Spa

By Kelley Granger

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The moment I smell roasting chestnuts, I know that I’m in New York City in the winter. It reminds me of walks down 5th Avenue, Rockefeller Center and window-shopping in the nippy winter air.

Today, I’m not on 5th Avenue, but at East 14th Street at Union Square when I’m bombarded with the scent of honey roasted nuts. I’m stepping into for one of their signature aromatic treatments, the Indonesian Ritual of Beauty.

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Kelly Kim, the knowledgeable therapist who leads the session, explains that Indonesians perform this ceremony as a purifying and beautifying tradition before a big event, like a wedding. At Acqua, they offer it in the same spirit and as their driving philosophy – beauty is the balance between outer looks and inner harmony. And some scientists researching the olfactory system (as well as the scores people who have built businesses around aromatherapy) believe that your inner harmony can be directly affected by your sense of smell.

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After changing into a thick robe and being led into a candlelit Vichy shower room, the treatment begins with pressure point work on the feet and ankles. Kim’s slow and sure movements are entrancing and immediately calming. She then begins exfoliation with a brown sugar scrub that contains rice extracts and ginger and cinnamon essential oils. Kim applies the exfoliant with circular movements before switching to vigorous, sweeping strokes. The scent of cinnamon, which is native to Indonesia, is used to uplift and revive. When combined with ginger, which helps circulation, the oils are warming and relaxing and their warm scent saturates the room. The friction of the scrub creates extra heat and leaves the limbs tingly with new blood flow. Kim uses a towel to brush off the granules, and applies a warm and sticky masque that is a mixture of honey, goat’s milk and high-grade vitamin E to the legs, arms, chest, back and stomach. Honey and goat’s milk are renowned for their moisturizing benefits, and Acqua uses them for treatments throughout the winter to help quench parched skin. Both the scrub and the masque are made in house, and include authentic imported Indonesian ingredients.

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After the masque is applied, Kim wraps my body in a wax paper-like wrap that seals in warmth. She adds blankets on top, and the sweet smell of honey radiates from underneath them. Kim uses this time to apply gentle pressure to points on my face and scalp before applying a compress to my eyes. The compress is a wad cloth that has been soaked in green tea and chamomile to soothe and rejuvenate the delicate eye area. A new, calming cascade of scents wafts from the moist compress.

After spending 15 minutes in this cozy cocoon, Kim removes the layers and uses the Vichy shower to wash away the remnants. The shower is the perfect temperature, and my muscles have been so relaxed that they feel like they’re melting away with the honey under the stream of water. The treatment is finished with a massage using an Indonesian oil mixed with a few drops of cinnamon oil. I get up from the table feeling refreshed and cheerful, and smelling subtly of cinnamon.

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At the private changing area, Kim greets me with a cup of tea. The smell and flavor is a powerful mix of Korean white plum and the cooling sensation of peppermint. The tea is called “The Genius” and is made by Tavalon, a tea bar that is conveniently located across the street. My nose and I make it a night with another cup of Genius and a lemon raspberry danish that sits tantalizingly on the display. But we’ll talk about sight next month.

Acqua Beauty Bar
7 E. 14th Street
212-620-4329
www.acquabeautybar.com

Tavalon
22 E. 14th Street
212-807-7027
www.tavalon.com

Originally published January 2008
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