Do you find exercise excruciating or equate massage with misery? Does focusing on flab and wrangling with wrinkles leave you lamenting? Here are a handful of havens so different from stereotypical spa resorts, they'll convert even a nonbeliever like yourself into a hard-core devotee of the power of spas.
Ten Thousand Waves
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Americans have a tendency to want to get things done, even when they go to the spa. They want to whittle away their to-do lists: lose weight, check; learn Pilates, check; stop smoking, check.
Not so the Japanese, whose traditional spa experience is all about having a good time in a beautiful place - a la Ten Thousand Waves, in Santa Fe, NM.
The haiku-like name of this landlocked spa refers not to location - this is sun-baked New Mexico, after all - but rather to activity. The emphasis here is on bathing in the Japanese tradition. The healthful effects of bathing oneself in hot water were the focus when the spa opened in 1981, and still are today. All the massages, treatments and skin-care regimens are designed to elicit the universal "ah that bubbles up when you settle into a big pool of hot water.
A most unusual treatment (by modern, Western standards) is the aptly named Nightingale Facial: An earthy-scented mask is concocted from nightingale droppings that are harvested on farms where the birds are fed special diets. Kabuki and Geisha relied on this detoxifying treatment back in the day when their makeup contained lead. The facial also softens, lightens and hydrates the skin.
Ten Thousand Waves prides itself on being authentic, not only in its Japanese philosophy, but also in its aesthetic. As a result, it has earned impressive kudos from spa-going aficionados for its Japanese-inspired interior design.
Indian Wells, California
Add water to clay and you have mud. Throw in a therapist, and you have a mud treatment. Mix in artistic inspiration and a spa-going companion for good measure, and you have Pittura Festa: a painting party.
With brightly colored mud and clay, Miramonte guests can paint their own bodies, faces and hair, as well as those of their partners and friends. A shower and a massage or lotion application finishes off this festive treatment.
Miramonte's artsy sense of rejuvenating fun doesn't end with Pittura Festa, however. Case in point: the BellaBody service. What expectant mother could possibly resist a cast in the form of her bulging belly? It's a fitting memento of a time when nothing fit, and of a place where people waited hand and foot on her.
Speaking of which, the signature treatment here is Map of the Foot/Heart of the Hand, a 90-minute exploratory service that includes pressure-point reflexology and hand analysis.
The underground waters at Miramonte run deep, historically speaking; this region was an oasis for Native Americans crossing the Mohave. The centerpiece of the Mediterranean-style spa is an outdoor grotto with a waterfall.
Not many spas could get away with this: a leather-skinned cowboy named Wyatt hands a hoof pick to a paying guest, points out a horse in need of a pedicure, and calls it grooming ... for the guest.
While many guests at Miraval sit poolside in the Sonoran desert, contentedly sipping biodynamic wine after succumbing to the signature hot-stone massage, vast herds subject themselves to this spa's self-discovery programs. One of the most popular of these programs is the Equine Experience - a dusty, half-day encounter that leads, predictably if amazingly, to clarity of mind.
Miraval is all about body mindfulness. Even as it pampers guests, it challenges them to new awareness levels, whether they're drumming, serving a tennis ball, salsa dancing, rock climbing or balancing feathers in their palms. In addition to more than 100 a la carte activities, Miraval offers 9 Life in Balance programs to guests who want focused guidance, on everything from midlife concerns, pregnancy, weight loss or healing.
Situated in the saguaro-dotted foothills of the Catalina Mountains, this high-desert haven makes the most of a spiritual setting; the monsoon season is especially enchanting.