Exfoliation...dermabrasion...hydration... spas have an 'ion' for everything. At the Elm Hurst Inn & Spa in Ingersoll, Ontario, I discovered with some...ah... trepidation...that I know frighteningly little about caring for myself.
I'm not alone. Spa directress, Chriss Wilson, says: "Most people pay no attention to themselves." That's why a treatment at the Country Spa involves teaching clients self-care - from the inside out.
The brochure suggested an hour and a half for an Elemental Nature Facial for Self-Renewal but in fact, two hours flew by as I learned more than I'd ever thought possible about how my habits - good and bad - affect my skin.
The process started with a detailed questionnaire based on the Aveda theory of holistic care: you can't fix the outside until you understand the inside. That understanding involves an analysis of five elements - Infinity, Air, Fire, Water and Earth - that make up your body and spirit -- and in fact, nature as a whole.
Each element has sensory and physiological links, and is characterized by a particular mindset. To determine your individual blend, clients answer questions on everything from skin type to thought processes.
I flew through the questions, starting with complexion (delicate, prone to inflammation and early wrinkles...damn!), moving through body temperature (tendency to feel cold) and hair (fine, premature graying. Hah! My stylist has that under control, thanks very much!) Energy level came next (consistent, strong) and then stress response ("snarly" wasn't listed so I went with "can get irritable and frustrated.") Body type (athletic build) and sleep patterns were easy (sleeps solidly and can function well on less than six hours) as were routine/orientation (mildly dislikes routine) and thinking style (focuses well...sometimes.)
Each answer fell into one of the elemental categories - the grand total comprised my Aveda profile. I'm overwhelmingly a Fire girl, with just one response in the Water column and two in the Infinity row.
"It's best to have some responses in every elemental category." explained Wilson tactfully, "This tells me you're a very high energy person who pushes herself hard."
I'm blazing, and unbalanced.
"Is that bad?" I asked.
No. Apparently, in a Zen kind of way, it's neither bad nor good. It just is.
So, what's Fire all about? It's the element associated with sight. Earth is linked to smell, Water is tied to taste, Air to touch and Infinity to sound. Physiologically, Fire is responsible for transformations in the body that include digestion (when food is changed into energy), body heat regulation, and skin coloration. Earth is responsible for the muscles and skeleton while Water takes care of moisturizing the respiratory tract, and lubricating the joints and the digestive tract. Air handles movement in, out, and through the body such as breathing, blood and lymphatic circulation and the nervous system while Infinity handles the expansion of the lungs and arteries.
According to the Aveda principles, a well-balanced, Fire-dominated makeup is characterized by a sharp intellect and the ability to argue points well. If you're Fire-dominated but your balance is off, you might have a short temper and little patience. Hmmm!
Before I could even begin to fume about my fiery shortcomings, the treatment began with a footbath so relaxing I couldn't fret about anything. Lovely...but wasn't I having a facial?
"You are," Wilson explained. "This first step is to lower the barriers between us and help you relax. Next, you're going to take a sensory journey so I can determine which scents and products to use."
Eyes closed and feet in heaven, I smelled three vials of scent. An easy job, I just chose the one I liked best. All three were pleasant, but one was by far the most appealing.
Wilson presented three more. Again, all were aromatic and soothing, but one was a standout.
"Your first choice determines the scent overtone, and the second, the undertone for the products we'll use. Your choices make perfect sense. The second fragrance you selected is for sensitive skin, like yours. When we let our sense of smell take over, it can often determine exactly what our face, body, mind and spirit need."
Apparently, one thing I need is quiet time. Wilson was nearly silent as she examined my skin under a powerful light, then gently cleansed, exfoliated, massaged and hydrated the face of Fire. I tried to ask questions.
"Talk later," she crooned. "Just relax."
For me, relaxing is a bit of a trick, but I was mush in her hands. Much later, through a blissful haze, I felt a gentle touch on my arm. My time was up. Leaving that cozy treatment room was like emerging from the womb - inevitable but shocking. As I sipped cool water in the lounge, the self-care tutorial began.
"There's some sun damage around your jaw and hairline. It's not as bad as it might be," Wilson frowned in a motherly way, "...given that you say you never wear hats or sunscreen."
Bad fire girl. The truth is, I buy hats and sunscreen - I just never put them on.
"You need sunscreen," Wilson said firmly. "And you're dehydrated. To plump up the skin, you need to drink more water."
Eight glasses a day? No...just one more each day for a week. Then, two more the next week. Very doable.
"Water hydrates from within, but you also need hydration for your skin's surface, especially the thin skin around the eyes. Use more moisturizer"
We were into the 'ations' now. Hydration...then exfoliation.
"Dead surface skin cells prevent moisture absorption," said Wilson, "so exfoliate every day." Every day! Wouldn't my face rub right off?
"Use a gentle liquid exfoliator on your skin overnight. And speaking of overnight, try to get more sleep. Just because you can function on less than six hours, doesn't mean you should."
Exfoliate, hydrate inside and out, sleep more ...great advice gleaned from my Elemental Nature Facial for Self-Renewal. Smarter now, I'm off to grab a glass of water, dab on some exfoliator smother myself in moisturizer and really light my Fire!
Liz Fleming is a freelance writer based in St. Catharines whose work appears regularly in The Toronto Star, Dreamscapes and the Canadian Press. Liz is editor of Niagara Life Magazine.
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