spa day

Work For and From the Inside

About a week ago my mom, sister and I went to get massages.

We’d each received a gift certificate for Christmas and were finally able to make (and keep) an appointment, since the first couple were cancelled due to one of us having COVID.

We were very excited, as we’d booked—for the first time ever—ninety-minute massages. And with a myriad of different stressors weighing on us from the past month or so, we were ready (and desperate) to *relax*.

I had even asked for the deep tissue massage, which, if you happened to read this post regarding my feelings on my first ever massage, will let you know 1) how much of the massage Kool-Aid I’ve drank over the last few years, and 2) how much I wanted the stress more or less beaten out of me. I wanted that stress to run for its life. I wanted a stress exorcism.

When the masseuse asked if there were any areas to focus on, I said: neck, shoulders and back.

They have forever been where I hold everything. From the annoyance of that bad driver I encountered on the freeway yesterday, to that mean thing a girl said to me in high school 15 years ago. It’s also where, for a long time, my muscles were working overtime to keep my head on my shoulders due to my bad posture—that I’ve since put in a lot of energy (and a lot of money at the chiropractor) to correct.

Needless to say, I love having my neck, shoulders and back massaged. It feels like ironing a wrinkly shirt. And since it had been a while since my last massage, I was sure there were going to be quite a few wrinkles to tend to.

To my surprise, as I lay face down on the table and the masseuse dug into what seemed like the very core of my spine, assumedly finding evidence that I still hadn’t fully forgiven someone who wronged me in the seventh grade, he asked, “do you ever do any kind of stretching or foam rolling?”

I tried to nod, but then remembered my face was framed by the pillow, making my neck borderline immovable.

“Yes,” I said. “I foam roll my back a few times a week”—something that was recommended by my chiropractor—“and I try to do yoga two or three times a week.”

He made a quick “mhm” noise, and I assumed it was partnered with a nod.

“I can tell,” he said. “While you have tension in your back, there are no knots at all. So your efforts are paying off.”

I lay there, letting his words repeat in my head.

I thought about all the anxiety I felt going into our day at the spa. I always got nervous knowing I’d have to spend time in my bathing suit—or naked, under the sheets of the massage table—overly critical of my body and how it compared to others.

I thought of all the times I’d done yoga, or gone for a run or a walk, hoping that the efforts I was putting in would garner positive results that I could see in the mirror.

I thought of all the times I’d hidden my body behind baggy clothes, anxious hands, or the body of someone else.

And then I thought about how my body, my muscles, and my bones themselves might be benefiting from my exercise, my (mostly) healthy diet, my efforts to meditate, and to express myself both emotionally, physically, and creatively.

Those efforts might not show in the mirror. They might not match up to some kind of image I have in my head of what a body is “supposed” to look like. But they do change the way my body feels. They do the work on the inside of my body.

We are told so often to focus on physical results and to hit monetary goals, when so much benefit can come from doing work for and from the inside first. I know what it feels like when I eat healthy, when I exercise, when I don’t slouch, when I can relax into deep, honest conversations with those I trust. These things make me feel light, they bring an ease to my days, and, apparently, give me the iron to take to that wrinkly shirt.

After the massage, I lay on one of the daybeds beside my mom, reading a book and listening to the sound of falling water. Then I took a long, hot shower and blow dried my hair. On the way home, we picked up dinner from one of my favorite places and then sat on the couch and watched a movie.

It was a great day, not because things looked perfect on the outside, but because they felt good from the inside.


The Lavender Milk & Honey Cocoon (Adventures at the Spa: Part 3)

If you’ll recall this post I wrote a couple of years ago, I was…anxious about my first ever massage. But since I survived, and—with some reflection—understood there were in fact benefits, I decided that once I hit my 1000-mile running goal, I’d give massages another go.

Before I ever went to a spa, I used make passing comments that if I did, I’d rather they “wrap me in a leaf” or “put me in mud for a few hours” than give me a massage. While one of those wishes was more or less fulfilled a few years back (which you can read about here) I decided that this post-running spa trip probably would (and should) consist of a massage.

