TURN YOUR HOME INTO A HEALTH SPA
Pamper yourself from top to toe with soothing, reviving spa treatments – without stepping out of your front door.
Most of us dream of getting away to a spa. Unfortunately, dreams don’t always dovetail with reality. But there is a way you can enjoy the mind, body and spirit-soothing benefits of a spa trip in just a couple of days for a fraction of the cost. With a little know-how and preparation, you can create your own stay-home beauty sanctuary and give yourself an occasional weekend of pure escapism.
It’s up to you whether you choose to be on your own or invite someone to share the experience with you – your best friend, husband or boyfriend, your daughter – so that you can take it in turns to be each other’s beautician.
To keep the stressful world out, our advice is first to unplug the phone or switch on your answering machine (with the volume turned right down). Farm out any small children, if you possibly can.
Shut the door on the world. Only then can you really start the body-perfecting, mood-shifting treatments that will take you from Friday evening through to Sunday evening, with time out for a Saturday rendez-vous, if you like.
You will enjoy your weekend all the more if you prepare for it; you don’t want to spend the weekend shopping or dashing around buying the beauty products that are supposed to be relaxing you. On Thursday night before your spa weekend, make sure you’re stocked up with:
- a supply of freshly washed fluffy towels
- fresh sheets (always a treat)
- fresh fruit and vegetables, groceries – including any ingredients for masks you might make yourself, and lots of sea salt
- plenty of mineral water and fruit juices, herbal teas (during the weekend you should try to drink at least 2 litres of pure, still water each day)
- tapes and CDs that you might like to play over the weekend, piled up by your stereo
- cling-film (for beauty treatments)
- a mountaineer’s blanket (if you’re planning to give yourself a ‘wrap’ treatment)
- beauty products
- cotton wool, orange sticks, Q-tips
- casual clothes and sturdy walking shoes
Set the scene with mood music, on a battery-operated stereo which you can carry from room to room. (It isn’t safe to plug in electric stereos in your bathroom.) Try some smoochy Sinatra or Vivaldi, medieval chants or relaxing New Age tapes. Turn up the heating if it’s winter. Take no notice of the time, and put a blanket over the TV.
Start your weekend on the right footing – with a smoothing shape-up for work-weary feet. Reflexologists believe that footcare can help maintain total body health, so begin with your feet, then work up the body.
- For instance, if you have end-of-week tightness in the neck, firmly squeeze your big toe on the spot directly below the pad and towards the outside of the foot. Hold for 20 seconds; repeat five times.
- Next, dissolve five soluble aspirin tablets in a plastic basin of warm water (the salicylic acid in the aspirin will soften callouses), or sprinkle in a handful of sea salt. Soak feet for 20 minutes to soften, then rub away hard skin with a stiff foot brush or a pumice stone – concentrate on making circular movements, especially on the heels.
- Follow with an abrasive foot-and-leg scrub, made from 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds or almond meal, 1 cup oatmeal, 1/2 cup honey. Slather a quarter of the mixture over your soles, then rub with a circular motion, paying special attention to heels, toes and calloused areas.
- Wrap your feet in cling-film and leave for five minutes. (It will rustle, but it does work.) Then remove the cling-film, rinse feet with warm water and smooth them with moisturiser.
- Then, to exercise and deeply relax feet, put a rolling pin under a towel and move your feet backwards and forwards over it, while seated in a comfy chair.
- Lastly, pedicure your feet, with the same care you would lavish on your hands.
- Now that your feet feel fabulous, move upwards. Revitalise legs by whisking away dead skin cells with the remaining three-quarters of the scrub mixture, smoothing it into legs and the tops of your feet. Wrap your legs in cling-film.
- Next, give your hands the kid glove treatment. Lydia Sarfati, owner of Manhattan’s Repêchage salon, recommends heating your facial moisturiser in the top of a double boiler, until it’s just warm. ‘Then massage in thoroughly, working from the base of your palm to your fingertips – one at a time.’ For maximum moisturising, you could even wear cotton gloves for the moisturiser to soak in overnight.
- First off, indulge in a deep-penetrating hair-conditioning treatment. For D-I-Y hair repair, take one egg white and beat until stiff, then stir in one teaspoon of honey. Massage into dry hair and comb through to distribute evenly. Then dab one teaspoon of sesame oil onto your hair. (Alternatively, apply one mashed banana mixed with one mashed avocado.) Cover hair with cling-film if you wish, or sit under a hood hairdryer (with or without cling-film), switched on low, for ten minutes, to turbo-charge the effects. Thoroughly wash hair after the treatment, then rinse, condition and style as usual.
