

A tightly knit knot of small compartments make up a women’s only, clothing uncommon, public bathing facility called Hothouse Spa and Sauna. In the dimly lit rooms there is a serene atmosphere where the people are friendly, whispers are mandatory, and the simple pleasures of being hot and clean are enjoyed.

Lavender by the Hothouse Entrance: Photo by Natasha Irvine

After taking off your shoes and signing in, the rather cluttered reception area gives way to sleek bathing facilities. The locker room is open onto a quiet area for resting where you can fill a glass with filtered water and lime slices between soaking and sweating. A quick shower is mandatory before moving on to the sauna, the hot tub or the luxurious lavender steam room. Massages are a good thing to book in advance, but I just happened to be lucky and got one only minutes after signing in. The rate for entry is only $12 and massages are more than reasonable as well. Though affordable, the massage was excellent and the facilities were modern and spotlessly clean. The experience I had at Hothouse rivals many which charged triple the price.

The only complaint I have about Hothouse Spa and Sauna is the bathroom. It is in a rather awkward location between the change rooms and the shower with two doors, neither of which lock, and only one very exposed seat. Unfortunately, this is also the only area where a blow drier is available. However, it seems that a simple folding screen or “L” shaped privacy curtain would be a simple way to remedy this problem. I hope they consider it, because despite this inconvenience I will go back to Hothouse Spa and Sauna whenever I am in the area. The lavender steam room alone is worth the trip.

JJ Family Spa

JJ Family Spa: Photo by Natasha Irvine

In the back parking lot of an athletics store surrounded by bigger big box stores, JJ Family Spa is an authentic jjimjilbang in greater Vancouver. A jjimjilbang is a Korean spa and is quite similar to a Japanese onsen or sento. It is a family atmosphere where people can relax in spacious heated rooms, bathe, socialize and get a variety of spa treatments.

Salt Room: Photo by Natasha Irvine

JJ Family Spa is a great place to relax, refresh, and enjoy a bit of Korea on this side of the Pacific. There are communal rooms for eating, chatting, and relaxing as well as a host of massage options. The male and female spa areas each have showers, a hot tub, a cold plunge, a steam room, and a sauna. However, the most unique feature is the Salt Room. A dimly lit room with a floor that looks like a giant sand box filled with salt and covered with white cotton sheets. Lying down I felt as if I was lying on a hot beach. The warm salt is said to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, treat acne, help allergies, purify the blood, and relax the muscles. Whatever the benefits it feels great and you can stay as long as you like.

JJ Family Spa Sign: Photo by Natasha IrvineThe website has been down for sometime now, so here are the details:

JJ Family Spa

(Sometimes called JG Spaplus Family Spa)

3000 Christmas Way

Coquitlam, BC V3C 2M2

(604) 552-1048

www.jjspa.ca

Extra Info:

  • Hours of operation: 9am until midnight daily. From May-August it is closed on Wednesdays.
  • $15 adult entry with discounted prices for children and seniors.
  • No bathing suits, sandals, food, dye, oils or lotions are allowed in the spa areas.
  • Pajamas for the Salt Room and two small towels (decency towels) are provided.
  • Your own shampoo, soap etc. is probably nicer than what they have on hand.
  • It is only a 5 minute walk from Coquitlam Central Station.

Scandinave

For centuries saunas were the cornerstone of Finnish health and healing. Today, it is said that there are two saunas in Finland for every five people and they are not considered a luxury, but necessary for health and well-being. The traditional procedure for taking a sauna is to use extreme temperatures to rid your body of toxins and refine your pores. This means: profuse sweating in a scorching, aromatic sauna while hitting yourself with bundles of birch switches to open your pores, followed buy jumping into a hole in the frozen lake or rolling in the snow to cool your body temperature and close your pores.

The Scandinave Spas are a Canadian spa group that brings the Finnish sauna traditions to Canadians and the hot/cold therapy to an accessible spa environment. There are three Scandinave spas in alpine locations: Mont-Tremblant, Blue Mountain, and Whistler, as well as one urban spa in Montreal.

Scandinave Spa Whistler: Photo by Natasha Irvine

This winter I experienced two of the spas, Scandinave Blue Mountain in Collingwood, Ontario and the newly opened Scandinave Whistler in Whistler, British Columbia. Both prize their natural settings by creating views from the facilities to groves of trees and the surrounding mountains. The architecture is modern, but inspired by rustic Scandinavian tradition; the décor is warm, uncomplicated, and takes its cues from nature.

