A Hudson Valley Wellness TourWendy Kagan
While nearly everyone else in the country was getting ready for fireworks and barbecues, I spent July 4th weekend sampling the wellness offerings of Asheville, North Carolina. There was the salt cave in the middle of downtown (its walls, ceiling, and floor covered in over 20 tons of Polish and Dead Sea salt)—a haven that straddled the therapeutic and the mystical. There was Wake Foot Sanctuary, where attendants brought out golden basins to soothe customers from the shin down in a warm soak of their choosing (mine: rose petal and shea butter). The inviting Herbiary boutique proffered natural remedies, old-world herbals, and aromatherapy, while the town's three crystal shops glimmered with quartz and amethyst geodes. There was Warm Power Flow yoga and Gentle Yin yoga—and gluten-free Southern biscuits to nosh on afterwards in organic cafés.
It led me to wonder: Could I replicate my Blue Ridge tour back home in our Hudson and Catskill highlands? Thus began a quest to find some of our stomping grounds' most unusual and noteworthy wellness experiences. In my search, I looked beyond the common spa fodder for something walk-on-the-wilder-side different. Happily, I found plenty of hot spots, more than I could possibly include in an article of this size. So please forgive the inevitable errors of omission, and consider this a jumping-off point for a wellness tour of your own right here in our feel-good valley.
Float Your Boat
"Relief from almost anything" is the promise at Mountain Float Spa in New Paltz, the Hudson Valley's only floatation therapy spa. Upon arrival, you're guided to a salt-lamp-lit private room featuring your own floatation cabin—an oversized bathtub of sorts filled with 12 inches of water and over 800 pounds of Epsom salt. The salty water is warmed to a temperature to match your skin—so when you enter the cabin, you don't quite know where you end and the water begins. In this buoyant, sensory- and gravity-free environment, your job is to simply float, and to soak in health benefits ranging from stress and pain relief to a theta-brainwave state akin to deep meditation. Customers run the gamut from sleep-deprived moms to achy athletes and PTSD veterans. "We get people with fibromyalgia, MS, people in rehab after surgery," says Joey La Penna, who co-owns the spa with his fiancée Grace Kladstrup. The freedom from pain during a 60- or 90-minute float can be profound; after a session like that, "people just want to hug you," says La Penna. He adds that the benefits aren't just physical but mental too, and sometimes spiritual, as epiphanies and creative insights can bob to the surface. For a bonus treat: Combine your float session with a massage that's also offered here. After a day of hiking or biking at Minnewaska or rock climbing in the Gunks, it's manna for your muscles (and your mind).
Get Foot Fetishized
Down the river in Warwick, find sweet sanctuary for your feet at The Foot Spa & Tea Bar. A session here starts with a warm foot soak and a gentle back rub, followed by the spa's signature reflexology treatment—involving gentle pressure applied to points on the feet that are said to align with specific regions of the body. Slow and lingering, the tactile therapy is meant to bring targeted relief. Sessions are 30, 50, or 80 minutes long and can be combined with your choice of essential oils—and, as the name suggests, a lovely cup of fresh-brewed tea.
(Sky) Baby Yourself
No, you're not in SoHo or upscale Brooklyn, but it might feel that way in the loft-like Sky Baby building on Main Street in Cold Spring. It's here where founder Stacey Dugliss-Wesselman has set up Cold Spring Apothecary, a hub for her line of natural products for body and soul, home and heart. "About 95 percent of our products are medically focused, remedy based," says Dugliss-Wesselman. "If you have sore joints, congestion, or trouble sleeping, we have a salve or bath salt for that. For skin issues from eczema to acne, we have an oil to help you." Perusing CSA's products is like strolling through a cottage garden—geranium, hibiscus, rosehip, carrot, and sweet fennel are headliner ingredients. Candles and diffusers are heady with scent, and an apothecary section offers dried medicinal herbs by the ounce. You can get your hair cut and styled with CSA hair products right on site—or test drive the skin-care line with a massage or facial in a tucked-away treatment room. "We're a one-stop shop, and we make everything we sell," notes Dugliss-Wesselman about her goods, earthy in spirit yet packaged in the urban-chic style that's gradually infiltrating this once-sleepy river town.
Shine Like a Crystal
If today's Cold Spring feels a bit like SoHo, then Beacon is its funky Greenwich Village cousin. The down-to-earth Heart & Soul Apothecary & Aromatherapy on Main Street offers itself up as "your general store for spiritual and New Age goods," says affable proprietess Leah Quinn. The shop's design takes customers on a tour of self-healing through herbs, salves, oils, crystals, incense, and candles. Quinn sources only certified organic ingredients to cater to a local DIY and health-conscious crowd: "So many people in Beacon make their own things; they can buy the raw materials here to make natural goods for their family." Quinn's own wellness products also claim shelf space: Best-sellers include a Tame Your Flame mist to help with hot flashes, and a Dude's Beard Balm that's been "creating beard envy since 2012." A favorite of yoga teachers, the house-made Meditation Candle casts a spell with allspice, frankincense, myrrh, clove, and sandalwood. "I call it the scratch-and-sniff store for adults, there's so much good stuff to smell," says Quinn, who winningly invites customers to take a free gemstone on the way out.
