Global warming, disappearing sea ice, receding glaciers, melting ice shelves, warm blobs killing the salmon population; temperature is in our news constantly. In fact, temperature seems to be killing the world – or at the very least changing it. But is it possible temperature changes can actually be a good thing? I’m not talking about healing the world on a mass scale, I’m talking about healing you…just little ole’ you.
I could feel my temperature rise as I was waiting for my cab to arrive to take me to Thermea Spa in Winnipeg.
When the trip to the spa stresses you out that’s probably a good thing – right? At least you know that you will need the spa by the time you arrive.
The time ticked by and by – it had been 39 minutes since I requested the taxi, but it was nowhere to be seen. The hotel reassured me it would come eventually, but they (taxis) were often slow at rush hour. I accepted that answer for a moment and then looked at my watch, it was 3:15 pm, in what world was this rush hour? So I waited, and waited; stress level rising with every minute that ticked by as I became later and later for my massage appointment.
I did finally make it to Thermea Spa, a new Nordic style spa in Winnipeg that I was intrigued with. And yes, I was pretty stressed out by the time I arrived there. Luckily they still fit me in for my massage which was a good start – but the real draw of Thermea isn’t traditional massage – it’s all about hot and cold.
The Power of the Extremes
Let me just start by, I don’t believe in any kind of spa/relaxation treatments except massage – I think all the rest are worthless. I like to have really tough massages – ones that makes me wince and do Lamaze like breathing to get through the pain – that way I know I got my ’money’s worth’. Yes, my father’s conservative, hard-working ethics run deep in me. Or maybe I just don’t’ relax well, but for some reason I am not great at meditation, sitting still, hot stones, whirlpools, energy healing, or saunas.
As Amy, the manager, explained how a first-time visit worked at Thermea, I was pretty skeptical. It’s recommended you do at least 3 thermal ‘cycles’; the practice of alternating hot and cold. More specifically, to get the most out of your thermotherapy treatment, I was told to follow this thermal sequence:
Hot – Dry or wet sauna for as long as you can take it – your body temperature rises and releases toxins
Cold…yes, very cold…very very cold – jump into 50 F water to release adrenaline and rapidly increase your heart rate.
Rest – the adrenaline is replaced by endorphins, creating a deep sensation of relaxation.
“Do you have any questions,” Amy asked in a bubbly yet quiet voice as if we were at the library. I decided the writer in me should try to be open-minded, “No, I’ll try it all and see how it goes,” I replied skeptically. My openness to try new things likely was bolstered by the massage I had just completed with masseuse Steven. It was a great, tough, bring-you-to-tears massage; just how I like my spa ‘therapy’.
I started by dropping my robe and slippers and sliding into the outdoor hot tub that runs throughout the property. The sky was filled with stars and I thought, I could just stay here and skip all of the other ritual stuff, but my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a gong. This signaled the beginning of Aufguss.
Aufguss is a spa ritual from Finland that is part dance, part snowball fight, and part theatre – all inside of a sauna…it’s odd. But my curiosity made me get out of the hot tub and run to the hot dry sauna building to experience the Aufguss ritual. Our Aufguss master walked inside the hot sauna with a bucket of large snowballs, she picked one up, told us it was lemongrass, and then threw it over the hot coals in the sauna immediately release a burst of heat and lemon grass infused steam.
As funky music echoed throughout the room, she the started to swing a towel around her head pushing bursts of the hot air out to us, sitting in the sauna. Not only did the aroma mesmerize me, but the beautiful towel wielding woman also mesmerized me. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and leaned back and tried to focus.
She continued with more aroma filled snow balls, and the sweat continued to pour down my body. I breathed through my mouth to try to take in the hot, dry air into my lungs. My eyes were heavy, my body was hot, and the room smelled amazing. It felt like I had been sitting and sweating there for 30 minutes, but it was more like 10 minutes. As she finished the ritual, she warned us to get up slowly and make sure we felt ok. I stayed for a little while longer as people left the room, I wanted to make sure I was at my maximum core temperature before I went to the next step.
I looked at the small pool and tried to turn off my brain as I ran outside of the sauna building and straight down the steps into the little cold pool. It doesn’t hit you until about the third step, and then you know that you just went from likely 100 F to 50 F. My hazy brain was suddenly jolted back into action. The water came up to my arm pits and I walked through the water as fast as I could to get the 15 feet to the other side.
I’m pretty sure I was talking to myself, muttering something about how cold it was, how stupid this was, and how I wish I moved faster with lots of ‘oh my god’s’ vomiting out of my mouth. Up the stairs and out; I found my robe, and went straight into the wet sauna.
It smelled like eucalyptus, I slowly opened my eyes to try to peer through the dark steamy room. Everything felt as if it were in slow motion. Water dripped down from above on my head, on my leg, and then my arm; ever so slowly one single, little, perfect drop at a time making my mind focus on each one. I thought about where it landed and how it rolled in various directions along my skin letting gravity take hold. The drops took different routes every time, but I felt I could feel each little drop dissipate. The splatter, the feeling, the joy it brought me to have this little bubble of cooler water hitting me and distribute across my hot skin for just a moment left my whole body tingling. I closed my eyes and melted into the eucalyptus haze escaping reality for a moment. I could hear and feel my heartbeat throughout my entire body. It was faster than normal. Yet I felt like my brain was moving slower than ever and I could feel every little synapse.
Hello endorphins…it’s so lovely to see you again.
So this is a Nordic spa experience I thought to myself; the healing power of temperature. I think that I have just been won over.
I’m a Nordic Spa Believer
I thought I would just appease Amy and do the thermal cycle once, but suddenly I found myself looking up the times when the next Aufguss ‘event’ was scheduled and deciding to stay for dinner (a 3 course dinner plus wine pairing all served to you in your robe).
I did two more complete thermal cycles while taking longer rests in between on the heated tile recliners and drinking citrus water. While floating outside in the hot tubs, staring at the stars, I thought about life, about love, about the world. I sort of didn’t want to move, let alone leave. I was a puddle of relaxation. I had found my perfect spa bliss, thermal exhaustion.
I was a guest of Travel Manitoba during my time in Winnipeg, however all opinions expressed here are my own.