New Years Eve Guide
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Maharishi Ayurveda Health Spa

A Taste of the Authentic

At this junction in spa history, the comprehensive system of healthy pampering known as Ayurveda -- an across-the-board Hindu wellness practice that translates to “knowledge of life” in Sanskrit -- is part and parcel of the industry lexicon. In San Francisco alone, there are at least a dozen spas that profess to employ some ancient Ayurvedic techniques in their services. But for spa babies who aren’t content with watered-down exotics (an oil treatment here, a mantra thrown in for good measure there), Maharishi Ayurveda Health Spa is the real deal.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because you’re probably familiar with the spa’s namesake -- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation who also became a counterculture household name after schooling celebs like The Beatles in stuff like spiritual regeneration. Even if meditation and Vedic secrets made accessible aren’t your thing, the spa’s two locations are high-caliber holistic beauty centers chockfull of indulgent treatment options for any wellness seeker worth her salt.

Aside from offering a selection of Maharishi-branded teas, herbs, and beauty products (all teeming with natural, organic ingredients rather than the spa chemicals the industry has become so inundated with), Maharishi Ayurveda professes to bring the body back to its natural balance through treatments that are both medicinal and deeply rejuvenating. Some of the spa’s services include personal health consultations, which run the gamut from comprehensive custom-made detox programs to diet and exercise regimens. The obvious result? Why, increased peace of mind and ability to relax, for one thing. It’s also believed that Ayurvedic treatments in general extend to treating disorders like hypertension, bronchitis, and migraines.

My visit begins with a delectable cup of herbal tea (seriously, I can feel the health seeping into my body) and a soothing footbath before I am ushered into the treatment room, a modest yet spacious area that’s rich with the fragrance of herbs and flowers. Treatments at the spa are especially unique, as they customarily include two therapists who synch up as they work on opposite sides of your body. My therapists start the services by gathering information about my dosha, or body composition, which informs practitioners on what kinds of herbs and treatments will best benefit their client.

I’m here for the four-handed Abhyanga massage, a hedonistic treatment that utilizes a light touch and special oils full of herbal extracts that penetrate your cells to release deep-seated toxins. For the fainter of heart, the treatment may not be preferable -- the massage requires being undraped for periods of time, since the chest is a prime area for toxins to settle. All the same, the meticulous manner in which the therapists knead my limbs and guide my body through subtle yoga poses is too nurturing to raise any feelings of embarrassment. Additionally, all treatments are done in complete silence, without the distracting sounds of the pleasant Zen white noise that most spas are afflicted with, so it’s an environment deliciously conducive to meditative repose.

I am also treated to Shirodhara, an unbelievably calming therapy that includes a scalp massage and a rhythmic stream of oil poured continuously over my forehead, which apparently balances the nervous system while lulling me into an unruffled reverie. Finally, the extravagance ends with an herbalized steam tent known as Swedena. A primitive heat chamber swathes my body from the neck down, facilitating the sweating-out of toxins. By the time I’m finished, I’m a mushy, viscous (oil is, after all, ubiquitous in Ayurvedic treatments) mass of loosened limbs. Luckily, each treatment room has a shower, complete with blow dryers, shower gel, and shampoos and conditioners with exotic ingredients like rosewater, neem, and sandalwood.

Even before I emerge from the spa, glowing and dewy, I know from conversations with other Ayurveda buffs that the restorative benefits of the afternoon will probably be with me for quite some time. And while my thirst for pure spa luxury has been duly quenched, Maharishi Ayurveda has offered me something else -- alertness and a feeling of levity that has me on the Internet minutes later, googling Panchakarma (an intensive detox treatment) and figuring out all the facets of my dosha.

Once you step through the doors, you might be tempted to stay for a while to shed all the workaday toxins; while the spa doesn’t currently offer all the trimmings of a full-on retreat, you can attend lectures on how to “improve life from within” or you can opt for the Ultimate Rejuvenation package, which combines the best they have to offer: a five-day program that includes Transcendental Meditation training, a series of spa treatments, a supply of Maharishi beauty products and herbs, and personalized nutritional guidance. I can’t think of a more luxurious New Year’s Resolution.