NEVER use the gentle sleep massage or facial treatment of the Spiritual Warrior. Sarah Evans experienced the greatest relaxation during her retreat in October at the Miraval Berkshires Spa in Lenox, during a massage that included hand treatments. These include opportunities to throw axes at targets made from tree trunks or to enjoy healing through shamanic sounds, with Ms. Evans, a New York City publicist and mother of three young children, lying on a yoga mat, bathed in the vibrations of singing crystals bowls. Practical treatments – the opposite of social distance – can lose their appeal during a pandemic, but spas are still unable to cope with stressful situations, and some tired quarantine residents respond to their call.


Would you feel comfortable in a spa during a pandemic? Why or why not? Take part in the discussion below.

Lynne McNees, president of the International Spa Association (ISPA), a trade group, said it is too early to assess the impact of Covid-19 on the $19 billion spa industry. But, she added, as most of the major spas reopened in June, demand has steadily increased and individual visits are increasing, even if groups such as wedding parties are omitted. Mrs. Evans has already booked another spa for this month, this time in the Hamptons. It would be great to be on a beach somewhere, but I want to take care of myself, she said. Things seem more intense now.

The outdoor offerings at the Lodge in Woodloch include a vibration therapy session called Gong with the Wind.

The isolation by the coronavirus led to a secondary attack. According to a September study by the American Medical Association, symptoms of anxiety, depression and other conditions have more than tripled since 2019. With their vast outdoor spaces, the spas of destination say they can help. Long before the term coronavirus entered our lexicon, their schedules were filled with rituals aimed at stress relief and spiritual well-being, and they now position themselves as refuges in the event of a pandemic.

Pandemic resistant outdoor massage room in the Golden Door.


Ashley Burns.

There’s something in this turnaround, said Dr. Stephanie Silvera, an epidemiologist and professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Outdoor activities such as climbing and hiking promote health in many ways. We know that stress affects the immune system, and cardiovascular activity helps soothe it, Silvera said. So if you can do it externally, with holes, it’s of great value and benefit.

There is no evidence that Covid-19 can spread in chlorinated pools. Saunas are also very safe when heated to at least 158 degrees Fahrenheit, Dr. Silvera said. The virus can’t survive those temperatures. But Dr. Silvera warned that no magical scenario, outdoors or otherwise, can completely erase the risk of Covid-19. Masks, social remoteness and strict hygiene remain important measures. Think of possible preventive behaviour like a layer of Swiss cheese with a few holes in it, and when you apply it, those holes disappear, she says.

In response to Covid-19, most American spas have improved cleaning protocols, introduced masks and implemented recommendations for social remoteness during sessions. But many have also become creative.

In Mii amo, a spa located on 70 acres of red rock in Arizona’s Grand Enchantment Resort in Sedona, General Manager Jim Root asked his staff to greet guests with what he calls an eye wrap – a longer, more personal look, as physical touch is limited. And in the crystal cave of the station, the circular clay gorge, meditations and rituals led by shamans are limited to five or six participants. The range of outdoor activities, such as swimming in the canyon and hiking in the maze, is extensive.

Lakeside at Lodge in Woodloch, Hawley, Penn.


Annie Killam.

The Golden Door, a luxury spa in the north of San Diego County, is closed from March to September. Kathy Van Ness, executive director, said she used the time to build Starlight Massage World, a series of outdoor treatment booths with flashing lights. We have 600 acres and have built outdoor arenas that we will use outside Covid, she said. The station is closed again due to a new travel ban in California. When it reopens, Van Ness said, most treatments and classes will take place outside.

Canyon Ranch has resorts in Tucson, Arizona and Lenox, Massachusetts, both of which have seen an increase in new customers this year. One of the consequences: Staff must respond to the growing demand for outdoor adventure centres, which offer options such as geocaching, zip-line aerial adventure and trail photography.

Small stations that cannot work with a wave of open space have had to change their way of doing things. L’Estancia La Jolla, a 210-room hotel and spa located on 10 acres in La Jolla, California, has moved all fitness activities outdoors and offers spa treatments in tents along the resort’s shaded courtyards.

The Lodge in Woodloch, located 1,200 acres in Hawley, Pennsylvania, has added outdoor fitness tents and expanded its offerings to include forest baths, horseback riding, wilderness yoga and a vibration therapy session called Gong with the Wind. Dinners were also offered several times a week outdoors in the courtyard (now suspended for the winter). And new activities have been added, including the throwing of axes. Everyone has to bury the hatchet once in a while, says T.J. Walsh, head of Task Force Covid-19 Resort.

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