- Give yourself a salon-perfect manicure. Then, when your polish has dried completely, don sensible shoes and set off on a long, brisk walk – as far away from traffic fumes as possible. Try to walk fast enough to work up a sweat – that’s the signal that your body is getting enough aerobic activity to improve cardio-vascular fitness and circulation, and to strengthen heart, lungs, muscle and bones. Walk like a big cat – lithe, relaxed and graceful. Always walk with your second toe leading, rather than splay-footed or pigeon-toed.
- Back home, run the taps, then sink into the tub as your soothing post-walk reward. To ease weary muscles, add up to one tablespoon of powdered ginger to the bath water, a cup of apple cider vinegar – which helps restore the skin’s natural acid balance, so soothing itchiness, too – or a pound of Epsom salts. This treatment is said to help eliminate toxins through the skin, so should be indulged in only occasionally. Soak for 20 minutes. While you’re lying back, close your eyes and apply two tea bags, cooled in the fridge – the chilling action constricts blood vessels, thereby reducing puffiness.
- If you have a shower attachment, you can recreate a hydrotherapy jet massage: remove the nozzle, turn the taps on full and use short, stroking movements on fatty areas such as hips, thighs and bottom, working towards the lymphatic drainage points (in the groin and under-arm area).
- At the end of your bath, for smooth and glowing skin, try an invigorating exfoliating scrub. Wet your sponge or flannel, sprinkle some sea salt on it, and start rubbing gently, using a circular motion. Don’t rub near cuts (salt stings) or your face.
- When you get out of your bath, don’t dry off completely; just pat yourself dry with a warm towel, then apply generous dollops of body lotion.
- To revive yourself while you’re in the tub, Luye Lui, creator of a NYC-based water aerobics programme, suggests trying:
- Flutter kick: resting against the back of the tub, lift both legs slightly and flutter kick, first with toes pointed, then flexed.
- Back stretch: sit up with both knees slightly bent, arms at your sides. Lean forward until you feel a slight stretch.
- Cleanse your face, then give your skin a face mask for a radiant complexion. (If you’re taking time off from your retreat to go out and socialise on Saturday night, you might prefer to do this tomorrow, as masks can sometimes leave you looking temporarily blotchy.)
- The D-I-Y potential for making masks is limitless, see Fridge Fresh and Fabulous. If you’re staying in and spending the weekend with a friend, one of you can give the other a relaxing aromatherapy massage, and vice versa the next night – see ‘Sunday night’ (right) for suggestions of the best oils to use.
- Health farms and spas specialise in ‘thermal wraps’, slathering your body in a mask, then cocooning you in a reflective thermal blanket, to help retain body heat and ensure you gain the greatest benefit from moisturising or de-toxifying ingredients. Hot towels work, but they’ll need thorough washing afterwards. A more efficient way to keep the body heat in (and the mess) is to invest in a mountaineer’s ‘space’ blanket. (You can also keep this hypothermia-beater in the car as snowdrift insurance between at-home spa sessions.) If you have enough space on the bathroom floor, make a pillow for your head and pad the flooring with towels, unless it’s plushly carpeted. Then lay out the space blanket, sit in the middle of it, apply your body mask and wrap the space blanket around you. It will keep you amazingly warm.
- For your D-I-Y seaweed wrap, simply soak dried seaweed (such as large sheets of kombu, available at health food stores) in water, then scoop the slippery gel onto your skin. As an alternative to seaweed, mix your own custom-blended deep-cleansing clay body mask: take some clay or Fuller’s Earth (available at health food stores and chemists), add enough water to make a paste, then add a few drops of essential oil into the mix. Try mixing three drops each of orange and lemon, or lavender and sandalwood, or patchouli and rose. Slap it on all over with your hands, wrap yourself in the blanket and lie down, with your head on a folded towel, for 20 minutes. Shower thoroughly, moisturise and relax again…
This is a good time to try a little brow grooming, the professional way.
- Get out in the fresh air, whether walking or gardening.
- In the last decade, firm evidence has emerged to back up what aromatherapists have long understood: that scented oils have tangible effects on the nervous and immune systems; they kick-start or calm, help overcome fatigue or beckon sleep. See Aromatherapy for you – click here. So before you go to bed, give yourself an aromatherapy massage, with a blend of super sleep-inducing oils that will deeply relax you. (If two of you are spending a spa weekend together, it’s now the turn of the person who gave last night’s massage to lie back and relax.)
