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Between inflation and real estate prices and the climate emergency and civil unrest, there are plenty of good reasons for Vancouverites to feel a titch stressed right now. Luckily, we live in a city where there are equally as many ways to chill back out. From high-end body treatments that soothe the soul to surreally serene sound-bathing to sumptuous cedar tub soaks, consider this your ultimate guide to finding a moment of peace in these chaotic times.
Written by Kerri Donaldson, Alyssa Hirose, Stacey McLachlan and Anicka Quin
The Five-Star Forest Bath
Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Pacific Rim, 1038 Canada Pl.
Nowhere but the Willow Stream would mud and salt feel like such luxurious balms. In the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s award-winning fifth-floor spa, the Canadian Wilderness Retreat treatment (from $289) leans hard into the West Coast’s natural wonders. An invigorating hemp-and-sea-salt scrub is applied with fresh seaweed before your full-body massage with cedar-and-orange infused Canadian Wilderness oil; the experience wraps up with a grounding foot mask of glacial clay and an ooh-that-tingles scalp massage. You’ll be invited to choose your soundtrack from a curated music menu, but ocean sounds are the way to go for this particular treatment: in the dark room, the scent of the rainforest and the crashing of waves is downright transportive. Don’t forget your swimsuit: the intimate Jacuzzi and mineral baths on the terrace, available two hours pre- or post-treatment, are worth the price of admission alone. (Saunas and steam rooms are available, too.) There’s no wrong time of day to pop in, of course, but an evening treatment here, with those terrace pools lit up and the city lights twinkling below, feels at once cozy and luxurious… particularly when followed up with an Old Fashioned at the Lobby Lounge downstairs.
The Dream State
Sky Studio Lucia, #310–207 W Hastings St.
Meditation can be difficult and time-consuming on the best of days—but a single 60-minute session under the Lucia N°03 meditation lamp ($147) may just offer a shortcut to getting in the zone. Lucia’s specialized tech incorporates flickering light at various speeds and intensities and a constant light at different brightness levels to create a hypnagogic or lucid dream-like experience, activating what some have called the third eye. Proponents of the practice say it brings you into a deep meditative state that might only otherwise be achieved after hours or even years of dedicated practice. Lay down on the heated amethyst tourmaline pad, eyes closed, and take in the gentle nature sounds from provided noise-cancelling headphones: the bright white lights from the Lucia will pulsate and intensify, causing you to see a vivid kaleidoscope of colours (not unlike a psychedelic trip) while your thoughts blissfully wander. Fully immersed in your own mind, the hour feels like 10 minutes; you’ll awaken from your trance feeling like you’ve just had a really great nap. A warning to those looking for a passive, less stimulating experience—this might not be for you. But for those wishing to tap into their subconscious, spark their creativity and accelerate their meditative practice, this light therapy could be the ticket. Experience it in pairs ($263), or with five of your friends ($900 per group); Sky Studio Lucia also offers workshops that combine reiki, energy balancing, craniosacral or pranic healing with your light therapy.
The Sublime Soak
Chi, the Spa at Shangri-La, 1128 W Georgia St.
If you’re a self-identified “bath person,” take heed: Chi, The Spa, tucked away on the fifth floor of Vancouver’s luxury Shangri-La hotel, is a soak-lover’s paradise. In the temple-like private suite, a roomy infinity bath awaits, filled to the brim with relaxing Lola Apothecary rose milk—the ideal medium for melting your cares away (and giving big Cleopatra vibes). But this is no ordinary tub: optional colour-changing lighting helps put you in a 30-minute meditative trance. This dreamy state carries through into your massage (signalled by a hand bell, because time does not exist in this space), which incorporates warm rose quartz crystals, soothing oils and hot towels to dissolve away any remaining stress. Then, turn your attention to your breathwork as you step into your eucalyptus steam shower, followed by a tea service (choose from a variety of organic teas, from herbal to black) that awaits to transition you out of your blissful haze and back to relaxed reality. If your obsession with water-based activities is still not sated, soak a little longer in the spa’s terrace pool or hot tub—you’ll need a swimsuit for this one, though. shangri-la.com
Otō Healing, 16 E 5th Ave.
Sometimes we can all use a good scream. That’s just one insight you might take away from a sound bathing session with Otō Healing ($150), the sound therapy practice that lifestyle-journalist-turned-branding-guru-turned-trained-sound-therapist May Globus created in 2019.
Sound bathing, or sound therapy, is a meditative practice that uses sonic vibrations to help with the modern-day plagues of our society—doing everything from treating pain and sleep disorders to relieving anxiety and promoting creativity. A session begins with an intake form that gets into how you’ve been feeling—tense? headachy?—which Globus goes over before the treatment to delve underneath how stress actually shows up in your body. Is it anxiety? Worry? Is there physical pain anywhere?
