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Avra Organic Spa

Pampering Without Excess

Simplicity is the order of the day, economic stimulus plan or no. Cutting down extraneous costs and adopting a more introspective approach to your spending is the imminent result of the current financial debacle and the so-yesterday American raison d’être of mindless luxury. But getting mindful doesn’t mean giving up pampering. It just means trading in your regular ol’ day spa -- debutantes, amenity-packed locker rooms, pretentious ‘tudes and all -- for a place like Avra Organic Spa.

Avra, tucked away in a comfy alcove of an office building in Fisherman’s Wharf, touts itself as a green spa, which essentially boils down to “waste not, want not.” The ambience of the space is hip and urban without exuding glammy snobbery. That’s partly because lots of the stuff in the spa (like the wall hangings, flooring, and stylin’ crates used as tabletops for your spa cocktails) comes directly from recycled materials. Way to make “throw-aways” chic.

Avra offers everything from specialized detoxification programs (provided after a thorough consultation with the resident herbalist), botanical medicine (check out the reception-area shelves, which boast sustainably culled herbs for everything from sleep deprivation to menopause), to colon hydrotherapy, to beauty without cruelty through the spa’s customized organic skincare.

Given the “organic spa” moniker, you can definitely expect that Avra is more of a holistic wellness center than a one-stop shop for hedonism. In Avra’s words, “If we clear inner pollution, we will have the strength to cease creating outer pollution.” And considering the concomitant stress of economic hardship and overworked, fatigued minds and bodies, pinching pennies on stuff like Frapuccinos in order to fatten your budget for overall wellness is probably a good thing.

When I paid a visit to Avra, I tried out the spa’s herbal body wrap, a service that purports to help clients lose unwanted inches, reduce the appearance of cellulite and spider veins, reduce stress, increase metabolism, and detoxify the body while firming skin. I was already familiar with body wraps, a beautifying remedy that dates back to the time of the Egyptians.

Avra’s wraps -- administered by a spa herbalist, who mummifies your body with tightly wrapped pieces of cloth dipped in herbal nutrients -- are special, as their herbs are completely organic and primarily locally farmed. The process is fairly uncomfortable, though not painful. After you’re wrapped and outfitted in a nifty suit meant to keep you warm, you’re led to one of two dimly lit body wrap lounges, where you can lie back, cozy up in a blanket, get your feet rubbed, and fall asleep for the next hour or so. Every now and then, in between snoozing, I took sips of my kombucha elixir and nibbles of the spa’s delectable organic coconut chocolate. After a while, the discomfort of the tight bandages melted away and I was completely fixated on prolonging my relaxation.

Personally, I felt infinitely more relaxed after my 90-minutes were up, but I’m not sure if that was because of my naptime or the relief that stemmed from removing the bandages. My skin definitely felt softer, but I didn’t necessarily notice a difference in tone or inches. While some may recognize immediate results (a more contoured shape, glowing skin, looser jeans, etc.), a series of sessions over a few months is usually recommended, particularly since results like increased metabolism tend to improve with repetition. (Avra also offers a Sudatonic System wrap, which uses infrared technology in addition to organic creams to aid in the breakdown of fat.)

If you’re intrigued by the spa’s unique approach to inner beauty, you’ll also want to check out some of the other services. Avra clients, in particular, swear by the spa’s efficient approach to colon hydrotherapy. Granted, colonics certainly aren’t for everyone, and debate over the scientific credence of this system of internal irrigation is worth looking into before heading for the nearest enema. Water is filtered into the lower intestinal tract, assisting in the evacuation of waste, which is said to lead to a happier colon and attendant numerous benefits. Aside from its mega-draining action, getting a colonic also means better digestion and lymphatic function.

My favorite service at Avra was probably its “intuitive massage,” a technique in which the therapist uses a variety of modalities -- craniosacral release, Reiki, acupressure, trigger point and Swedish, to name a few -- combined with her own hunches about what your body needs. While the idea of an intuitive massage seemed a bit frou-frou to me, my own experience with talented energy workers didn’t leave too much room for scoffing.

My therapist Crystal -- aside from having a gentle yet deep and precise touch -- was able to identify issues in my body that I’d always suspected were there, but that few massage therapists, had ever pointed out to me before. The post-treatment session was equally helpful, as Crystal took the time to teach me a few stretches that would work to realign various parts of my body.

While I have a certain prejudice that precludes complete trust in “organic” (which can sometimes be a buzzword meant to pander to the masses), simply speaking with Avra’s knowledgeable specialists and attuning myself to the unostentatious vibe of the place helped mitigate some of those doubts. In any case, frazzled nerves and conscientious intentions (both mind/body and money/wallet) will find that Avra is the perfect retreat for some holistic TLC.