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At Playa del Carmen's Rosewood Mayakoba (rooms from $425), an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, the Sense Spa is inspired by ancient Mayan customs. It has a kuxtal (“life”) sensory garden where medicinal plants like lavender and peppermint are grown; a natural cenote, or underground freshwater pool; and a temescal, or sweat lodge. It is in this heated room that one of the spa’s most popular services has traditionally taken place: As steam swirls around, the resident shaman wards off negative energy by burning herbs and incense, blows into conch shells, and calls upon the ancestors. But these days, the resort’s healer has added something new to her ensemble; in addition to her flowing white caftan and prayer beads, she now wears a face mask and a plastic shield. The treatment itself has been moved out of the confines of the temescal and into the jungle, where the whir of singing bowls and the rattle of maracas are joined by the chirping of birds and the rustling leaves.
It’s a challenge that spas around the globe are facing. How can they offer high-touch experiences in a new, physically distanced world? For many resorts, the solution is to take them outside—to a pool cabana, the beach, or an ancient rain forest. But for the facials and scrubs that can’t so easily achieve an outbound migration, there are other solutions. Longer breaks between bookings allow for extra time to thoroughly clean treatment rooms, often with UV light and UV-enhanced air purifiers—the standard at celebrity favorite Tracie Martyn in New York City. Therapists are also changing their uniforms between sessions and donning masks or face shields too, though they rarely wear gloves (unsurprisingly, clients haven’t responded well to that latex-on-skin sensation). But while guests no doubt appreciate the safety precautions, they don’t really want to hear about them, says Anna Bjurstam of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas. “We have hygiene fatigue,” she laughs. “People are trusting the luxury hotel brands to be responsible about safety. They aren’t asking about the specific measures—they just want to relax.”
For those who still find intimate treatments to be too much, too soon, hands-off therapies are filling in the gaps. In September, Carillon Miami Wellness Resort (rooms from $350) launched a high-tech Touchless Wellness Menu, which includes sessions in an inflammation-reducing Prism Light Pod and on a sleep-therapy Spa Wave bed. The contactless menu at the spa at Four Seasons Resort Lanai (rooms from $1,075), an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, includes Reiki energy balancing, deep-tissue work done with a Hypervolt machine, and Yomassage classes that teach self-care techniques. More traditional therapies, such as the sound healing, breath work, and tuning fork treatments offered at Miraval Resorts also provide touch-free ways to treat anxiety, digestive issues, and inflammation.
Of course, after many months of being cooped up, most people need more than a spa day to get back on track. New long-term wellness retreats are helping guests drop pandemic pounds, shed emotional baggage, and detox after a bit too much self-medication—and it’s all happening in between work calls and Zoom meetings. In Tecate, Mexico, Rancho La Puerta (week-long programs from $4,150) has debuted a 21-Day Perfect Balance Sabbatical that focuses on finding that elusive work-life balance with a mix of private consultations, fitness classes, and educational workshops, plus villa accommodations with in-room office setups. The new Wellness Immersions at American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property Amanyara (rooms from $1,700), the Aman Resorts property in the Turks and Caicos, are bringing together a team of therapists, nutritionists, and medical specialists to help guests achieve a full mind-body reset, whether they unplug from their devices or not.
Six Senses is also revising its personalized programs with the pandemic in mind, incorporating gut health, immunity, and—the big one for 2021, according to Bjurstam—mental well-being. “The whole world has been on a roller coaster, and trauma is terrible for the immune system,” she says, adding that, even if guests aren’t ready for that aromatherapy massage just yet, they might still find exactly what they need at a spa. “There’s a mental aspect to all this, and spas are ideal places to start addressing that.”