It’s a new year, a time of resolutions and reflection. Well, my reflection says, “Time to take better care of the aging mare.” Yes, I see grey hairs popping up like colorless tulips thinking every day is spring. The little lines on my face are beginning to read a trail and tributary map. My sturdy cottonwood legs have tracked many miles through mountains, foreign lands, and more often on the treadmill. This mirror, this reflection, also commands my New Year’s mantra, “Love thyself.” Which is what leads me to the “Naked Spa.”
My friend Rhonda and I head to the Olympus Spa, a Korean day spa, for some relaxation and “seshin,” soaking in hot tubs followed by a 40-minute scrub treatment. I know two things: 1) No men are allowed; and 2) I will be naked a lot. At the entrance, we trade in our shoes for a towel and the great equalizers—a shower cap and a thin cotton hospital gown with pastel stripes. The look is a little “Hello Kitty”-cafeteria-lady for me, but I embrace it as a new, humbling cultural experience.
We enter the pool room, the naked area; elsewhere, we wear robes. I prune up just looking at all the water features—curtainless showers, a drinking fountain, a 60-degree waterfall, 90 to 102-degree whirlpools, and a mugwort herbal tea dipping well that I’m to splash on me whenever the mood strikes. Mugwort, a plant related to the daisy, claims to contain natural antibiotics and sterilizers. I soak in the medium hot pool and thought I’d feel more self-conscious about my nakedness. After about twenty minutes or so, I don’t feel so exposed, vulnerable, naked anymore. Essentially, we’re the same but we all have different outside shapes and battle scars.
Which is just as refreshing as the mineral bath I’m melting into. Sure, a few of the extremes are represented here—the super-toned bods; the breast implants saluting at full attention though they should be swinging low with their heft; and the even spray tans. And really, so what? Mostly, the pieces and parts that parade before us are of all different ages, sizes and color tones, well within in the bell curve for the average woman. When you unwrap the package, bundled under padded bras, Spanks and multi-layering, is the average woman trying to be her best. Frankly, most of it ain’t so perfect, so we can stop expecting such for ourselves. I want every woman here to rip off their robe, look at their imperfect bods in the mirror and say, “Daaang, I look good.”
After an hour-plus of acting like little birdies dipping in and out of the shower, various pools, sauna and steam room, it’s time for the body scrub. In Korea it’s a weekly ritual, this cleansing process. Men and women are separated, but commonly family members wash each other. I had just witnessed this between two ladies in the common shower area in the pool room.
My Korean “ddemiri” (scrub lady/therapist) leads me to a brightly lit, tiled room. Rhonda is led to a different room. Five, gurney-like, padded, massage tables line up next to another without dividers between them. Shower nozzles hang from the wall into buckets of steaming water. The room rings “torture chamber.”
“Lay down please,” my ddemiri says in stretchy black shorts and a tank top. My head rests on a warm, wet towel. I’m ready for my waterboarding now.
First, I feel I’m in the shallow end of the wading pool and a warm, liquid blanket flushes over my back in a wave. Surely, this is how the perfectly twisted ice cream cone feels as it is dipped in hot chocolate, just warm enough to melt you without destroying you. Several buckets follow. Whoosh. Whoosh over my body, onto the floor, and up the walls. It puts me into an altered, fuzzy state.
She scrubs with medium pressure from feet to back for ten minutes. The secret? Dial soap. I want to say, “You missed a spot,” but I’m positive she didn’t. More buckets of water. Whoosh. Whoosh. It makes me want to pee my pants, but guess what? I’m not wearing any.
Most of the time it is quiet, except the chatty guests, the Korean duo who thinks this is their own private hot tub party. I understand nothing, except when one daughter shrieks, “Too hot. Too hot.” Her 80-plus year old mom next to me shouts, “Ohhh, my God! Ohhh, my Gaaahhhd! I don’t belieeeeeve!” She is having a religious experience, or she just really likes it, and who can fault a person for exclaiming their own happiness.
My therapist says to me, “Turn sideways please.” In my view are various sides of pork on butcher tables, dappled pink from scrubbing, including the 80-year old outburst lady. For a moment, I’m glad Rhonda is being treated in a different room. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to catch a glimpse of my friend getting her butt crack scrubbed by a stranger. Nor do I want her to see my holistic experience either. I wasn’t quite ready to share that kind of cultured intimacy with my own friend.
By the time my back and both sides are done, I’m hardly phased by getting my front scrubbed down. She rubs across my hollow belly, a quick swirl around my navel. She applies light pressure to my chest with her Italy towels, and I now know what my scone dough feels like as I shape it before it is popped into the oven.
I lay face down again. It’s time for the foam and final rinse at the carwash. A lighter scrubby and a frothier, citrus scented soap is used, maybe Dawn for dishes. It is now bubbling all over me, slick like oil. Whoosh, whoosh comes the warm liquid blanket, gliding over my smooth bod. Then, just as I feel a little chilled, wet hot towels are pressed into my back, my legs and mid-section. She rubs the towels with pressure, shaking all my jiggling parts. My skin, now friction-free, feels like my entire epidermis might slide free like a jellied fat suit, like one solid slab of chicharrón bound for the fryer.
“Please sit up,” she whispers. My blood redistributes through my body and I come out of an anesthetized trance. The final pulse, the whoosh across my back. “Okay, you’re done,” she says. “Here is your robe.”
Then, for another hour, we enjoy the “Far-Infrared Ray” rooms heated at various temperatures above 100-degrees. Each is lined with a combination of natural materials like mud/jade, sand/ charcoal, and sea salt, which claim therapeutic properties. My skin is smoothe, like buttah. I feel. Amazing.
We don’t need much of anything except a good lotion, and clothes. We redress in the locker room where the lively, naked Korean duo from my scrub room are now. They chat away, but this time they lather each other with body lotion. I smirk at Rhonda and say, “What’s it gonna be? Lemon verbena or lavender?”
She raises her brow, “Um, we’re not that close of friends.”
We spent four hours at the Naked Spa with the silence of no cell phones or electronics. Just the sound of water and excitable Korean ladies. Now, the word “wash” shall replace “watch” in the phrase that signifies this spa day and this friendship, “I’ll wash your back if you’ll wash mine.”
Ladies, go to a Korean day spa with a friend. Be refreshed to know we all have different shapes and sizes, beautiful vessels that have taken us so far in life. All are good. Be less critical and more accepting of your own body and as important, others’ too. Mostly, remember my New Year mantra: “Love thyself.”
Love this day.