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Desert Companion

Heal (and pamper) thyself: A tour of exotic day spas

Spas used to be about massages and mud baths. Now they embrace alternative medicine and exotic therapies from around the globe. Turkish goat milk poultice, anyone?

Swedish massages? Sooo last century. The modern-day spa specializes in Qi balancing, Shirodhara, Hammam, Rhassoul and other stuff that's hard to pronounce. Translation: Today's spa embraces a holistic approach to wellness that treats mind and body - while mixing in therapies from around the world. And, ironically enough, our city built on distraction and instant gratification also hosts some of the world's most unusual and obscure wellness techniques.

"People don't take enough time to turn inside. They need to simply sit down and listen to their breath," says Chrystal King, director of Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars Palace, explaining why she added guided meditation classes led by a swami to the spa's menu. Jennifer Lynn, director of the Spa at Mandarin Oriental, chose obelisk-like crystals to cast a specific spell on each area where one is placed. "Here, you slow down, you remember to look around you, to smell, to listen," she says. "It's about being in your body completely."

Whether they offer Turkish goat's milk poultices or Indian hot oil baptisms, here are some of the most exotic options for healing (and pampering) thyself at spas in the valley.

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ARIA Spa at CityCenter
Signature treatment: Retreats that can last several days, planned around a specific goal such as detoxification. The detox retreat includes meals, nutrition counseling (with or without fat testing), body work and "indoor hikes" that include stopping in front of CityCenter's sculptures for calisthenics and stretches. Bonus: In-room, custom meditation with an experienced guru.

But if you really wanna get crazy, try...Ganbanyoku, a Thai hot stone spa with body-sized, near-boulders that you lie on naked. "We recommend all the guests go there for 20-30 minutes on their stomach, then their back," says Michelle Wilkos, spa director. "It increases your circulation and metabolism, and gives the muscles a sense of energy."

Canyon Ranch Spa Club at the Palazzo
Signature treatment: Energy therapies, a smorgasbord of 50-minute treatments, from chakra alignment and craniosacral therapy, to Reiki and vibrational therapy - all delivered by Canyon Ranch Energy Renewal therapists.

But if you really wanna get crazy, try...The co-ed Wave Room, with zero-gravity chairs and light and sound effects that make you feel like you're floating.

Or Ashiatsu. That's when therapists walk on you, using their body weight and full foot to work your muscles. Canyon Ranch Exercise Physiologist Laura Horvath says it's better than massage, "where they basically use only their hands."

Qua Baths at Caesars Palace
Signature treatment: Mojave Rain Experience. Administered by Jordania Goldberg, an Ayurvedic healer who's also been studying Native American healing for more than 20 years, this treatment incorporates aromatherapy, reflexology, massage, room clearing and tea. Spa director Chrystal King gets the oils from a local grower and blender.

But if you really wanna get crazy, try...The clothing-optional Roman baths, community pools done in the imperial style, with baths at 72, 98 and 104 degrees, the frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium, respectively. Or the tea lounge. Qua actually has a certified tea sommelier, who will pair your treatment with the appropriate Art of Tea blend out of the 20 varieties available.

The Spa at Encore
Signature treatment: Shirodhara Stillness, an Ayurvedic treatment in which warm oil is poured slowly onto your forehead, then massaged into your head. Spa Director Ella Stimpson is quick to point out that while many in the spa industry have latched onto Ayurvedic treatments, they're a form of ancient Indian medicine and are not to be taken lightly.

But if you really wanna get crazy, try...The Moroccan Mud Wrap. Therapists rub Rhassoul clay all over you, massage it in, then let it dry while they give you a face massage.

Sensations Skin & Day Spa (3155 N. Rainbow Blvd., 645-7727)
Signature treatment: Peppermint sea twist body wrap. You start by being cocooned in a body-shaping wrap infused with organic seaweed and essential oils. After 20 minutes under a thermal blanket, the wrap is removed for a massage with seaweed body cream. But if you really wanna get crazy, try...Chakra cleansing and balancing, conducted with the use of crystals, energy and intention - ideally followed by a one-hour massage.

And then there's raindrop therapy. Nine essential oils are dripped down the spine in a specific order, supposedly alleviating the toxins that build up between and compress the vertebrae.

The Spa at Mandarin Oriental (CityCenter)
Signature treatment: Hammam Aqua Experience. In the Turkish version of this Middle Eastern treatment, you lie on a 110-degree marble slab while a therapist exfoliates you with a dry brush, alternately splashes hot and cold water on you, places goat's milk poultices on pressure points, then wrings them out while massaging the liquid into your skin.

But if you really wanna get crazy, try...Qi balancing, a three-and-a-half hour treatment based on the ancient Chinese practice that includes foot massage, body exfoliation, hot stone massage and deep relaxation.

The Spa at Red Rock Resort and Casino
Signature treatment: "Mother-to-Be." Ask any mom what she'd give for relief from the discomfort of pregnancy and she'll tell you, "Anything." This massage is tailored to expectant mothers in their second and third trimester to promote circulation and relieve joint, neck and back pain.

But if you really wanna get crazy, try...Reiki, performed by one of the city's few masters in the modality, Emily Heim. The non-invasive (i.e., no poking) energy balancing treatment is so effective at producing the alpha brain wave state, Heim says, that it can be tough for clients to get up from the table afterward.
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