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How I Found Zen Amid My Mounting To-Do List

You, too, deserve some pre-holiday pampering.

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photo collage of women relaxing, finding zen
Elena Lacey
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The first time I opted for a CBD add-on to a 60-minute deep tissue Swedish massage, I was skeptical of the ingredient’s promised powers. As someone who absolutely does not fall asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow, it should come as no surprise that I don’t ease into a spa treatment immediately either.

CBD (cannabidiol) won’t get you high like THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, but studies show that it can help reduce stress and anxiety, which is why I decided to give it a whirl.

Nonetheless, I doubted its efficacy, which is why I am thrilled to report that my CBD-enhanced massage at the Viceroy Snowmass a couple of years ago was one of the best massages I have ever had. Instead of lying on the table and feeling the push and pull of alternately falling into a deeply relaxed state and anxiously fretting about how little time I had left on the table, my body sunk into a state of bliss within moments.

These days, spas are offering an increasingly broad range of treatments. In addition to the standards — massages and facials — there are many innovative amenities offered, such as salt baths, icy pools, cupping and aromatherapy. Many mind-body boosters don’t come cheap — though aren’t we worth spending money on relaxation and restoration as we strive for healthy aging?

Of course, for every pricey treatment I've had at an upscale hotel spa, there have been just as many, if not more, good ones. This must be why I keep returning to Fishion Therapy Center in New York's Chinatown. I started going for massages there when I was training for my first marathon, and I still love to treat myself at Fishion. It's exactly what my body needs to unwind and de-stress. And this is incredible bang for the buck in the city, $71 for a 90-minute full-body massage.

The Spa at The Dolder Grand in Zurich, Switzerland is positively sprawling at 43,000 square feet. This includes an indoor and outdoor pool, whirlpools, outdoor sunning area and plunge pools. Unless you’re someone who enjoys taking an icy cold shower every morning (I am not one of these people), taking that first cold plunge into 53-degree Fahrenheit water can be intense. Still, I’m glad I did it, for afterward, I felt both mentally stimulated and maybe even a little euphoric.

According to Sabine Schanzenbach, The Dolder Grand’s Spa Director, this is more or less what’s supposed to happen: “The change from hot to cold is physiologically incredibly healthy for your body. When you step into the cold plunge pool, the cool water immediately numbs the nerves surrounding your joints and muscles, activating the release of hormones and endorphins.”

To be sure, the journey to Zen via a spa visit can require some mindfulness. As a highly scheduled person, I often struggle with the pre-and post-treatment. It’s not that I don’t want to relax with a cup of hot herbal tea and a little dish of dried fruit while lounging on a daybed before meeting my therapist. It’s just that I need a little self-coaxing that it’s perfectly okay to abandon my mounting to-do list. Perhaps, I need a bit of hypnotherapy first.

Based in Miami, Carillon Miami Wellness Resort’s resident hypnotherapist Joanne Burgess says starting a spa day off with a hypnotherapy session makes a lot of sense. “People are going to the spa to relax, release stress and anxiety, but they’re not always able to do it when it comes to their mind,” which is where hypnotherapy comes in, explains Burgess. “I’m bringing you into your conscious awareness,”

Earlier this summer, in need of some self-care, I booked something at a local hotel called Zen Harmony Phyto Aromatic Body Ritual. The Sisley-Paris Spa in the Dominick Hotel in Manhattan was just a 40-minute subway ride from my home in Brooklyn, but by the time I arrived, I was hot and disheveled and in desperate need of some pampering.

I found it within the walls of the spa, which emanate calmness and tranquility in both the gently hued lounge areas. In the pristine treatment room, my therapist worked nearly every body part, even delving into the space between my toes, surprising me but ultimately delighting me.

Recently, I indulged in a cupping aromatherapy treatment at the NoMad spa at the Ritz-Carlton New York — well worth the money. Prior to the start of the treatment, I had the chance to smell two different essential oils — the aromatherapy part of the treatment. I opted for lavender, a scent associated with improved relaxation and sleep.

As for the cupping aspect, this ancient Chinese form of alternative medicine used by athletes like Olympian Michael Phelps to actor Jennifer Anniston uses cups to create a suction on the skin to improve circulation and heal various parts of the body — and can leave circular bruises. According to the Cleveland Clinic: “This suction force expands and breaks open tiny blood vessels (capillaries) under your skin. Your body replenishes the cupped areas with healthier blood flow and stimulates proper and normal healing at a cellular level. Because of this effect, some people think that cupping releases toxins” — and can improve range of motion.

Whether or not toxins were released, this I know for certain: By the time I went to bed that night, I slept better than I had in weeks.

While treatments at day spas and hotels can be costly, there are many affordable options that get the job done as well. During my last visit to San Francisco, where I walked everywhere, even up the city’s notoriously steep streets, I popped into a foot massage parlor near the Museum of Modern Art. With tax and tips, I spent $38 on a 30-minute reflexology session. It was heavenly, and I was able to walk many more miles on that trip.

No matter your budget, treat yourself to a little self-care via a spa treatment. As the holiday rush awaits us all, you deserve as much R & R as money can buy.

When was the last time you went to a spa? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo credits: Stocksy (2); Getty Images; Courtesy Carillon Wellness Resort (2)

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