Basic Bliss: Water Circuit Therapy

In the ever-increasing facets of life, it seems complexity rules the day. When entangled schedules and commitments tax personal reserves to the point of exhaustion, it becomes easy to convince ourselves that effective rejuvenation needs to be equally complicated. Yet the early, and arguably truest, spa experiences were elemental—among these, a curative course of exposing the body to varying temperatures, often involving steam rooms, saunas and hot-and-cold plunge pools.

Called a water circuit, this simple healing therapy provides a quick, effective and affordable (access is usually complimentary with a scheduled spa service) means of bodily balance. "We encourage guests to use our heat and water facilities forty-five minutes prior to their treatments," recommends Penny Kriel, spa director for Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C.

Kriel's advice is to first start with the dry sauna (maximum 10 minutes) to gradually raise body temperature followed by a refreshing dip in the cold plunge pool (up to one minute). This rapid cooling narrows the blood vessels (vasoconstriction) and gives your internal thermostat—the thyroid gland—a healthy workout as it acts to thermally regulate the body. As with any exercise, intervals of recovery should be interspersed, and after the cooling plunge, sit and relax for a couple of minutes to attain a normal state of comfort.

Kriel notes that a second repetition of the circuit might start with heat from the steam room (up to 10 minutes depending on tolerance) or whirlpool to expand the blood vessels (vasodilation) again and increase circulation. Each cycle should end with a cold plunge or shower then rest. Repeat as desired but be sure to hydrate throughout.

"Jumping into the cold plunge pool after sitting in a whirlpool, sauna or steam room is a great way to jump start your lymphatic system," says Maggie Wagner, spa director at Four Seasons Resort, Jackson Hole. "As the blood vessels vasoconstrict and vasodilate, this acts as a pumping system to move toxins out of your body more quickly."

The real beauty of this cyclic ritual is how effortlessly it translates at home. For example, Kriel recommends going over the dry skin with a brush (called "dry brushing") followed by a warm bath for lymphatic stimulation mimicking that caused by whirlpool jets. Similarly, follow up a warm-shower with a chilling spray lasting up to a minute (to give thyroidal boost) for breathtaking results.

Lavish indulgences will always have their place, but simple pleasures should be just that. So the next time you feel caught up in life's intricate web, a restorative flow between hot and cold will let you easily detach by degrees.

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