Facilities at the wellness spa include saunas and a resistance pool.
Facilities at the wellness spa include saunas and a resistance pool.
St. Joseph Institute

Well, Well

Canyon Ranch operates two resort spas, including this one in Lenox, Mass.
Canyon Ranch operates two resort spas, including this one in Lenox, Mass. (Canyon Ranch)
By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 7, 2007

Your body has its own hydraulic system, Jenny Sheetz tells me. The massage therapist and co-owner of Pennsylvania's St. Joseph Institute spa says she can feel the fluids moving as she holds my ankles while I lie fully clothed on a massage table. Fill. Pause, two, three. Release.

Sheetz says she can feel my cerebrospinal fluids circulating through my body, just as you can feel the heart pump when taking a pulse. My fluids, she tells me, are moving like water through a partially clogged kitchen pipe. The amplitude is weak, the rhythm restricted, with no symmetry in the various touch points. She says she can fix that.

Time for some craniosacral therapy and somato-emotional release.

Those are two of a variety of therapeutic treatments available at St. Joseph's, a "wellness spa" in central Pennsylvania that is part of one of the biggest new trends in travel. It's also part of what is by far the largest new trend in the spa industry.

A wellness spa typically offers all the massages and facials and wraps you'd expect at any day or destination spa, but with an additional array of health services -- sometimes mainstream, sometimes alternative and sometimes a bit of both. Although no one has yet definitively defined what makes a wellness spa, it's a little like pornography: You know it when you see it.

Using that loose definition, the International Spa Association identified 310 wellness spas in the United States in 2004; in 2006, the trade group counted 915. Wellness spas produced $469 million in revenue in 2006 -- a leap of more than 340 percent in two years.

St. Joseph's is among the closest destination wellness spas to Washington, within a three-hour drive. And at $155 a night for two on weeknights, including dinner, it's also among the cheapest.

I don't have the medical expertise to judge whether the treatments accomplished what they're supposed to, but they sure felt good to body and soul. And if you consider peace and quiet an important component of wellness, I can tell you that spas don't get a lot more rural than this one.

We turn off a two-lane road to an empty stretch that is about a lane and a half, both sides lined with forest. I get increasingly excited about spending a night at a rural retreat with spa. My mother, in the passenger seat, is not impressed.

Speaking like a true country girl who couldn't wait to move into town, she complains, "Who'd want to come way back here in the boondocks?"

Me, a transplanted city girl, for one.

We drive through the open iron gates and park in front of a stone and wood building nestled in the woods. The air smells of pine and fireplaces. Inside the spa, sun streams through oversize windows and the smells of jasmine, rosemary and the oils of exotic flowers fill the air.

CONTINUED     1              >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company