Friday, October 24, 2008


I’m no stranger to spas. I visit them across the United States and throughout the world. As you can imagine, this is one of the more pleasurable parts of my job. I see how much the spa environment contributes to peoples’ lives – women and men. But spas could contribute so much more if they were allowed to advertise what they can do for our health.

Spa is a word going back to Roman times when water and its attendant services were accorded their rightful place in general wellbeing. In fact, they were first designed for tired and wounded soldiers coming back from the many wars. It’s thought that the word “spa” comes from sanus per aquam (health by or through water.) The problem now is that words that used to be used in association with spa such as heal and cure, can get you into a lot of trouble in the US if you put them in your advertising copy. (Only those in the medical profession and, of course, drug companies are allowed to use those hallowed words without repercussions.)

This is unfortunate. I was in a spa in Slovenia once where I saw people in wheelchairs, on crutches and being helped by nurses as they made their way down to the mineral baths. They carried prescriptions that entitled them to days or weeks at the spa for ailments as diverse as arthritis, cancer and broken bones. This is a common site throughout Europe where the medical profession isn’t threatened by an alternative process that helps the body to heal itself.

I’ve just returned from an experience that fits right in with that picture. No, I didn’t see people lined up with prescriptions in their hands because this piece of heaven is in Sonoma County, California. However, its healing powers (there I said it) can’t be denied. It’s the Osmosis Day-Spa Sanctuary created by Michael Stusser after he had an experience in Japan that changed his life.

Suffering from excruciating sciatica and having tried every traditional and untraditional method available, he was told about cedar enzyme baths. The baths look like a big pile of sawdust but they are actually a blend of finely ground cedar, rice bran, and plant enzymes that heat naturally, by fermentation up to 140 degrees. This biologically-generated warmth mimics the body's metabolic process and provides a heat that seems to go into your very core.

For 20 minutes Michael was submerged in the chips and eventually felt the sciatica leave his body. He was cured! (There I said the other word.) It was such an important experience that he vowed to bring cedar enzyme baths to the United States. Lucky Sonoma! And there followed another life changing experience.

In 1985, he purchased a 400ft chicken coop and recycled the wood to build his first baths. Such a success, he moved to a larger piece of land that had been used by locals to dump garbage – everything from mattresses to trucks. In true pioneer spirit, he built his five-acre slice of heaven complete with stunning Japanese gardens and pagodas.

Why am I writing about Osmosis? It isn’t because it has a unique atmosphere; it does. Or because it’s beautiful; it is. Or because it feels luxurious without being pretentious; it does. Or because it’s surrounded by redwoods and vineyards that produce pinot noirs to sell your soul for. It’s because this is an example of a place where you can come to heal and be cured and I think it’s a shame that people can’t be told that.

I understand the reasons for guarding those words. We don’t want to revert to the days of snake oil, but I think there has to be some relaxation of the boundaries as more and more people are looking for an alternative to endless amounts of drugs with their attendant side-effects. The irony of it all is that Western medicine is actually a new-comer to the world of healing. You’d never know it now.