- Excellent oils for insomnia and sleep problems, or just to help you drift off, are valerian, marjoram, chamomile Roman, clary sage, lemon and sandalwood. Make a blend using a total of five drops of one or more of these oils, added to one teaspoon of carrier/base oil. (The most effective are sesame, almond or jojoba oils.) Pour a little of the blended oils into your palm to warm them between your hands. Then, using long, slow strokes, massage from feet upwards, always moving towards the heart. Allow the oils to sink in thoroughly, then it’s time for bed. For once, you’ll start the week perfectly poised to cope with anything life can throw at you.
MORE SPA SECRETS
- Drink pure spring water, all weekend; naturopaths prescribe it slightly warm or room temperature, not iced.
- Spend as much time as you like daydreaming or listening to soft music with your eyes closed.
- Preferably don’t lie in – it may disturb your body clock for the coming week. But feel free to go to bed as early as you like.
- Design your meals around foods with angst-easing properties: apricots, bananas, oranges, papayas, broccoli, carrots, peppers, lentils, wholegrains, pulses and wheatgerm (sprinkle this particular stress-beater on everything you eat over the weekend).
- Try starting the day with a ‘power shake’: ground sunflower and sesame seeds, whizzed in a blender with apple juice, soya milk, some live yoghurt and slices of any fruit that is to hand.
- Eat your meals by candlelight.
- Discover the joys of seaweed: the iodine-rich sea veggie balances metabolic function and encourages the body to burn fat more efficiently. It helps protect against pollution, too. You’ll find dried seaweeds at your health food store. (If you can’t stand the rock-poolish taste, the least seaweed-flavoured one is nori, which can also be ground up and used on food as a condiment.)
- When it comes to your back, out of sight can mean out of mind. Because it’s frequently neglected, back skin can often be in need of a boost.
- If the skin on your back is less than bareable, poor circulation could be the problem, so start with regular skin brushing, with a long-handled brush to make it easier.
- If your back is blemished, apply a face mask for oily complexions all over your back.
- If your skin is dry and flaky, enlist a friend for a mutual back-scratching session. Start with a home-made salt-and-oil scrub, applied with a loofah or sisal mitt: dip the mitt in olive oil or jojoba oil, then into coarse sea salt, and rub briskly all over shoulders and back. Rinse, then pat dry and apply a rich body lotion or massage oil. Then swap places!
GO INTO DE-TOX
- A stress-free, quiet weekend is the perfect time to try out a de-toxification regime. If you can manage one or two days without caffeine and alcohol, largely eating fruit and vegetables, you will feel great benefits. However, expelling toxins from an overloaded system can temporarily induce headaches or other aches and pains, dizziness and a degree of lassitude. To combat this, drink as much pure water as possible (2 to 5 litres daily), submerge yourself in warm baths, and rest. If you drink a lot of caffeine during the week – say, more than four cups of coffee a day – it will make a ‘de-tox’ headache more likely. (Tea drinkers may not experience such dramatic symptoms, but be alert to unpleasant withdrawal side-effects.) To avoid a headache, keep on drinking caffeine but cut right down to one cup in the morning, or switch to decaffeinated. But do ask yourself what all that caffeine is doing to your system the rest of the time…
In her book Food Combining in 30 Days, Kathryn Marsden details an easy two-day de-tox plan.
- Breakfast on as much fruit as you like: kiwi, apples, pears, grapes, mango, papaya, peaches or nectarines, singly or in combination.
- After a mid-morning snack of a banana and, if you wish, a cup of weak China tea (more alkaline than Indian), herb tea or pure water, lunch should be a large raw salad, of, for example, dark-leaved lettuce, skinned cucumber and tomato, cauliflower or broccoli, avocado, grated carrot, peppers (any colour), chicory and parsley. Serve with a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and cider vinegar.
- At teatime, munch on a handful of sunflower and pumpkin seeds or unblanched almonds, washed down with water or weak herb tea.
- For dinner, prepare a large portion of steamed or gently poached vegetables. Choose from a selection of leeks, cauliflower, broccoli, root vegetables, onion, marrow, celeriac, aubergine, peppers, courgette or red cabbage, flavoured with herbs – fresh, if possible.
- Before bed, eat a small carton of fresh, plain, additive-free bio-yoghurt, and then relax.
Your whole system will really have benefited from the rest you have given it.