Viva la Relaxation

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There was a time not long ago when self care meant food, shelter and clothing. Those were the basics, and if you had them, you were doing just fine. But back then, people didn’t have to contend with the 24-hour workweek via Crackberry. Today, self care requires a little more pampering. And one of the best signs of a truly evolved individual is awareness that time at the spa really isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity.

In the same vein, the American male has come far in recent years in his acceptance of the spa. He’s grown to embrace and befriend the manly mani-pedi and the brow wax. A good massage, he’s learned, can be next to heaven. In turn, spas themselves have developed a bevy of services specifically for their more masculine patrons.

I arrive at Viva Day Spa one late afternoon after a particularly stressful day. Car trouble, work overload, friends in crisis – if there is ever a time some relaxation is in order, this is it. The first thing I notice is the blue sign out front, which says a lot in itself. Below the name of the place is the tag line “For Men and Women.” The purpose, the proprietors tell me later, is to make sure guys know that they’re welcomed and won’t be shunned.

Inside, the experience really begins. I’m immediately struck by the soothing fragrance that permeates the reception area.

The front desk is dominated by an ornate, antique Indonesian panel. It’s just the first taste of the interesting juxtaposition that plays throughout the spa where the structure and grace of old world pieces meet the cool clean lines of modern furnishings.

The receptionist is pleasant and after I fill out a client information form, I’m busy checking out the merchandise on the shelves, still a little wired. The Seda France Candles intrigue me. Like most else at Viva, the product is indigenous to Austin. Launched in 2001, the candle company’s primary Toile line is inspired by the centuries-old French printing process by the same name, incorporating visually dramatic colors and fragrances in to pillars of light. Equally alluring are the jewelry designs on display by local artisan Simone Zahavah, who uses architectural elements of the ancient world in her original works. I make a mental note about possible gift ideas.

1-5My massage therapist David meets me in the reception area and walks me back to the treatment room. The décor in these rooms is minimalist, with little more than the treatment table and one or two antique pieces that bring to mind the calm of East Asia. It’s the music that really sets the mood. Ranging from the melodic sounds of Oriental drums to the more upbeat rhythm of an Irish folk tune, it oddly all seems to flow.

David begins by explaining the services I’ll receive and asks my preference on a few options. For guys, selecting treatments is often the most challenging part of the spa experience. There’s a lot of uncertainty if you don’t know what you like and what might feel uncomfortable or a bit weird. I’ve always hated anyone touching my nails, so for me, pedicures and manicures are unquestionably off the to-do list (I once got a pedicure following a massage and ended up far more edgy than before I arrived). But everyone is different. For most guys, the massage is a good place to start and build from. Viva offers a full range of services for both sexes, from facials and body wraps to deep-tissue massages and full blown de-furring in a service affectionately referred to as the “Brozillian.” That shouldn’t be too hard to figure out.

For my part, I’ve already chosen Viva’s men’s package. A basic roundup of services guys typically enjoy, the men’s package includes some time in the sauna, a one-hour deep-tissue massage, scalp massage, hot herbal steam towel treatment, and choice of back or foot salt scrub. I pick the back scrub, because really, how much attention does your back ever get? Talk about neglect.

After I change into a robe, David brings me to the sauna, where the relaxation regimen kicks off. There’s something inherently soothing about sweat. Wait – hear me out. In a sauna you are still, not actively working to make yourself sweat. The heat is doing the labor and all you have to do is sit and sense the toxins being released from your body. As I lay against the hard cedar planks, I imagine that with the appearance of every new bead of sweat, I’m losing another worry. It’s catharsis at its best, and a great way to get in the right mindset for the rest of the spa experience.

In time, David returns for me with a glass of ice water and I pad back to the treatment room. The massage starts with my back. The mark of a good deep-tissue massage is relaxation to the point of nearly falling asleep, a process interrupted periodically by enough pressure to jolt one back to consciousness. As if on cue, I’m rather quickly lulled in to a trance-like state by the intense kneading. By the time I turn over and the process begins anew on my chest, I’m contemplating how much of my paycheck I need to set aside for a standing weekly appointment.

Where the massage leaves off relaxing the muscles, the steam towels begin. As the towels are wrapped around my limbs, the heat is at first intense and then comforting. Hot towels are the secret to soothing just about any muscle ache and I’m suddenly aware of things being relaxed away that I had nearly forgotten and just learned to deal with.

When the scalp massage begins, I’m instantly aware of how little physical attention the top of my head gets outside of the rinse-and-repeat repertoire of shampooing. Our heads carry our brain, our eyes, our ears – everything, and yet our scalp, covered by the hair that we (sometimes) obsess over, often gets overlooked. The massage is extremely calming – and I begin to feel like I’m being soothed back in to my earlier trance.

As I imagined, the back scrub is exhilarating. Coming on the heels of the massage, the scrub seems to peel away all that I’ve ignored about my back. We tend to focus on our chests and abs – the front, more visible corpus parti. But think of the back as the yin to the abs’ yang. Balance is crucial.

With my treatments complete, David exits and I relax in the room for a few minutes before changing to leave. Out in the lobby, a hot cup of herbal tea awaits me and I spend a few minutes enjoying it and chatting with another guest. I know it’s just a matter of time before I’ll be back for another round of pampering.

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