Fast-forward a few weeks to the Friday after Christmas. My mom had put in an extensive amount of research to try and make my spa day dreams come true, and as we sat on cushioned lounge chairs in white cloth robes, waiting to be called back to our individual rooms, I was both anxious and excited.

“Kimberlee,” a woman said as she approached us.

“That’s me.”

She guided me down a hallway and pointed to a white door, all the while explaining what would be involved in my lavender milk and honey cocoon. (Yeah, remember that leaf I’d always wanted? That idea went out the window the minute I learned of the opportunity to go full insect on the world.)

I walked into the room and my masseuse, Natalie (the same name as my sister, a.k.a her first win in my book) told me she was going to step out of the room for a few minutes. In that time, I could adjust the lighting, the music being played, the temperature of the room, and finally, take off my robe and lie on my stomach.

I didn’t end up changing any of the settings she mentioned, but on par with both of the other spa experiences I’ve had, I spent a solid amount of time on the underwear debate. Do I keep it on? Do I take it off? Should I have taken it off before she led me back here?

With my robe already off, and my underwear in my hand, I paced back and forth across the room—in perhaps the strangest way I’ve ever thought something over—and eventually decided to tuck my underwear in my robe pocket. When Natalie knocked, I was under the covers with my face stuffed into that pillow that always seems one size too small.

“Alright Ms. Kim, we’re going to start with the body buff.”

And for the next twenty minutes, I was quite literally buffed. Using a scrub that felt like sandy soap (in a good way?) I felt like she was exercising every imperfection out of my skin. The only hiccup was when she reached for my stomach and my skin literally moved away from her hands, like a cartoon character fidgeting away from danger. Luckily Natalie seemed unfazed and finished the spiff job like I was a classic car going to auction.

giphy (2)

She then asked me to stand up, rinse off in the shower—which I didn’t even notice was there—then come back in with my towel open in the back and sit up straight on the table. It was pretty straightforward. And aside from feeling slightly like I was at the gyno, I was excited for step two, a.k.a THE COCOON.

Now, it’s probably clear—or if it isn’t, allow me to clarify—I am a human girl. However, once my masseuse began to lather—not sprinkle, not dab, LATHER—the honey & lavender milk mixture on my skin, I quickly began my transformation into a mouth watering KFC biscuit. And while I kept wanting to feel, I don’t know, gross because of how much I undoubtedly resembled a human flytrap, I managed to maintain a head space of bliss rather than bleh.

I’d like to say this was from my newly found spa-maturity, however, I’m 100% sure it was attributed to the fact that after she finished a section of my body she would layer on hot towels, making me feel like a moisturized mummy, something I never knew I wanted to be. And if that wasn’t great enough, once I was to honey what Eggo waffles should be to syrup, she pulled the sides of the weighted blanket I was laying on over me and tied me into it.


It was like I was a 5 year old being burrito-ed into bed by my dad all over again and I was LIVING. FOR. IT.

As a final step, she turned off the lights, giving me an ample atmosphere for my caterpillar/peasant to moth/full blown goddess transformation. Then, after just the right amount of time (i.e. long enough that I could have grown honey scented wings but not so long that I’d develop cocoon claustrophobia a.k.a a level of fear I never want to unlock) Natalie slowly lifted the lights, unzipped me and told me to rinse off in the shower again.

Once I was back on the table, we began the 50-minute massage included with the package, which was substantially less terrifying than my first one. Mostly because I knew what to expect, but also because by that point I felt like Natalie and I had been through a lot together and I trusted she wouldn’t do anything to break the strong (probably one-sided) bond we’d built. In the end, I’m happy to report the massage went off without a hitch, save for the few minutes at the end when the music changed to what sounded like the soundtrack to The Godfather, and I lost focus on relaxation and started thinking about you know, murder.

When Natalie was finished, she heated my robe in…umm…a magical robe heater…I assume—I honestly have no idea—and then she once again stepped out, giving me privacy to get dressed. As you can imagine, getting up sounded impossible at this point, let alone getting dressed and reentering the real world. But I managed to muster up the strength (see: courage). Afterwards, Natalie led me back down the hallway to the cushiony lounge chairs where it all began. She also gave me an apple and a magazine with an article about JK Rowling in it, making me wonder if I should just propose. Before I could decide however, she was gone.