After a guiding you through a few deep breaths, Globus works with both a rattle and a drum to wake up your body and help it receive sound. It’s startling, but not unpleasant. Transition to a few qi gong sounds to centre the stomach, heart and body—even then, you can feel the vibrations as you repeat and chant along with her. She then moves to playing crystal bowls of different frequencies and harmonies, responding to both your earlier conversation and to whatever she senses as the session progresses. Globus looks for twitches in her clients’ hands and feet to signify tension release, and observes what notes she’s playing when a client breathes deeply—signifying an emotion coming up or releasing. Responding to the “throat” bowl, for example, could indicate that you may need to release some built-up tension.
You’ll leave feeling floaty and deeply relaxed—and that’s part of the goal. And maybe you’ll be ready for that good scream, with your therapist’s permission.
The Needle-Free Facelift
Enhance Arts Aesthetics and Spa, 220 Davie St.
“Buccal fat removal” is the latest celeb cosmetic surgery trend, but Enhance Arts Spa advertises similar (non-invasive, non-permanent) results through simple massage ($189). The treatment includes facial cupping, gua sha, face sculpting massage and intraoral massage—yes, that means they massage the inside of your cheeks (wearing gloves, of course). You might not notice a huge change in the way your face looks after your first appointment (likely due to the fact that the practitioner is going easy on you—a less-firm method is used for beginners), but you will find that your jaw feels so much more relaxed. For people who clench or grind their teeth in their sleep, this is a godsend. And the inside-of-the-mouth massage is actually very soothing. Who knew.
The Hidden Gem
Absolute Spa, 900 W Georgia St.
Is Absolute Spa located in a spooky abandoned underground corridor below the Hotel Vancouver? Sure. But just view this retreat to the underworld as a physical manifestation of your attempt to escape from your responsibilities. Besides, the lack of natural light doesn’t impact the sunshine-y nature of the seasoned staff here—you’re in good hands with aestheticians like Kathy, who has been chilling out Vancouverites and visitors for 20-plus years. With the Ultimate Detox Reviver ($195), you’ll be expertely buffed to a near-shine and then deftly massaged with grapefruit, rosemary and juniper oils. While a scrub may be a more active treatment than a customized aromatherapy massage, there is something deeply soothing about being tenderly flopped around like a rag doll and emerging, glowing and anointed with luxurious oils and potions, on the other side—back into the sun and the real world. But before you go, linger with almond tea and cookies (that’s right, no bowl of green apples here!) in the moody back-room lounge afterward to savour the out-of-this-world moment.
The Tokyo Drift
Kiku Wellness Japanese Zen Spa, 805 W Broadway
Finding Kiku Wellness tucked away on the fifth floor of a Brutalist medical building in Fairview feels like discovering a treat, and when you open the nondescript door to enter the reception area, the reward is immediately apparent: the view is downright jaw-dropping, with unobstructed sightlines across False Creek to the city skyline and rolling mountains beyond. (We dare you to disrobe for your treatment without closing the shades: what other chance will you have to flash Grouse?) But you’re not here to admire Vancouver’s postcard-perfect good looks; you’re here to be restored and rejuvenated, led by Kiku’s commitment to omotenashi—Japanese hospitality. It shows up in the little moments of delight: ask for water, and it comes artfully arranged on a tray alongside a crispy, light-as-air cookie from Tokyo. Kiku bills itself as a “Japanese Zen spa,” and the Zen Destress Signature face and body massage ($159) is executed with a tender and focused mindfulness by practitioners who intuit things from your body that you may not even be aware of: a tension in your scalp (“Do you do a lot of thinking?”) or inflamed pressure points in the arches of your feet (“Has your digestion been ok?”). Its 90 minutes will leave you both knot-free and totally seen… and not just by those mountains. Arigatou.
The Instant Glow
OO Spa, 1428 Granville St.
First things first: don’t use Google Maps to find Oo Spa, the local outlet of the Tokyo-based spa chain. It’s one of the ground-floor shops of Vancouver House (and no, you don’t need to do loops of the bridge to get there—thanks Google). But you’ve found it, and you’re in the light-and-bright space to get glowing with a Luxe-Skin revitalizing facial ($235.80). A specialist will look at your skin under lights, and start a double-cleanse with the spa’s proprietary Myufull skin-care line, developed in Tokyo to deeply hydrate and work with your skin’s natural pH. But this isn’t your average cleanse-and-repeat facial: it’s followed up with their high-tech wand, which quietly buzzes over your skin to promote collagen production and lymphatic circulation and to tighten the jawline—and damn if before-and-after photos don’t prove that to be the case.
The Old-School Indulgence
Wedgewood Hotel and Spa, 845 Hornby St.