Lay Your Body Down
After all this shopping, you need to rest your bones—and if it's the first or last Sunday of the month, then you're in luck. That's when Danika Hendrickson teaches her Restorative yoga class at Satya Yoga Center in Rhinebeck. (The 90-minute class starts at 4pm in summer—but check the website come fall, as that time might shift.) During this voyage into deep relaxation, bolsters, blankets, and other props support the body in passive poses that melt away tension. "In our fast-paced world, I think restorative yoga is super balancing," says Hendrickson. "It's a practice for stress, anxiety, insomnia. It's self-care: It rests the nervous system and lets the body release deeply held tension." For people who like to mix a more active style of yoga with this type of relaxation, Hendrickson also teaches a Flow & Restore class at Euphoria Yoga in Woodstock. Both approaches have their benefits, she says. "It's right up there with things like getting a massage, taking a sauna, or eating really good, high-quality organic food—a nourishing, all-body experience."
Love Your Flora
A hop upriver to Hudson reveals a unique find: Flowerkraut, a shop that pairs medicine for the soul (gorgeous flowers) with nourishment for the body (sauerkraut). Yes, it's a wild juxtaposition—and shop owners Mairead Rhona Travins and Seth Travins get asked all the time why they put the two goods together. The answer is that Mairead is a florist and Seth is a sauerkraut maker, "and there aren't any flowers short enough to fit on the top shelf of the display cooler, but the sauerkraut fits perfectly," says Mairead. Seth's raw kraut is also healthier than the cooked-and-canned variety that most people eat: "Because it's not heat- processed, it's high in vitamin C and full of probiotic bacteria that's good for the gut," he says of the lacto-fermented food, which aids in digestion and replenishes the stomach with beneficial flora. Meanwhile, Mairead is Hudson's only florist who works with local farmers to create "meaningful and uplifting [arrangements that] bring color and life to a space." And where else can you deliver a bouquet that comes with a jar of kraut?
Meet the Medicine Buddha
Across the river as the crow flies, the lantern-lit and tapestry-draped Mahasukha Spa at Menla Mountain Retreat in Phoenicia is a luxe setting in which to experience traditional Tibetan therapies—the likes of which you'll rarely find outside Tibet. KuNye, the main therapy offered, goes beyond massage to address "what's going on energetically within a person," says Mahasukha bodyworker Sarite Sanders. For this individualized treatment, Sanders (or another therapist) will custom-mix warm oils to apply to the body through specific rhythms, strokes, and joint movements meant to open up the nadis, or channels of energy; the next step might involve the application of hot stones or cooling agate, the use of moxibustion or cupping, and stick therapy, or "tapping"—followed by an herbal bath or steam session. Chanting to invoke the Medicine Buddha will often begin a KuNye treatment; the end goal is to balance the body's elements and calm the nervous system. (One caveat: The spa is available only to Menla guests and to those who purchase a $35 Tibet House membership.)
Feed Your Chi
Come down from the mountains for a lunch break in Woodstock at the Garden Café, where new owner Lea Fridrich has made subtle yet sensational adjustments to the organic and vegan menu. Order a green juice or smoothie at the just-opened juice bar outside, and sample new entrées such as the Indian Red Lentil Vegetable Enchilada, served in a spiced tomato-coconut sauce with sides of curried apple salad and sautéed greens.
Enter the Vortex
Here's a wellness hot spot to bookmark for fall: Simhara Holistic Spa & Healing Sanctuary in Stone Ridge. Closed in August, the sanctuary will be relaunching this fall and is poised for refinements of its treatments and vision. Located in a bio-harmonized Dutch stone house on an idyllic property featuring what owner Dr. Simone Harari describes as "a rare natural energy vortex," Simhara has a vast menu of offerings, from standard spa fare to "divine energy frequency healing" and aromatherapy (the Raindrop Technique, for example, draws on the Lakota tradition and Tibetan reflexology). "If you just want a great massage or facial, it's here, in a beautiful, peaceful, relaxing setting," says Harari. "If you want to go deeper into the energetic and the spiritual, that's available too."
Reach for Cloud 9
In Kingston, Birch Body Care is on a mission to make great bodywork accessible and affordable, with a menu of main course and á la carte offerings from "a team of therapists that's unrivalled at most spas," says owner Ani Kaiser. The signature Birch Body Treatment starts with a full-body Indian dry-brushing, followed by customized oils and a heat wrap; Kaiser recommends capping it off with a 30- or 60-minute massage for uber bliss. (Afterwards, the boutique area is fun to comb for treasures like salt scrubs, oils, perfumes, and more.) With its unique take on drive-by wellness, Birch offers massage by the minute ($2/min. for 10–20 min.) and even a Power Nap option in one of the quiet treatment rooms, complete with a blanket, eye pillow, and cranial cradle for sweet dreams.