I venture down the deeply carpeted corridor, following a few discreet signs which direct me to my goal. After nearly 24 hours of travel, including a long, overnight trans-Pacific flight, I eagerly anticipate relief for my tense and aching muscles at The Langham, Auckland’s Chuan Spa.
The dim, hushed hallway provides the perfect introduction to the spa entrance, where stone floor tiles and soft charcoal walls lead to an etched-glass moon gate which glides open silently at my approach. I follow the sound of trickling water (chuan translates roughly to “flowing water”) to a staircase, where split bamboo troughs channel the water down either side in mini cascades. Already I feel some of my mental tension draining away as the soothing sound, natural colors and indirect lighting put me at ease.
After I check in at the reception desk, an attendant leads me to a small anteroom, offers herbal tea or water and asks me to fill out a brief questionnaire to facilitate personalizing my treatment. The Chuan Spa philosophy is based on Chinese traditions that seek to maintain spiritual and physical harmony by balancing the five elements of metal, wood, fire, earth and water. Therefore, in addition to answering the usual questions about specific “problem” areas, the amount of pressure I am comfortable with and the kind of music I prefer, I must indicate my general mood over the last few days (happy, depressed, anxious, angry), what season and time of day I prefer and what colors I like. I am told that my responses conclude that today, at least, my element is water. The essential oils and lotions used and even the liquid refreshment I may be offered during my treatment will be selected based upon this element, with the goal of relaxing and realigning my mind, body and spirit.
In the spacious changing room, my locker holds a thick terrycloth robe, slippers and towels. This area also serves an outdoor heated pool and Jacuzzi spa as well as the hotel’s state-of-the-art health club — all of which spa clientele are welcome to use. My guide explains the Chuan Tri-bathing Ritual, which the spa recommends before a scheduled treatment. You begin by entering the snail shower, a tiled spiral of multiple warm-water jets embedded in the walls and ceiling. Adjusting the flow and temperature, you can direct the water on sore, tight muscles. From there, an enormous bowl of crushed ice awaits. After scrubbing handfuls of the stuff over the skin — in order to open pores and increase circulation — you have a choice of herbal steam room or sauna to conclude the ritual.
The idea behind this hot-and-cold alternating regime is to bring balance to the body. In addition, it “stimulates and awakens your senses” and is meant to be “instrumental in … stimulating the immune system, enhancing blood circulation, promoting detoxification and restoring the body to a state of harmony.” After spending half an hour passing between the ice bath and the sauna and steam rooms, I am both more awake and more relaxed.
Swaddled in my robe, I finally pass through the door into the treatment area. Dark wood floors gleam softly in low lighting, and shades of bronze, brown and gray soothe the eye. My therapist leads me to the treatment room from which gently waft the sound of classical music (my preferred genre) and a pleasing aroma of essential oils chosen to complement my element.
After she briefly confers with me on those areas which are most tight and sore, adjusting the table temperature slightly to my liking and establishing the right amount of pressure I desire, my masseuse begins to work out my travel kinks, and I drift off to a barely conscious state.
An hour later, free of all tension and feeling oh-so-mellow, I float into the Dream Room, the relaxation room presided over by a gently smiling Buddha statue and lined with a series of chaise longues enhanced with pillows and bolsters to support my rubbery limbs. Once settled, I enjoy a small glass of orange-mango-date juice (quite tasty) — a choice again influenced by the water element. Shortly thereafter, a waiter presents chocolate-dipped strawberries and a flute of Champagne. Feeling perfectly balanced, I happily accept both.
The next day, The Langham’s managing director, Jeffrey van Vorsselen, takes me on a tour of the Chuan Spa Havens (“Nirvana” and “Serenity”), located just across the hall from the spa’s entrance. These may be booked by couples or individuals who wish to indulge in added privacy for their treatment or package experiences — or simply enjoy the amenities of these special suites. Each features subtle Chinese décor with rich brocades, velvets and silks in muted blues, plum, mulberry and gray. Dark wood carved screens separate a sitting area from the bedroom, while another opaque sliding panel leads from the bedroom to a magnificent bath. Dominating the center of the bathroom is a deep, dual infinity tub, and to one side is an oversized glass-enclosed shower with a multitude of gleaming fixtures. My biggest concern in booking one of these elegant and peaceful retreats is that I would never want to leave.
Deeming it necessary to book one more treatment before my stay at The Langham is complete, I hesitate long over the generous selection of scrubs; wraps; massages; and hand, foot and facial treatments. I could even seek treatments with a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, but I at last settle on the Pure Collagen Velvet Facial. After again allowing plenty of time pre-treatment for the truly relaxing Tri-bathing Ritual, I lie back and enjoy the alternating sensations of warm then cool, textured then silky Thalgo products employed to smooth and rehydrate my skin. The recurring theme of the water element’s restorative effects arises here again in these marine-based potions.
Later, I blissfully relax in the Dream Room, sipping my tea. Ahhh, so this is what a harmonious mind, body and spirit feels like. Buddha and I exchange beatific smiles.
The Langham, Auckland
83 Symonds St.
P.O. Box 2771
tel 64 9 379 5132
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