Simply walking through the lobby of the Wedgewood Hotel has a soothing effect: something about the old-world charm of the high-end, European-inspired decor makes your brain forget that modern distractions like cell phones even exist. From there, it’s up the elevator to the compact but tastefully appointed spa: wrap yourself in a robe (the first step in any day of indulgence, natch) and sip tea on the lounge’s tufted sofas or in the slate-clad eucalyptus steam rooms until you’re whisked away for your treatment. Pair a muscle-melting, deep-tissue Signature massage (from $180) with a detoxifying sea salt body scrub ($240) for a true forget-your-problems day off: the post-scrub green tea and ginger root body wrap balances the skin while also invigorating the mind. Then throw that robe back on and continue to not think out on the spa’s sun-dappled secret garden patio.
The Magic Moment
Mirage Hammam, 1495 W 6th Ave.
It would be easy to take the magic that is Miraj Hammam for granted: they’ve been quietly brightening up their little corner of south Granville for over 20 years now. Thankfully, when founder Surinder Bains retired this past year, new owner Yen Thai grabbed the baton and has kept the magic going. And on a rainy Tuesday, there’s nothing better than stepping inside this little jewelbox. The hammam—a steam-filled room, lined with Jerusalem gold marble, that’s inspired by traditional Middle Eastern hammams—is yours and yours alone when you arrive. After your soak in the steam, a spa attendant exfoliates you from stem to stern with black Moroccan soap in mesmerizing movements toward your heart, a combo of both massage and skin-stimulating exfoliation known as gommage. And do gild the lily with a post-treatment massage ($235, massage with hammam and gommage) in a room lined with arched clerestory windows—you’ll practically melt into the velvet pillows of the lounge room afterward as you sip traditional tea and snack on biscuits. True bliss.
The Oil Change
Sense at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, 801 Georgia St.
If you could start every day with warm oil drizzled down your spine—as it does when you take a Sensory Journey (from $630) at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia’s Sense spa—well, every day would almost certainly be excellent. The “journey” is a half-day session at the spa that covers Sense’s most popular treatments—from massage to facial to mani/pedi—with a recharge of a spa lunch at your midpoint (a mod Cobb salad loaded with healthy chunks of lobster, perfect avocado, eggs… and a blissful moment to dive into a rom-com novel, a warmed pillow resting on your once-tense shoulders). And what a journey it is. Once your therapist moves from the full-body massage to a double-cleansing facial, her fingers dancing like raindrops across your face, you’ll wonder why all massages and facials don’t come as a duo treatment by default. (Particularly when she revisits that knot behind your scapula as the enzymatic exfoliant does its tingling good work on your face.) By the time you’re tilted back in a zero-gravity chair for your soakless pedi three hours later, you’ll be as zen as a woman who started her day with warm oil poured down her spine—and ready to float down Georgia Street on your way back home.
The Heeling Pressure Massage
Barefoot Oasis Foot Massage and Spa, 168 Keefer Pl.
If you’ve ever gone for a full-body massage and wished the time spent on your feet had been longer, run (don’t walk) to the Barefoot Oasis for their one-hour foot reflexology ($78). Disclaimer: you’ll never want your loving partner to rub your feet again. This isn’t just any foot massage; it’s a euphoric escape into tension relief that radiates all through your body. It also doesn’t tickle in the least bit, so don’t let that give you cold feet. After starting with the neck and shoulders, your massage therapist pokes and prods at your pressure points like a hired assassin whose target is strain (finding tight spots you didn’t even know you had) to get you primed for supreme relaxation. Meanwhile, your feet are soaking their cares away in a warm basin of lavender, tea tree oil and lemongrass. Then, you can ooze into your reclining chair, curl up under your blanket and roll up your pantlegs as your tension assassin lathers your feet in unscented lotion and coconut oil and skillfully tackles your toes, feet and calves with hands-on pressure—pushing, pulling, digging and tenderizing every joint and muscle to sole-crushing relief. Hot towels on your legs and feet mark the end of your reflexology massage (and your ability to hold tension in your muscles) as you Bambi-leg your way out of the chair and back into the world. But first, take a few sips of complimentary tea and enjoy your newfound spring in your step before you skip away into the rest of your day.
The Zero-Gravity Peace Pod
Hälsa Float Spa, 2028 W 4th Ave.
Prior to actually trying it out, you might assume that floating naked in a zero-gravity pod full of Epsom saltwater is a living nightmare. But the genesis pods (80 minutes, $72) at Hälsa float spa aren’t scary at all: you have full control over the lights, music and, most importantly, the pod door (which opens very easily). Each pod is in its own private, spacious room, complete with shower for scrubbing off post-float. In fact, you might spend the first 10 or so minutes not in fear, but in boredom—how are you supposed to entertain yourself for 80 minutes suspended in saltwater? But then, before you know it, a gentle voice is telling you that time is up. What seemed like it would be a stressful experience turns out to be so peaceful that it’s common to fall asleep—and have one of the best naps you’ve ever experienced.
Feature image credits: styling, Alsu Pasek; hair and makeup, Kelly Newman; model, Asel; swimsuit: Fenntessa; location: Rosewood Hotel Georgia