4 min

Spas aren’t just for pampering anymore

Healing touch

When you find the stone Edwardian building in Sandy Hill, you must wait to be let in. Greeted by the gentle smile of a male staff, customers remove their shoes and pad down the staircase, past the heavy vault doors where a deep, plush sofa awaits. It’s easy to settle into the ambient beats of St Germaine, surrounded by masculine décor — antique prints of vintage cars above the brick fireplace with magazines spread upon dark aged wood.

“Clients deliberately arrive early,” says Doug Coburn, gesturing with a sweep of his arm. “So this space is created for that. They’re not coming just for the treatment, they want to come and relax in this special place.”

Bodé caters specifically to men. It’s owned and run by a gay couple; Coburn together with his partner, Daniel Francoeur, Bodé also boasts an all-male staff.

As Coburn gives a tour, it becomes quite clear that pampering their customers is important to the staff at Bodé — and mental decompressing has obvious psychological benefits.

In terms of physical health — well, there are no diagrams of muscle groups on the wall, nor pamphlets on handling sprains and strains.

“We’re very deliberately staying away from a clinical feel; we go beyond that,” says Coburn. “We’re modelled after the European spa. Our staff is highly skilled and we do have registered massage therapists. But we’re here to help men with all their needs. Our focus on helping people relieve their stress is a very high priority. We’ve created this environment specifically to help men relax and let go of their daily concerns.”

Most of Bodé’s treatments encourage a deep, pleasurable relaxation while the body is pressed, rubbed and wrapped. On top of that, treatments use natural ingredients (sourced from distributors as close to Ottawa as possible.)

It’s not hard to be won over by the integrity of their approach but for the sceptical, Coburn will happily share the philosophy behind their treatments.

“Two of our unique therapies are orthotherapy and the hot stone massage. Orthotherapy means “to straighten.” The focus is supporting and healing the muscles attached to an injury while integrating aromatherapy. With hot stone therapy, basalt stones are heated and placed upon the chakra points, then they’re glided over the body providing a warm, deep massage.”

European spas such as Bodé are becoming increasingly popular. Customers may come for the health benefits, but relaxation is just as important. A prime example is Le Nordik, the Scandinavian bath spa in Old Chelsea. Operations manager Michel Bourgeois says that the term “spa” is actually an acronym.

“Solus par aqua,” he says with authority. “It’s Latin for health through water.”

There’s pride in his voice as he shares that information. That’s likely because Le Nordik is a spa based on a 1000-year-old tradition of healing through water. Those seeking to detoxify their body or simply pamper themselves cycle through the hot saunas and ice-cold water inspired by the history of the tradition and the chemistry of the process.

While it’s not quite as sedate as enjoying a massage on a cushioned bed, clients find themselves deeply relaxed and clear-headed after an afternoon at Le Nordik.

“We pick up toxins through our food and our daily contact with chemicals — even just through the air. Through sweating in the sauna you’re liberating those toxins. Then you go directly to the ice-cold water, which cleanses, closes the skin pores and gets everything fresh and firm. The relaxation allows you a few minutes to slow things down as the whole process can be quite stimulating for the body.”

Both Le Nordik and Bodé (and most spas) boast Registered Massage Therapists on their staff. These are therapists with about 2,300 hours of school under their belts. One would think that if there were one person focussed strictly on the physical health of clients, it would be the Registered Massage Therapist (RMT.)

Glenn Bunting is the registered massage therapist at the Glebe Spa. He describes the physical benefits of Swedish massage (the most common massage used by RMTs.)

“Swedish massage is based on increasing blood flow to the heart, eliminating waste products and replacing them with nutrients in the muscles. That process can indeed help heal an injury. The massage also helps drain the lymphatic system and increases range of motion.”

So the focus is strictly physical?

“Well, no,” he laughs. “There’s lots of research on the different effects emotionally too. Some you may not even pick up on, like greater self-confidence and decreased anxiety. It’s not a huge component but its definitely there. And sometimes it’s more direct; there may be a specific issue that comes up during a session, and you become a listening ear.”

Daniel Regan Francoeur, co-owner of Bodé echoes that sentiment.

“It goes hand in hand,” he says, “the physical and the emotional. That’s something we’re very aware of. For some people, massage and the spa experience is the only way that they are touched, so it may be a very emotional experience. We’re respectful of that. If there are tears, we may hand them some Kleenex and give them some space. Other times we may continue or just listen. It’s surprising that even when that happens, clients leave saying they feel so much better.”

What becomes apparent is that both relaxation and the physical benefits of the spa treatments are on offer. And while the therapists may focus on the physiological aspects of healing, to the client it’s almost an added bonus to their real goal of relieving stress. Its testimony of the hectic pace we keep that we’ll pay for a slowed heart-rate, deeper breathing and looser muscles.

Bunting agrees.

“Most people come in to relax after a tough day. And it works, there’s an aura about them as they walk out the door. A lightness. Its like the weight of the world is off their shoulders.”