The massage therapist said: "You basically have one large block of knots." To me, that meant the best way to approach my tight upper back was with an ice pick or, more realistically, a few hard, soothing punches. For her, it meant a full hour of not-so-fun exertion. While there were no ice picks or punches involved, my block of knots melted into sheets with her magic and, eventually, I reached a state of enlightenment, which was—in my opinion—a team effort. Sure, I was simply lying there as most guests do, but behind the scenes, I was manifesting a transcendent sense of relief and pushing my mind to reach a heightened sense of nirvana.
Let me explain. I had just moved to Los Angeles from New York the previous week. I bought a car, rented a one-bedroom in West Hollywood and came to terms with my new life. What I didn’t do was order my bed (or furniture) in advance, so most of my nine-hour days of being a writer meeting deadlines were spent sitting Indian-style with head gravitated toward the computer at feet-level. This back-bending (literally) dedication is perhaps typical of the hard-working Asian in me, an ethnic scapegoat I’m sure I’ll later use to excuse my driving skills. Oh, and while I’m at it, Asians often sleep on the floor, which I did for three days, without a mattress. My back was wishing I was a rich, white girl.
White girl or Asian guy, this slab of knots became explosively uncomfortable. Stretching was like half a yawn when you’re tired, ineffective and awkward. And don’t get me started on how this large block of knots actually felt like a weight on the top of my neck, compromising my otherwise naturally aligned gait. It was just mere coincidence that Exhale Spa opened at Loews Hollywood Hotel, a boutique spa chain that I had visited in New York City and remember liking. I had also taken one of the cultish Core Fusion classes that works every muscle fiber in your body. If you haven’t taken a class, know that the only thing you truly want afterward is a rub down.
So I booked a treatment.
Inside, it felt brand-new. The lobby was well lit thanks to the skylight, and the staff had that new-spa smile. Despite it only being 7,000 square feet, the spa didn’t feel cramped like new spas that have to work around old-space parameters. They really tricked it out. The changing room came equipped with a glass-walled steam room, and there’s not one but two lounges with refreshments and clove-spiced, hot-neck pillows.
But one thing I didn’t expect was the statue of Buddha at the end of the hallway, awash in blue light. It’s not really the Buddha statue that was brow-raising, but the offering just at the foot of the statue. A bowl of fruit. An actual "offering."
While this wouldn’t have fazed me had I been in, say, Korea, I couldn’t help but have a Judd Apatow moment, looking at it with wild confusion. Buddha in a contemporary spa was so LA. I had been warned about things like this.
That moment of dumb numbness, however, didn’t last long, and soon enough, unusually, I was beginning to fill with what I would like to think is zen. It overcame me with a sense of calm in a way that no other spa in New York City had ever done. Call it spiritual, call it holistic, call it "New Age" but I was buying it. And I wasn’t even on a yoga mat. It came out of nowhere, this sensation of zen, and maybe all you need is a Buddha in front of a bowl of fruit to make that happen.
I took my massage, doing things one would do during, say, meditation: seeking a higher sense of self. It somehow came naturally and, as wacky as this sounds, the massage wouldn’t have felt complete without my spiritual assistance. Yep, I went there.
Even though Exhale Spa is progressive, stylish and modern, its ethos falls back on a true holistic experience. Guests can find an array of treatments that embrace non-Western philosophies, like acupuncture, cupping and, interestingly, vibration therapy (see list below). Throw in a Buddha statue, and you have a new believer in the unfamiliar. It also turns out Angelenos are much too familiar with this kind of scene that it would be weird for there not to be a Buddhist statue under a spotlight (with a bowl of fruit offering).
The zen moment sort of disappeared after I left the spa, but I still felt knackered. And good. And restored. And that’s what health and well-being is all about, Buddha statue or not. LA’s fascination with the holistic module (organic foods, yoga, meditation) has a lot of presence and I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself in a similar situation (Buddha, bowl of fruit) at the next spa outing. New Age themes in unassuming places is a concept I’m open to, if it helps dissolve the kinks in my back.
And it looks like this non-Western, spa-friendly lifestyle isn’t specific to Exhale. Check out my round-up of LA-based spas that offer treatments deemed unusual for the tourists and oh-so-common for an Angeleno.
Vibration Therapy at Exhale Hollywood
Thanks to the opening of Exhale Hollywood at Loews, the holistic-minded can restore their zen by a number of Buddha statues and some non-Western spa treatments to boot. The Vibration Therapy uses tuning forks to relieve pain, increase mental focus, and create a sense of wellbeing. It will not only target specific points on the body but your overall aura. 30 minutes for $100, 60 minutes for $150
Biomeditation at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills
Spa Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills is the only spa in America to offer BioMeditation Therapy. It’s an energy healing treatment from practitioner Jeannette Von Johnsbach. Like something of a superhero, she places her hands lightly on your body and activates energy flow, miraculously breaking apart blockages and restoring positive energy. 60 minutes for $175
Spiritual Readings at Chakra Spa
Chakra Spa in Beverly Hills is the only wellness facility that offers spa treatments and spiritual readings. Find out what’s in store for your future, then get a facial. Amazing. Guests can choose among a Mystic Tarot Card Reading, Personalized Palm Reading or go full monty with the Full Life Spiritual Reading. Full Life Spiritual Reading, 30-45 minutes for $85
Shiffa Precious Gemstone Treatments at The Peninsula Beverly Hills Spa
It only makes sense for the Peninsula Beverly Hills Spa to use gemstones in their treatments. Partnering with Shiffa Skincare, the spa is offering treatments that not only work with the energy of the gemstones but also with dried herbs, flowers and color therapy associated with each gemstone (diamond for balance and harmony; emerald for strength and balance; ruby for stimulation; sapphire for tranquility). The gemstones soak in respective bottled concoctions then used in massages. 60-120 minutes starting at $245
Do you enjoy exploring spas, restaurants, bars, and hotels in Los Angeles? Then check out BlackBook’s LA Guide and download our City Guides app for iPhone and Android. And subscribe to BlackBook Happenings, a weekly, non-spammy newsletter, for all the latest openings and events, delivered to your inbox every Monday.