Everything I never knew I would love - My first experience at a Korean Spa
Imagine all of your spa experiences.
Now erase them.
This is no ordinary body treatment or spa for that matter.
I fully intended on capturing a live video on Facebook, before and after style, but I didn’t even have language skills left in me when I was finished. So, for this email, you may want to run to the bathroom, maybe grab a snack and strap yourself in because this is promised to be a long post!
We began the morning at Laura’s house in Redondo Beach and made the quick drive over to Torrence where Riviera Health Spa is located. From the outside parking lot view, it looked almost like a Wells Fargo style building - corporate and reflective. But like most places in LA I’ve come to find that the exterior is no reflection of what is going on inside.
Coming in through the doors we were greeted by two attendants who handed us our towels, a fresh outfit and a wristband key with the number of our locker on it, and we happily bounced into the ladies locker and changing area. The rows and rows of dark wood lockers and white tile floors welcomed me back to the receiving end of spa like an old grandmother’s squeeze at Thanksgiving.
Ahhhhhh…..I’m home! Let the joy begin!
Here’s where things become different than what I’ve ever been exposed to in the 10 years in the spa industry. Now before I dive in, I want to state that different does not equal inferior. Different just means it’s something other than what I’ve known. This level of different demands a certain level of body comfort and maturity than the modern day western spa’s we are used to today.
Instead of changing into the outfits provided, we wrapped a towel around our bodies and headed out into the main room where we dropped the towels and wandered into the open stall concept of the shower area. Much like gym class in high school but equipped with amazing shower heads, this is where you begin to shed the layers of funky energy you carry with you, where you cleanse your body of lotions and oils so they don't’ get the pools yucky, and you get comfortable again being in a large room completely naked with other women.
These are women of all ages, sizes, colors, races, backgrounds, etc. There were children there as young as about 4 years old (I didn’t ask - I assumed by the height of my children). Most spa’s I have ever gone to have rules about being 16 or 18 years old to even get past the front desk. Not here - here they teach their children that a family Sunday spent at the spa is good for them, is fun for them and as a family. I want to scream it from the hilltops guys - they’re teaching the children how to love their body and how to take care of themselves from young on. If only we had that same blessing just imagine how much healthier and relaxed our bodies may be.
There is a steam room, a sauna, a cold pool, a hot pool, and my first pick: the warm pool which proved to be hot enough for my body. There are phenomenal health results from going from temperature extremes. Hitting up the sauna, then plunging to the cold pool, back to the sauna, then into the cold pool, the hot pool, and the cold pool - all these temperature variations help increase your circulation in an effort to detoxify your body. This will aid in cleaning out sluggish organs, purifying your skin, helping body functions improve and much more. However, based on my comfort and the amount of time we had, I kept my naked rear end in the warm pool, happily soaking with my naked friends.
I’ve seen naked bodies on a frequent basis for the last 10 years of being an esthetician. There are several treatments I’ve done that require a totally nude person on a table with some draping if they prefer it. However, being the fully naked person, out in the open for all to see….well that turned the tables on me and brought to light some concepts I had thought I had under control. It’s a storyline that is applicable to many conversations in life: when it’s you, it’s a different story.
And just like that, a string of practitioners walked into the room over to a partial wall and began to undress, right down to their bra and undies. Now in all my years working in a wet room doing body scrubs and wraps I cannot tell you how many times I wish I could have just been able to wear a swim suit because you get SO soaking wet and then have to pull your whole shift with soggy pants. So this was joyous envy to see them doing that - my mind was thinking ...
“oh, how brilliant!!!”
And we were all called out of the tubs and asked what our locker key number was which designated us to certain bare massage tables in one large wet room. Every person gets their treatment next to the next person, no draping, no dividers. To add to this, there is very little English spoken (not that I needed that but it does make you feel a bit like a fish out of water when you’re naked and don’t understand directions, lol!).
In my training, we are taught to look our guest in the eye and introduce yourself slowly and softly - begin creating the energy vibe to lower their cortisol levels. Let them know what you’ll be doing so they aren’t afraid, discuss comfort level of draping and let them know how you’d like them to start out on the table before you allow them time to position themselves prior to you starting.
My lady promptly told me to “lay on belly face here” and I stammered a bit not knowing if I should introduce myself and shake her hand but I just said okay and did as I was told. This whole time, I’m not going to lie, I thought “holy shit, what did I sign up for here and what are they doing to do to me?!”
And she began.
Her strokes were quick and deliberate (oh this is not the slow motions I’m accustomed to, okay, okay, huh) and she had super scrubby Brillo pad-like loofah mitts on her hands and she just got all up over me. The gloriously scented soap reminded me of a the good grandma smell...fresh lye, rose, lilac, and whatever extra clean scent that comes along with it.
She scrubbed every last inch from in between my toes, to my lack-of-pedicure-feet, up my calves and hamstrings, up my back - so, so, so much time on my back! She’s scrubbing and scrubbing - and I visualized myself like a fish on a cutting board getting all the scales scraped off.