My First Massage (Adventures at the Spa: Part 2)

There I was, face down on a table, left butt cheek out, thinking about high school…

Wait, I should back up a bit.

I walked into a dark room in nothing but a cloth robe and found Kendra, who flipped on some classical music.

Woah. Wait, that took it a different direction. Let’s go to the very beginning.

Saturday night my mom, sister and I got a call from our friend Julie that we were having a Surprise Sunday Spa Day.

“Be ready at 8:45!” she said through our speakerphone.

The next morning, as we stood there in our robes, ogling the enormous, 6 nozzle showers, Julie explained that we were each signed up for a 1-hour massage and a pedicure. We all jumped, wiggled, smiled and squealed in excitement; what a wonderful Sunday this would be!

As we packed up our lockers, my mom stopped for a second, “We keep our underwear on, right?”

“Nope,” Julie replied.




Julie nodded as an answer: This massage would be sans chonies.

Now, this may not be a big deal to some, but I was a first timer, as in, never have I ever lie down on a table and let a stranger treat my muscles like a rubiks cube. So when I walked into the dimly lit room, knowing each step I took was more breezy than normal, it was safe to say I was a little nervous. Plus, thanks to my already anxious nature and unhinged imagination, I had fully convinced myself that I’d be assigned a burly man that just had his heart broken. He’d stand over me, whimpering, replaying everything that went wrong in his ill-fated romance. His strength would be at an all time low and he’d paw at my back like it was a couch cushion needing to be straightened. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, he’d sprint into the second stage of grief and start treating the knots in my shoulders like punching bags. “HOW DARE YOU ANDREA!” he’d say while twisting my spine in a direction it was unfamiliar with. And I’d be there, my head stuck in that open-faced pillow, trying to tell him what a mistake she had made, while also politely asking that he pop my shoulders back into place. All that being said, seeing Kendra was a huge relief.

“I’m going to step outside for a moment so you can disrobe and lie on your stomach under the sheet,” she said.

A few seconds later, when I dropped my robe on the floor, I audibly giggled like a child. I briefly considered yelling, “I’M NAKED!” but then I got nervous that I was moving too slow and that Kendra would open the door and show the entire lounge my butt. So I pulled the sheet over me as quickly as I could and slapped my face into the pillow like I was trying to win a no-hands pie-eating contest. Once, I was settled, Kendra knocked and reentered, and then suddenly it was go time.

She started at the nape of my neck, making counterclockwise circles like my skin was a mouse pad and she was making a masterpiece on Windows Paint. Then, from my shoulders, she began to push up through my neck to my head. She did this over and over in identical fashion, as if she was carving a path for all the stress to release.  Unfortunately however, it didn’t simply dissolve into the eucalyptus air. I felt every ounce of stress, anxiety, and pent up cringes that were pumping through my muscles. She was like Moses, parting the red sea of awkwardness and all the people passing through were old memories. Like that time I split my pants in Kindergarten, or the stupid things I’ve said to the boys I liked, or every period I got from ages 13-16. There they all were; it was a slideshow of stress playing at its own funeral.

At some point during my walk through the awk, I realized that if my left butt cheek had eyes, it could now see the ceiling; she had begun to massage my leg and had adjusted the sheet accordingly.

“You can turn over now,” Kendra said after she finished the other leg.

Once flipped, I began to panic. All of the important parts were covered, that wasn’t a concern, but what the hell was I supposed to do with my arms?

Did I lay them at my side? Was that too morgue-ish?

Did fold my hands over my stomach? Was that too coffin-y?

How does anyone not look like a corpse at this point?

And do I keep my eyes open?

What if we make eye contact?

Will I have to say something?

What if I smile weird and she thinks I’m having a stroke?

