Priorities: Spas From the Man’s Perspective

Spa Élan

By Iris Brooks

Photos by Iris Brooks

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, August/September 2004. Copyright 2004. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Men are noticing there is a need to take care of themselves now,” says Patricia Eli, Spa director at the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Hawaii. “In the past 10 years, they have been expanding into spa treatments, trying more than massage and fitness. Women like frilly things; men want to see everything to the point, with results right away.”

I was curious to investigate the male client’s point of view regarding top spas I’ve been to around the world. Each of these is a spa I recommend. The men I traveled with did not opt for specially-designed “men’s packages” with a golf component or treatments with specific men’s products, but chose from the general spa menu. What do these men look for and remember about their spa experience? Following are their impressions.

Lee Brooks, 81, California (author’s father)

Retired Doctor of Oriental Medicine

What do you look for in your spa experience? I want to relax and get closer to self and the universe. The person and quality of the therapist is more important than the specific system they use. I look for subtle energy waves: How sensitive are they and what energy do they transmit is very important to me.

The Aspen Day Spa Aspen, Colorado

The city of Aspen sits on 14,000 feet of glacial debris and is known for its ski slopes, as well as its summer music festival. While the Aspen Club and Spa — a short walk from downtown Aspen — is technically a day spa, it bears more resemblance to a destination spa. The impressive array of workshops with top-notch leaders supplements the extensive treatment menu, including some alpine specialties (snowshoe meditation walks and high altitude massage). Their Sports Medicine Institute offers full-service physical therapy.

Highlight? My therapist for the stone massage was very open and very in touch with himself and what was happening around him. He was not attached to his ego, and there was a bond between us and also the rocks. He unified the rocks with what was happening in my body at the moment. He was so tuned in to what was happening with me. Often massage therapists are more concerned with doing ‘their’ thing.

The effect of the stone treatment was profound. He briefed me on what I might expect. A lot happened after the treatment; there was a deep impact beyond the immediate session. I was drained of ego-self energy and more connected to a universal energy. I was wobbly when trying to walk after the treatment, and I lay down in the relaxation area. A lot was happening on many levels: I was reviewing my life and experiences from possibly past lives or beyond the normal realm. I was tapping into transpersonal experiences and mystical events. It was awe-inspiring.

I also had an eclectic massage with an older woman who was great. It was mostly Swedish with a mixture of other techniques. Good therapists incorporate the best techniques from different systems. She was open to what was happening. She started rhythmically but connected with me. I appreciated her sensitivity.

Surprise? I had no expectations about the stone massage. He explained everything, but his approach was more experiential. He didn’t superimpose his will and allowed me freedom to be. Usually, I have a preconceived notion about what a massage should be, and I direct them (massage therapists) about where to go and what to work on. When you are in touch with the energy, it’s unusual, but the best.

Extra? I had a good time on the meditation walk. The leader taught us figure-eight exercises with bent knees. This was very helpful, relaxing, and relieving for my knees. It breaks up standing time, and I still use this technique a lot.

Brooks Blanchard, 50, New York

Photographer/Audio & Video Designer

What do you look for in your spa experience? I look for healing and the soothing of aches and traumas.

What do you look for in a massage? It’s important to tell them what’s bothering you. It’s best to do this at the beginning but OK to do it throughout the massage. I think you should always feel free to suggest more or less pressure. I believe more pressure is important, but just short of pain. Don’t be shy about asking for what you want.

Indian spas in general? You feel the thoroughness and the old culture. They have been doing this for 3,000 years, and you feel the depth of the approach in the ayurvedic treatments.

Oberoi Spas Jaipur and Agra, India

The Oberoi Spas offer a large, exotic spa menu including a turmeric skin purifier, papaya mint wrap, and a sand bundle massage. The traditional wooden massage tables, made of nem wood or jackfruit, have medicinal properties and help process the oil. The doctor in Jaipur takes time to do a full consultation before recommending specific ayurvedic treatments. In Agra, the spectacular rose petal-filled bath overlooks the Taj Mahal.

General impressions of this spa? This lap of luxury in an exotic enclave felt outside of time and otherworldly. The architecture, with a courtyard bleached by the sun, brought out the sense of royalty and splendor of the past. Both of these spas were very clean and professional with cheerful, positive therapists.

