Brave the Elements

Mother Nature has four ways to make you say,

Craig Stephens Health & Wellness

Water, air, fire, and earth — the essentials of life — all have powers to help heal and balance body, mind, and soul. Many popular spa treatments throughout Coachella Valley, from mud treatments to aromatherapy to seaweed wraps, harness their potent forces for our relief and relaxation.

Taking the Water

The desert became a spa destination after Native Americans particularly the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians  sought the powerful, natural hot springs and wisely tapped them for healing, purification ceremonies, and sacred gatherings. Hot springs therapy gained a measure of mainstream U.S. popularity in the 19th century and became a phenomenon in the 1940s. During this era, doctors, resort owners, and an enthusiastic public attributed many cures and health benefits to the therapeutic mineral content of the geo-thermally heated waters.

The word “spa” is an acronym derived from the Latin solace per aqua, meaning health or peace by the use of water. Travelers and residents “take the waters” in scores of resort, day, and medical spas from Palm Springs to La Quinta to Desert Hot Springs and beyond.

“‘Taking of the Waters,’ conducted in various steps, relaxes guests as it increases circulation, removes toxins, and relieves muscle tension,” says Tony Calsolaro, spa manager at Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs. “The tranquilizing power of nature’s mineral waters acts as an anti-septic.” According to Calsolaro, Palm Springs is the only place with waters known to include calcium, carbonate, sulfate, sodium chloride, magnesium, bicarbonate, hydrogen-ion activity and potassium naturally.

The therapy starts with five to 10 minutes in a steam room and sauna, followed by time in an aromatherapy inhalation room, thermal mineral baths, and finally a tranquility room. “The combination of steam, sauna, and eucalyptus inhalation with the healing powers of our natural mineral spring water and tranquility room will aid you in achieving total relaxation,” Calsolaro  says. “You should allow at least 50 to 60 minutes to fully enjoy your spa experience.”

The hotter the water, the greater its mineral content, say balneologists, who study therapeutic benefits of naturally occurring mineral waters. After an exfoliation, the skin can easily absorb healing minerals.

Different minerals have varying benefits. Although arsenic in large doses is toxic in the human body, minute amounts may assist with plasma and tissue growth. Foot bathing in high-arsenic mineral waters addresses fungal conditions.

Boron builds muscle mass, increases brain activity, and strengthens bones. Magnesium converts blood sugar to energy and promotes healthy skin. Potassium helps normalize heart rhythms, reduce high blood pressure, and eliminate body toxins and promotes healthier skin. Sodium and natural salts can ease arthritic symptoms and, in baths, stimulate the lymphatic system.

Spa experiences emphasizing water include hydrotherapy pools, Vichy showers, and seaweed wraps.

The Well at Miramonte Resort & Spa in Indian Wells offers another: a treatment called AquaWell, an innovative adaptation of Watsu that cradles you in 98-degree water as a therapist guides and moves your body to induce relaxation and increase your range of motion.

Feel the Air

The eucalyptus represents another dimension to a fully rounded spa experience. Aroma-therapy  uses air fragranced by essential oils from plants, leaves, bark, roots, seeds, resins, and flowers to stimulate the senses. It soothes the mind and refreshes the skin.

Each oil has a specific therapeutic quality, says Cristina Cascio, spa director at La Quinta Resort & Club, whose aromatherapist studied with five aromatherapy masters, each known for a particular expertise and background. With their guidance, she gathered information on the quality of individual oils and their therapeutic applications.

The aromatherapy oil that guests choose often determines the application technique. At La Quinta Resort & Club, aromatherapy massage incorporates the tranquil beauty of the desert landscape: “The serenity of the mountains and manicured grounds almost forces you to relax,” Cascio says.

Inspired by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, La Quinta Resort & Club offers the Cahuilla Sage Wrap. A centuries-old remedy, sage cleanses, calms, and opens airways.

For the wrap, a therapist applies desert sage balm to your neck, shoulders, and back, followed by a warm, herbal wrap to relax and detoxify.

Fire & Nice

The Ayurveda, the oldest known medical document — which appeared in Sanskrit in 568 B.C. — prescribed the sweat bath and 13 other methods of inducing sweat. So it comes as little surprise that saunas remain a staple of any spa. Sitting in a sauna or sweat bath could be the most vigorous activity you have all day. The heat produces an artificial “fever” and compels every organ of the body into action.

While outwardly relaxed, your inner organs are active, as if you were jogging or mowing the lawn. The process cleanses from inside through the skin, your body’s largest organ.

Hot stone therapy uses heat to balance energies, detoxify tissues, and relieve muscular tension. Maria Duran, assistant spa manager at Agua Serena Spa at Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells, says her spa’s signature hot stone treatment “applies the ancient wisdom of aromatherapy to the ritual of therapeutic hot stone massage to create harmony and positive energy flow. Using various techniques and essential oils, warm stones are strategically positioned to relax the body at its deepest level.

A well-rounded desert experience simply must include a trip to a spa. The relief and relaxation you achieve will keep you in awe of Mother Nature.

Healthier Land Use

The earth’s powers to prevent, treat, and cure disease is an ancient prescription with contemporary medical and cosmetic applications. For example, mud  administered discreetly in a spa or enjoyed as a bath amid steaming volcanic rocks  encourages long-lasting health and beauty.

Therapeutic mud in spas is extracted from deep beneath the ground’s surface to minimize the presence of impurities. Dead Sea mud, red and black clay, China clay, peat, and sand factor into treatments for many health conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, rheumatism, inflammation, infection, joint injuries, and skin problems (such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis). Mud therapy reduces blood pressure and may stimulate the immune system.

“Vibrantly colored earth pigments also have a therapeutic value for the skin,” says Di Francesco of The Well at Miramonte Resort & Spa.

Earth painting takes place outdoors in a private setting. An attendant will provide the brushes, muds, and clays and can assist with application. An open-air shower completes the experience.

Cascio says the Fango Mud Bath at La Quinta Resort & Club is a valuable aid to body detoxification. “Derived from nourishing volcanic ash and soothing pine needle extract, finely textured fango powder provides a deeply cleansing treatment when poured into your garden tub soak and whirlpool. As you relax, the active ingredients draw toxins from your body, gently easing aches and pains. This treatment is especially good for athletes,” she says.

The Spa at Desert Springs, a JW Marriot Resort & Spa in Palm Desert, offers the Thermal Ritual, based on the European tradition of using medicinal mud, healing waters, and light massage therapy. The treatment has detoxifying and relaxing effects.

“This trilogy begins with an organic Moor mud body wrap,” says Spa Manager Bruce Taylor. “The body is then immersed in a bath laden with thermal mineral crystals from the famous medicinal waters of Sarvar  Spring in Hungary. The 80-minute treatment is followed by a massage using a soothing mineral crème mixed with juniper, grapefruit, and fennel essential oils.”