Thankfully she was able to work through both arms and legs, completely unfazed by my likeness to a cadaver, and move to the top of the table to dig at the muscles just below my neck

Early on she found a knot on my left side and dug her fingers into it like she was kneading dough. Immediately after discovering this similarity, I stopped paying attention and dreamt about bread……Sourdough

When I snapped back to reality she was working on a knot on my right side, worse than the first, and I suddenly understood what dirt must feel like when you stab a shovel into it. Then, as the knot continued to hold strong, I thought of that old Eggo waffle commercial where the kid digs his way to China. She was digging and digging until: HELLO SHANGHAI and I was certain I would never be able to move my arm again.

A few minutes later, she thanked me for my time and I reciprocated the gesture. She guided me down the hallway and as I approached my family, I tried to get ahold of what had just happened.

Rubix Cube. Mouse Pad. Moses……sourdough<3, Shanghai.

Massages, who knew?


The Mud Bath (Adventures at the Spa: Part 1)

The 4th day of this past April was my mom’s 50th birthday. The end of her 5th decade. She has officially been blessing this earth for half a century.

“You’re welcome, world” –God

In celebration of this marvelous day, we decided to go a little crazy.

Crazy, defined: Going to a pricey day spa.

So, my mom, sister and I all played hookie from work and hopped on the 210 freeway. An hour and a half later, we pulled into the parking lot of what would hopefully prove to be a sanctuary from the stress and chaos of our everyday lives. Quick note: I had no prior experience in spa like activities.

Wait, do pedicures count? I’ve had a handful of those, but I’ve been skimping as of late, I’d rather just do it myself.

Do I get massages, you ask? No. I hate massages. I’m not able to reach the “it hurts but I’m also relaxing” state, it just hurts and I want you to stop. Also, unless you at least know how to spell and pronounce my first and last name—it should probably take more than that, right?—I don’t plan on de-robing and lying face down on a table for you.   I don’t care if people have compared your hands to Jesus. I don’t care if your music makes the tension in my shoulders melt into pudding. It’s going to be a no, every time.

This spa day was going to be sans-massage, like life should be.

On our walk up to the entrance we nearly became collateral damage amidst an apparent duel two hummingbirds were having between two trees.  My sister, who is terrified of birds, screamed, and we hastened our pace to the two gentlemen waiting to greet us. While I’m almost positive they saw us flee from the birds, they didn’t laugh or make any comments as we returned their greeting—while panting from the run—and entered the lobby. (Thank you, kind gentlemen.)

Aside from mascara, the three of us were makeup free when we entered the lobby, so I’m sure the addition of sweat to our faces produced a kind of beauty rarely seen in the daylight hours. The woman that helped us however, seemed unphased. She handed us a map, pointed us in the direction of the changing rooms, and told us to have a wonderful and relaxed day.

Now I don’t know if all spas are the same, so it’s possible that what I saw is unique to this haven, but upon exiting the lobby, I stepped into an entirely different world. On our way to the changing rooms, people passed in fluctuating amounts of clothing. Some accessorized with towels or robes, some let it all hang out in merely swimsuits. Shoes were like mustaches. Those who wore them, wore them with pride, not conforming to the average—shoeless—style. They loved their shoes and they would continue to wear their shoes no matter where they went. Those without shoes wore a, “I don’t even remember what shoes are, I can’t even imagine trying to wear shoes right now” attitude.  (We wore shoes.)

Unlike the gym—**rumors I hear about the gym, a place I’ve never been—there was not a hefty supply of naked people wandering around with no shame. Much to my relief, the only pair of boobs I saw were my own, and the only but I saw belonged to a plastic replica of a roman statue.

After we grabbed some towels—Stop. Side note about the towels, if there is ever a towel apocalypse, go to a spa. I was continually amazed by the amount of towels at my disposal. I must have used 25 different towels, just because I could. Resume discussion of towels.

After we grabbed some towels, we headed to the “Mineral Baths”, step one of our descent into ULTIMATE MOISTURIZATION. Or relaxation. Or Zen-ness. Or whatever.

