For centuries people have endeavored to find ways to relax and rejuvenate, from your birch slapping Russians in their steamy banyas to the rigorous scrub of a Moroccan hammam and, of course, Calistoga’s hot mud baths. I love a good soak, sauna, or scrub. The nearly scathing hot baths of Japan are one of my fondest memories from life in Tokyo. I really miss them. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered a Japanese bath, of sorts, nestled away in the coastal hills of Sonoma County: the Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary.
Osmosis is a little haven of serenity hidden away in the town of Freestone, about 30 minutes northwest of Petaluma. The spa’s home in an old western-style building somewhat belies the unique spa experience within. Osmosis is the only place in the U.S. that offers Japanese cedar enzyme baths. What exactly is a cedar enzyme bath? It is a “fragrant blend of cedar, rice bran, and plant enzymes” and looks very much like a large tub of steaming mulch. The bath experience, however, is one of the most soothing heat treatments I have ever known.
Entering Osmosis I was immediately disarmed by the warm woodsy aroma of cedar and comforted by the tranquil Japanese inspired space. After changing into a yukata (Japanese robe) I started my visit in a room overlooking a small Japanese garden where I was greeted by my bath attendant. She served me a calming herbal brew and explained the bath process. I was left to my thoughts while I sipped my tea and took in the garden scenery. Slipping out the glass doors I tiptoed around the tiny deck and hopped up a few stepping stones, taking some deep breathes. It was pretty much the same air that I had breathed in the parking lot but it felt different. I was already feeling relaxed.
When my bath was ready the attendant directed me to the tub room down the hall. The large square bath stood elevated in the middle of the room and looked out across an expansive Zen-style rock garden. My attendant had carved a reclined seat into the cedar mixture and helped me step up into the bath. I was surprised by the soft texture. It was, after all, a pile of shredded wood but stepping on the cedar felt like a springy cushion. As I sat down and settled in it felt plush against my skin; it was damp, but not wet. I had thought I might feel like a seed being planted but, as my attendant gently covered me, all I could think about was how cozy it felt being cocooned in the earthly warmth. When she was done I was nestled in up to my chin.
There I sat, breathing steadily, gazing out at the garden, closing my eyes, gazing again, slowing adjusting an arm or shifting a shoulder, never falling asleep but just on the cusp. It was warm, very warm. The heat is generated from the natural fermentation of the ingredients and it only takes a little wiggle here or there to fuel the heat. My attendant came in periodically to carefully wipe the beading sweat off of my face with a cool cloth and offer me a sip of water. Twenty minutes later I was dug out of the cedar bath and given a minute to sit up before climbing out of the tub. I felt so relaxed, like I had just woken up from a long nap.
Still covered with lingering bits of shredded cedar I was provided a soft bristled brush and directed to the outside deck. The cool air felt exhilarating. Standing there, still steaming, I looked at the rock garden while I brushed off the remaining shreds of my cedar enzyme bath. A final rinse in a hot shower and I felt completely new. My bath was followed with a half hour blanket wrap where I listened to calming music and drifted to sleep.
Back in my clothes, with a fresh cup of tea in hand, I completed my Osmosis visit with a stroll through their beautiful meditation garden. My body was relaxed and invigorated. I could feel a mild ache in my shoulders where perpetual tension had given way to languid ease. My head felt clearer. My posture was better. I felt perfect. This feeling lasted for days.