The main attraction of the spas is the thermal hydrotherapy treatment. Which uses the traditional Finnish hot and cold procedure to stimulate healing in your body, smooth your skin and relieve stress. The facilities for these include a Finish sauna, a eucalyptus steam room, hot baths and cold pools.  Spa staff will suggest partaking in one of the heat sources for ten to fifteen minutes then plunging into the cold water for a few seconds followed by a rest for ten or fifteen minutes. Ideally, you want to repeat this process three or four times for maximum health, healing and relaxation benefits. I recommend trying the three heat sources and then going back to your favorite. As a grand finale, or perhaps as an intermission, there is a massage pavilion on site offering various types of massage from registered massage therapists. The combination of thermal hydrotherapy and massage is not only relaxing, but also restorative.

Though I found the spas to be very similar, there were a few notable differences.

Blue Mountain: bigger “resting rooms” and more patio space with hammocks outside in the summertime. Outdoor fireplaces with chairs clustered around them to rest and warm yourself and a lovely campfire smell. The baths are on a comparatively flat surface, with far fewer stairs to climb and a very open view of the other baths. The shape of the spa complex is circular, so it focuses in on itself. There is easier access from the parking lot to the spa.

Whistler: deeper cold plunges—gravity pulls you down into the water instead of you persuading yourself to crouch down into the water. The cold pools seem to be more conveniently located with quicker access from the heat source to the cold. The baths have more private nooks. The shape of the spa facility is a rectangle so the focus is away from itself towards the mountains. The drive there is along the Sea to Sky Highway and with its mountains, ocean, and shifting light, it is spectacular.

My experiences at Scandinave Spas left my skin feeling soft, my body cared for, and my mind refreshed. The staff encourages a quiet environment and a leisurely pace. Bathing suits are mandatory and nothing else is necessary, though you may want to bring a pair of flip-flops, your own robe, and a friend to share the experience.

The Hamam and A Hammam

Cagaloglu Hamam, Istanbul: Built 1741

A hamam (can be spelled hammam)  is also known as a Turkish bath, or a steam bath.  The hamam is the place where people in Middle Eastern communities bathed for centuries. They reached their height of popularity in Istanbul in the 15th century, and are still frequented today. Hamams are famous for their grand architecture, marble steam rooms, and bath attendants that will scour, soap and massage you clean. More recently, there has been a growing interest in hamams in the west. There are hamams in such cities as Paris, London, New York, and Vancouver.

My mom and I went to Miraj Hammam Spa in Vancouver when she came to visit. We were looking and for a different kind of spa; and found that Miraj Hammam offered an authentic hamam experience, and an enchanted trip to the Middle East.

We arrived, checked in, and were assigned lockers in the small well-appointed change room. After a shower we wrapped ourselves in the provided sarongs and were guided to a candlelit, marble steam room, with a vaulted ceiling. Here we were able to relax on warm marble slabs and absorb the gentle steam as little dancing flames illuminated it.

Before long, our estheticians came to give us a gommage, meaning a soft body scrub using black Moroccan exfoliating soap. Then, we rinsed, robed and went to private rooms for a massage.

Detoxified, buffed, and kneaded; we were as light as the steam that had cleaned our pours and feeling just as evanescent. We moved to the Sultana Lounge where we had tea and sweet buns while reclining on palatial day beds and drifting into a catnap. Eventually we roused ourselves and wandered back to reality.

Miraj Hammam Spa described itself as; “An exotic oasis where you can indulge yourself in traditional Middle Eastern treatments while your imagination takes you on a mystical journey into the past.” What the website doesn’t say is that every need you have has been anticipated, all efforts are made to ensure peace and privacy, and you come away rejuvenated and with a great story.

I am looking forward to going to Istanbul someday to visit a historical hamam. However, Reading Cathedrals of the Flesh, Lonely Planet excerpts, and various other travel writing, I understand that in many countries the bath attendants are not licensed massage therapy professionals. There also seem to be various types of hamans that have different operating principles regarding mixing gender, services provided, and tolerance towards tourists. So, it is a good idea to do some research, make some local friends, and ask questions before you go.