The Mineral Baths were a set of 7 small pools set at 102° that we were told to sit in for 20 minutes. This would open our pores big enough that they could shoot moisture into our skin with those T-shirt guns you see at sporting events.  Aside from the initial shock of the temperature, it was actually a very enjoyable experience. We sat in a pool alongside a cute Asian woman who I spoke to in length about how cute her hand sewn water bottle holder was. (How much she understood, remains unclear) I found myself drawn to a wide variety of people. I wanted to talk to all of them, ask them how they liked the water, what brought them to the spa today, and how life was treating them in general. This was when I realized I’d been in the water too long, so I escaped before proceeding with my pool wide meet and greet.

Step 2 was a Mud Bath. The directions—nothing is more relaxing to me than a clear set of directions—said to wade into the pool—which reminded me of a dirty lake from childhood summer days—and completely wet our skin. We were then supposed to congregate to the center of the pool, where we would find a mound of clay (mud) to rub all over our bodies. Totally normal. I rubbed the mud over my arms and legs and neck and stomach, my mom did my back, and I finished off the coat with a nice face mask. After 15 minutes of lying in the sun, the clay had almost completely dried on my skin. What once made me look like one of the 50 something, over-tanned, divorcés, now made me look like I hibernated in a box of coco powder. Plus, I now came with wrinkles.

If you ever want to get a glimpse into your future saggy, wrinkly skin, cover your body in wet spa clay, let it dry, and bend your extremities.

Following much procrastination, I made a move to rinse off. I was sure that once I left the sun and entered the cave like shower, it was sure to release water laced with icicles upon my muddy being. I was right.  The first few minutes, were hell. My heart raced and my skin shivered as I begged the mud to get off my skin and for my 5th towel to be hand delivered to me. Also, there was a spider eyeing me on its ascent up the rocky walls. When I turned my back on it to rinse my hair, I was sure it was the last thing I would ever do. Once I was mud free, I walk/ran to the woman guarding the towels. I thought about taking 7, one for each arm, each leg, the front and back of my torso, and my face, but at the last second I settled for 1.

Step 3 had three steps all its own. It started with the signing of a waiver which probably said “don’t sue us if you have a bad reaction to our lotions, don’t run through the halls of our facility yelling “Fire”, don’t punch any of the other patrons, blah blah blah, no fun had by anyone. We then took an elevator down to a cave-like room which was reminiscent of the line for Indiana Jones at Disneyland. Less skulls, more fake orchids. (The entire building was like this. Dimly lit, distant music playing, mild smells that you couldn’t quite identify.) In the second room, a woman painted me—yes painted, with an actual paint brush—with some moisturization concoction comprised of fairy tears (of joy and relaxation) and flower guts. It was warm and looked like Nickelodeon slime but I believed them when they said it was good for my skin. We sat in room 3 for the allotted 20 minutes, rubbing the slime into our skin and listening to a group of wealthy spa goers discuss some their serious issues—a quick summary: they were too rich. I will dream about room 4 for the rest of my days. It was a simple room, comprised solely of showers and towels. The showers had 3 nozzles. One for each side of your body, and one that hung above my head. It was marvelous. It made me regret every comment I’ve ever made—both aloud and mentally—about the pretentious showers of the 1%.  That being said, my exit from the shower was a dark time. For a few minutes I thought I’d never again experience happiness…but then I found the towels. This time I didn’t just take one. I took 3. I deserved them, I was in mourning. Room 4 was cold, but there were apples, so I had no complaints. And that was that. We rode the elevator back up and before we knew it, we were back on dry, sunny land.

Before retreating back to the changing rooms, we decided to do a final lap around the premises to see if there was anything else we wanted to experience. We found the sauna, where we lay on hot wood until my lips threatened to peel off my face. We found the deck, which was only available to special, pretentious shower owning, guests whom I was no desperate to befriend. And we found the Saline pool which was filled with salts and junk that we thought sounded like a blasty blast. After that, we called it a day. We grabbed our change of clothes, 3 more towels, and we took another shower.  Why? BECAUSE WE COULD.

In conclusion, go to a spa, if only for the showers and towels. It will make your life better, I promise.