From: The New York Times
By Alex Witchel
July 1, 2001
“WHEN you think of the 92nd Street Y, which of the following comes to mind?
a) More screaming toddlers in strollers than any other New York location.
b) Lecturegoers who wonder at the top of their voices if they should leave now so they don’t miss their bus.
c) A spa.
If you didn’t leap to ”c,” it’s understandable, though Insparations — groan — the new day spa at the 127-year-old Jewish community and cultural center has been open since April. When I told my husband that one of the treatments I signed up for was a massage with hot river stones applied to the back, he asked if it shouldn’t be hot kugel, instead.
Once at the spa, I was the only one laughing, which I thought was too bad. Over the years I have racked up an array of spa treatments that have ranged from having my aura read to having a reiki practitioner heal my energy without even touching me. How seriously can you take this stuff? The best you can hope for is that someone works the knots out of your shoulders and you don’t break out from the goo on your face.
Dr. Jane Goldberg, 55, a psychoanalyst who specializes in working with cancer patients, is the director of Insparations. She has formulated a healing program that emphasizes the connections between mind, body and spirit. To this end, she has devised a questionnaire that, she says, ”determines which energy you most emphatically embody” among the five elements — earth, air, water, fire, sky — to better decide which therapies would help balance you.
After I completed the questionnaire (Sample question: Who would you rather have a conversation with? a) Michael Jordan b) Sigmund Freud c) Winston Churchill d) Mother Teresa e) Dalai Lama; I chose ”b”), Dr. Goldberg determined I was ”fire,” representing power and intensity. She also found that I aspire to ”earth,” which represents grounding and stability. Why not?
Actually, I found Dr. Goldberg’s own experience in holistic health compelling. Twenty-eight years ago, she said, her mother was found to have breast cancer that had metastasized to the bone. She changed her diet, started to meditate, even took a cruise that educated people in the mind-body connection. ”She went in a wheelchair and came back walking,” Dr. Goldberg recalled. She lived another 10 years.
After her mother’s death in 1983, Dr. Goldberg opened La Casa Resort Spa, based on holistic health, in Puerto Rico. It was so successful, she opened La Casa Day Spa in New York at 41 East 20th Street. She said she is excited by the prospect of incorporating Insparations into the 92nd Street Y’s daily culture. ”The Y’s mission is to educate, which is very much in line with my purpose,” she said.
I was ready to be educated. Instead, I found an unfortunate disconnect between the theoretical and the practical. Ms. Goldberg gives a good session, though the application, in many instances, has a way to go.
I started with the Café au Lait Exfoliation (earth). My practitioner, Pat, dry-brushed my skin and rubbed me with coffee grounds. What a mess! After I showered, my skin was noticeably smoother. The only problem was that I smelled like someone had spilled coffee on me and I couldn’t get it off.
Next up was Falling Petals (sky). This is a treatment devised by Dr. Goldberg in which Pat dripped essential oils on my body, and in what I assume was a facsimile of petals falling, thrummed her fingers on me. The effect was more bongo than petal.
Then came trouble. Mind Balancing (sky), Dr. Goldberg said, ”replicates the experience of sitting around the tribal fire, watching the flickering light of hand-held torches, and listening to the drumbeat, a rhythmic sound that itself replicates the heartbeat.” I put on goggles and headphones: the sounds seemed closer to the hearing tests you took in school, and once the lights flashed, I felt nauseated and took the whole contraption off.
I was curious about the Chi Machine (air). Pat placed my ankles on top of it as I lay on my back. At a high speed, the machine jerked my legs back and forth, like a mermaid racing. Later, I learned that the machine simulates the movement of a fish in order to reposition the vertebrae and let more oxygen into the spine. Had it been gentler, I might have liked it.
I was more than ready for the Hot River Stones massage (water), which was combined with the Cooled Stones massage (earth). The hot stones felt wonderful, and I was so relaxed I was practically drooling.
But leaving well enough alone is not a characteristic of the spa. When Pat applied the freezing stones to my toasty skin, I almost jumped off the table. The application of cold is supposed to help reduce the inflammation of joints and to move stagnant blood, she said apologetically. She put a few hot stones back on to calm me down.
I left for the day in a certifiably foul mood. I had spent $258.40, including gratuity. Yes, my skin was soft. But even after another shower, I smelled as if I was percolating.
The next day, I spoke with Dave Schmeltzer, director of the Y’s May Center for Health, Fitness and Sport. It was he who envisioned a day spa here, though he knows his constituency well enough to look doubtful when I asked if those lecturegoers who worry about catching their bus were going to blow $60 to get scrubbed with coffee.
”In terms of mind-body connection, we’ve had a tremendous response among our members,” Mr. Schmeltzer said. ”We had a symposium here in February that drew almost 600 people.” He said he was confident that Dr. Goldberg, like the rest of the staff, would be open to suggestions from Y members. ”They know that our mission is to serve the community’s needs,” he said.
With that in mind, I took a moment, before my second day of treatments began, to tell Dr. Goldberg that I missed reflexology on her menu. She quickly cited a treatment called Rainbow Light that ”heals with color, light and relaxation techniques of reiki, reflexology and massage.” Before I could say that one of these might be enough, she interjected: ”You know, with reiki I always feel like, ‘Just touch me already!’ ”
I felt better then. Everybody here should take a breath and break for a Twix.
On to my program. (I finally saw two other clients; the previous day I had seen none). Deborah was my practitioner for the Honey Lift (sky), meant for deep pore cleansing. We soldiered on for a useless half-hour while she pulled at my back, covered it with a honey mask and — the good part — rubbed my feet as the mask set.
Puffy Eyes Be Gone (water) may have been my favorite. When the eyes are puffy, Dr. Goldberg says, it can mean there is a block in the circulation of lymphatic fluid. Deborah applied a motorized wand to the area around my eyes in small, stroking motions. Then she applied a collagen mask and set ice-cold stones on my eyelids. Unlike the jolt of the day before, these felt fantastic. As I relaxed, she gave me a hand massage, and I was sorry when it was over. My eyes stayed unpuffy for two days afterward.
The last treatment was the Royal Spoil (fire). This is a 50-minute massage given by two therapists simultaneously. Now we’re talking. Lana and Antonio began with dry-brushing, moving in tandem with long strokes from ankle to thigh, wrist to shoulder. I opened my eyes and started to laugh. It was like being in the operating room with two people peering down.
Antonio was solicitous about adjusting the pressure, and for the most part, the process worked beautifully. There were even moments of greatness. The pair have worked out a graceful and soothing choreography that any fan of massage should try.
But my response was not enthusiastic enough for Lana. When I made the mistake of saying that I missed the nuance of a therapist who gets into the problematic nooks and crannies, she huffed, ”You don’t want it to feel therapeutic, you want it to feel decadent.” Thanks for the tip.
I settled my bill. The two days’ cost was nearly $600, and my mind was asking my body: ”So? Are you happy now?” I still couldn’t figure out why, if I was aspiring to earth, my two favorite treatments were water. Because I was fire and needed dousing?
I knew Dr. Goldberg would be chagrined to learn that I did not feel transformed. I was chagrined too. Maybe they should think about trying the kugel.”