Highlight? The professional therapists were emanating healing. I particularly liked the Indian massage with two people working on me simultaneously in a choreographed stretching and pulling with symmetrical movements. It was so complete. As you are swept up in a current of energy, you just submit while they pull your pains away. This was particularly true with the scalp and forehead massage. It feels so different from your standard American massage. In India, it is perfected and has been worked out over thousands of years.

Surprise? The quantity of Indian massage oil used, especially the oil being poured from a vat over your head, washing away your aches. Saturated by that much oil felt like a dream.

Extra? The whole environment was a feeling of the top of the world, the best you can get. Catering to kings, queens, presidents, this really first-rate experience is complete luxury.

Ananda in the Himalayas Rishikesh, India

Customizing ancient texts to a modern style, Ananda, on 100 acres in the foothills of the Himalayas, offers an integrated holistic approach connecting body, mind, and soul with lifestyle and diet. In this aesthetically pleasing spa, the fragrance of ginger lily fills the air as well as perfumes the shampoo and conditioner. The ayurvedic doctor, who believes pulse diagnosis is the most important part of ayurvedic consultation, gives practical advice to return home with, such as lunch becoming your largest meal of the day. Cooking classes teach ayurvedic recipes.

General impressions of this spa? Luxurious with a soaring, peaked landscape. The hilly “campus” had golf carts for getting around. They worked as a team of professionals attending to your well being from several angles with excellent meals and effective healing herbs. The restaurant offered exquisite views.

Highlight? Being up in the sky on the mountain, many feet above Rishikesh, was great. The aesthetics of the spa were also pleasing; I liked the footbaths lined with stones in a circle with four quadrants, each having a different temperature.
As you walk around the circle, the stones massage your soles, releasing toxins, and opening and closing the pores.

Surprise? The ayurvedic doctor who gave the analysis was very thorough. My dream patterns changed after his extended questioning and prescribing of herbs. Previously, I had trouble remembering dreams, and at Ananda I had several days of vivid dreaming. The combined treatment of the doctor and chef was very effective. There was real success with healing by following the ayurvedic treatments and food.

Kevin Misevis, 56, New York


What do you look for in your spa experience? I like the hydro elements, especially with strong water pressure where I feel the energy connection.

What do you look for in a massage? I look for the total, sensual aspects of a massage — deep as well as light. I like it when my body tingles afterward. My muscles get tight and need to be stretched out and de-knotted, especially in my neck. I look for someone who can go deep. I always tell the person what I like and where to work. After I direct them to my problem places, I let them work their magic.

Spas in Thailand in general? Thai massage is the best as far as I’m concerned. They (massage therapists) address not only your muscles and myofascia, but your bones. Thailand does it deeper. They even crack everything from your neck to your knees and big toe. The massage includes stretching and it releases stress and tension.

Banyan Tree Phuket Phuket, Thailand

The Banyan Tree is on the coast of Phuket Island in tropical southern Thailand. This lovely garden spa offers treatments both indoors and outdoors. There are a good variety of local Thai healing treatments including the Thai herbal heat treatment during which herb-encased poultices are heated and applied to the body to relax muscles. The lovely and luxurious private villas are hard to leave, but the spa café beckons.

General impressions of this spa? I loved the ultimate pampering and total lifestyle of the private villa with pool and the hot tub without chlorine. The food was excellent.

Highlight? I liked the rooms with lots of light and air. And I liked the two therapists working on me simultaneously. They worked strongly, and I love a strong massage.

The Oriental Hotel and Spa Bangkok, Thailand

The Oriental Spa provides consistent, highest quality treatments with attention to detail in a very inviting spa environment. Located on a legendary river in Bangkok, this grand old hotel dates back to 1876. The fresh papaya body polish is a terrific treatment. They develop their own herbal recipes for healing at this pampering spa.

General impressions of this spa? I loved the smiling, female therapists who were very accommodating and flexible. The private couple suite was great, allowing easy access from the hot tub directly to the massage table. The setup of the spa was very inviting and flowing with good chi. It made you want to go back.

Highlight? Fabulous Thai massage with simultaneous reflexology. The seaweed wrap felt like being in a protected cocoon, sucking in nutrients all over your body.