Chicago, Ill., The Peninsula, The Peninsula Spa

Apr 1, 2010
2010 / April 2010

“Sparkly.” That was my answer to the spa therapist’s question, “How do you want to feel at the end of this treatment?”

I was at The Peninsula Spa by ESPA in Chicago for a two-hour indulgence dubbed the “Uplifting Mint Experience.” I discovered the treatment a few days earlier while perusing the spa menu in anticipation of my visit. Its description caught my eye amid a veritable feast of “ceremonies” and “journeys’’ and “rituals,” many boasting an Ayurvedic or holistic influence.

“This uplifting ceremony begins with a refreshing tea and ceremonial foot ritual using mint grown in the Midwest. Mint is prized for its many health benefits as both a tea and when applied to the skin. A skin-softening mint-and-apricot-kernel body scrub prepares the skin. Advanced massage techniques are combined with refreshing oil containing wild mint, believed to improve headaches, enhance mood and provide relief from stress. The experience concludes with a relaxing head massage to dispel any remaining tension leaving the inner self, mind and body restored.”

The therapist, whose energy was a bit more rah-rah-cheerleader-chatty than I would have expected in such a hushed atmosphere, asked the question as she served tea and began the soothing foot bath. I learned later that ESPA training teaches therapists to use this pre-treatment time to get to know spa guests, to get a feel for where they are emotionally and physically in order to customize the treatment to address their specific needs. Standard questions might include, “Do you like spicy foods?” or “Where do you feel emotionally on a scale of one to 10?”

In fact, a visit to ESPA is perhaps a bit more controlled than most spa experiences. That’s because ESPA is a brand with more than 100 spas — most located in 5-star hotels and resorts — in two dozen countries around the world. Founded in 1993 by Susan Harmsworth, ESPA touts a philosophy that combines ancient tradition with modern research. While I have known of the brand for quite some time, I had always been confused by the “E” in ESPA, assuming that, like so many “E” things these days, it had something to do with electronic technology: Not that my assumption made any sense, of course. I just never gave it much thought.

As it turns out, the “E” is for education, a key component in the rigorous training therapists must complete before they gain entry into the ESPA family. But don’t make the mistake of assuming education and brand standards lead to a cookie-cutter spa experience. Ceremonies and rituals are designed to complement the location of the spa. A Peninsula-specific line of products comprises therapeutic essential oils and botanical extracts regarded in Asia for their calming, restorative and energizing properties. The Uplifting Mint Experience I enjoyed is unique to The Peninsula Chicago.

Following the foot bath, my therapist offered me a choice of scented oils, the theory being that I would be drawn to the scent that would most benefit my physical and emotional well-being on this particular day. The oil was then incorporated into the treatment which included a body scrub and massage. The body scrub was fabulous, leaving my skin smooth and soft, but the massage was out of this world. Forget the long, sweeping strokes used in Swedish massage, the tension-popping pressure of a deep-tissue massage and the push-me-pull-you stretching of Thai massage: The simple-yet-elegant pressure-point technique applied during my session was almost celestial in its ability to ease tension-based pain, resulting in a release that left me feeling as if I was floating on a cloud above the table.

Following the treatment, I drifted in a pleasant stupor to the relaxation room, where I sipped tea while reclining in the privacy of a curtain-draped chaise longue. I usually find it difficult to lounge for long following a spa treatment. By the time I finish my tea or citrus-infused mineral water, my mind is racing again, ticking through all the items still on my “to-do” list at home or at the office. Not this time. I gazed without focus at the city skyline softly illuminated on an unusually warm autumn afternoon for quite a while before wandering to the ladies’ locker room, in no hurry to don my street clothes and return to the real world.

But the real world did beckon eventually. I had places to go and things to do. And I felt “sparkly.”

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