Then without notice she grabbed a huge bucket of super warm water and doused me with it and I’ll admit I about gasped from freaking out for a hot second (pun intended), and then I heard her dump the bucket back in water area she was getting water from and WOOOSH she tossed another one on me.
“OMG,” I’m thinking, “This is the first 5 minutes of an hour and a half."
“TURN!”, she says, and so I flip as quickly as I can. As I do so, I notice the excessive amounts of shed skin laying all over the table. (Eweee that was on me - but - whoa - now it’s not -hmmm - I’m beginning to like this) She does the entire Mary Jane on my front side. All of my front side. And let me tell you, for all of you reading this. The western spa industry can be so very shy about women’s chests. It’s so incredibly freeing to just lay on a table and allow someone to scrub every inch of your body especially areas that barely ever get touched. And when she was finished I got the two big buckets of water poured over me once more.
This time as I heard her bucket, I knew what to expect and it wasn’t as shocking, in fact, it began to feel pretty darn good.
“TURN!”, and so I whipped my body back over to my belly and this is where the fun really began. This lady began flipping my legs around in ways that we’ve never been told to in all my training - doing a secondary exfoliation in areas she missed the first go around. Thighs, bikini area, and up the rear end - every last part was exfoliated on the second pass. This time, she told me “up” and I sat up and she pointed and said “shower” and grabbed my hand and put a cream in it and motioned for me to wash my face. So I slowly walked to the shower and rinsed the remaining skin off and washed my face and when I came back she had laid towels out on the table for me.
This is where the fun began!
She had my whole body so smooth from the exfoliation that when she started the massage part it glided on so effortlessly. Still, her movement was quick and deliberate. No smooth strokes at least 3 times as I was taught - she was getting down to business and if that meant she had to get up on top of me on the table in order to use her body weight to enhance the pressure, well then so be it.
I had a half-naked lady on top of my oil-slicked body and let me tell you….everything felt like how a dark chocolate sea salt truffle tastes …. impeccable.
She continued to communicate with me in her words, “up, down, flip, turn” and I obeyed and allowed her to do what she planned. She gently massaged rosemary and mint oils into my hair and scalp and wrapped my head in a warm towel. She massaged my face and painted on a cucumber and milk mask. She then placed warm hot towels across my body as she finished massaging my front side.
I was jelly.
She got every single knot out of my body and spent extra time in areas of pain that I didn’t even know I had. I was so slippery that at times I couldn't keep my arm on the table because it would just slide off on its own. She ground into my feet the way I wish every massage therapist would and she worked the tight bands out of my quads and calves that scream after I wear heels.
She was like the scary amusement park ride that you start of wishing you wouldn’t have agreed to but don’t want to get off when the ride comes back to the station.
Just like that. She was done. She told me to get up and not wash anything off for the day and handed me my wristband key and began cleaning up. I stood there a little dazed. Very quiet. Totally relaxed. Very much on a massage high. And I wandered off back to the locker area unable to speak.
I kept thinking “how in the heck did I think I was going to be able to do a live Facebook video after this?!” And both Laurie and Laura giggled in a knowing way once they saw me and my stoned expression. So we changed into our outfits, which were clearly stolen from the set of Orange is the New Black (blaze orange and gray one size fit all pants and t-shirt) and took the elevator up to the second level.
The next floor up contained a Korean cafe which served up the best vegetable spicy ramen noodle I’ve ever had. The beef and dumpling soup looked amazing and the kimchi was every bit just as good.
There was a large mediation area centered between a Himalayan salt sauna and Jade sauna. And on the other side a Clay sauna and cold marble room. I’ve never been a huge fan of saunas as it gives me an intense feeling of claustrophobia so I made it about two minutes in the Himalayan salt room before going over to the cold marble room and then into the mediation area.
Sometimes the room was quiet and I was able to reflect deeply and come to peace around areas of confusion or lack of clarity. Other times, I would catch conversations around me and my ego would jump back in and lock out the zen. But the times of quiet were incredibly influential and well spent moments.
As all good things must come to an end, we went back downstairs to change and gather our things prior to walking back out into the California sunshine.
It’s incredible that for the almost five hours spent there, the entire day cost just $150 (1.5-hour aroma massage $110, food $13, cash tip $25). Let me break this down for you how I’m thinking about it in my mind.
You cannot get all that service in this area for less than $200. No place in the area will cover that much body space. Ever. No therapist has ever manhandled me in a way that left me feeling breathless and boneless at the same time. I have never walked about of a treatment or spa experience as smooth, radiant, calm, clear, and grateful as I did at this Korean Spa.
This was a huge lesson for me in, once again, climbing out of
my comfort zone and trying something new. Learning to be comfortable in my own skin once again. Actually allowing myself to trust a stranger with my body. Truly receiving when I’m so accustomed to always being the giver in a setting like this. It was a powerful learning experience. And I share all of this, the funny, the weird, the amazing, with all of you in an effort to encourage you all to keep reaching for the uncomfortable things in life to break you open.
You just never know what amazing soul inspiring adventures are around the corner when you just say “go”!