Unwise or Unwind?

Imagine setting yourself on fire, throwing yourself in a pit of snakes, covering your body with leeches, and rubbing excrement on your face. These aren’t just medieval forms of torture anymore; they are spa treatments! Lemondrop’s Top 10 most Bizarre Spa Treatments sound more like something you would watch on Jackass than actually do for personal benefit. However,  it appears every one of these is legit and their proponents swear by them. For 7 out of 10, I would just be swearing.


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.

Spa Trivia

Photo by Natasha Irvine

The word spa has different meanings for different people. For some, a spa is a place for a massage and a pedicure, a place to get pampered for an hour or even for a week. Others use spas as a way of improving or maintaining their overall health and may undergo intensive balneotherapy and hydrotherapy sessions. Originally word spa comes from the town of Spa in Belgium where people would go to heal by drinking the hot spring water as early as the 16th century. The word for the town may have come from the Walloon word espa meaning fountain. The widely circulated rumor that the word is an acronym for the Latin phrase “Salus Per Aquam” or “Sanitas Per Aquam” meaning “health through water” sounds romantic, but it is false. Acronyms were not often used until the 19th century; spa may not be an acronym but is a backronym.

Ritual Bathing

Around the world, throughout history and in almost every culture there are rituals around bathing. For many the act of washing is not only external purification, but internal or spiritual as well. Even today, all the major religions in the world have a ceremony in which water is used as a symbol for spiritual purification; consider the various uses of baptism, bathing in the Ganges and the Islamic absolution ritual wudu.

In most of pre-Christian Europe and the rest of the world hot springs were sacred places. They often had temples built on or near them and became places of worship. A well-known example is Bath, England, where nearly two thousand years ago, a temple was built to Minerva near the hot springs. In the 3rd century, the Romans constructed the baths as we see them today.

St. Augustine

There is a traditional Finish saying, “Saunassa ollaan kuin kirkossa,” – you should be in the sauna as in a church. However, throughout history the Church has intermittently condemned bathing. Plato and Augustine’s separation of the physical and spiritual spheres vilified the body, condemned public bathing, and severed the connection between physical and spiritual well-being. Consequently, even in the 21st century many people incorrectly associate bathhouses only with prostitution and sexual activity.

Though bathing is becoming less associated with formal religious ritual in the west, practices such as yoga, meditation, and even pastoral care are associated with the growing spa industry worldwide. Even the decor at many spas references sacred spaces. There is usually an atmosphere and etiquette that encourages a quiet, meditative environment much like the Finnish recommend. People are encouraged to speak in soft voices, leave all distractions behind, close their eyes and breathe deeply. The atmosphere is, by nature, spiritual. Whatever your views, going to a spa will undoubtedly create a deeper harmony between your mind and your body; which were the original intentions of ritual bathing.

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.


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.