Spa Article – Tree Therapy in Ottawa


            “Imagine your feet are roots going into the ground. Your hands are branches reaching into the sky,” says Christine, my massage therapist, her pale hair gleaming in the soft light.

            Maybe it’s the New Age flute music, but I’m having a hard time becoming a tree. Maybe I need earthier music, like Wiccans chanting or wind-in-the-leaves sounds. As it is, I’m all too aware this isn’t a pine-filled forest but a treatment room in Ottawa’s Holtz Spa, a sleek urban day spa steps away from Rideau Shopping Centre and Parliament Hill.

              Still, I’m determined to connect. Energy therapies – treatments which work with energy fields in and around the body to remove blockages and restore balance – are one of 2009’s hottest spa trends and I need to de-stress. For the past three weeks, I’ve been in ‘moving hell,’ surrounded by boxes, suffocated by paint fumes and up to my ears in blinds installations and air con deliveries. This weekend in Ottawa is a much-needed break, and if renewal means channeling my inner tree, so be it.

                The Spirit of the Forest Experience is a new treatment and uniquely Canadian – rare in an industry obsessed with exotic traditions like Thai massage, Ayurveda and Hawaiian Lomi Lomi. Developed by Holtz Spa, it taps into the vibrational energy of various Canadian trees by using essences made from tree cuttings that are distilled down until only their imprint, i.e. their energy, remains.

             It sounds a bit out there, but throughout history trees have been worshipped in one way or another. With roots that extend underground and branches that climb the sky, they were seen by pagans as connecting the mysterious realms of the underworld and the abode of the gods. For the Druids, particularly, they were sacred, sources of healing, magic and divination.

            Christine asks what I want from the experience. Rejecting fun things like untold riches and immortal beauty as too shallow, I opt for cleansing and detoxing. 

              After drinking a mixed essence of maple, yew and Douglas fir– the internal layer of the treatment – my body is dry brushed. Christine lightly massages me with essential oils and aromas of rose, geranium and tulip tree fill the air.

             The flute music is driving me crazy.

             I ask Christine to switch it off and immediately sink into that floaty spa Zen zone – the pampered girl’s version of meditation. Then suddenly I’m feeling so much energy it’s as if I’m sinking into a dark hole then expanding out into space.

             It’s quite a trip, and I’m not sure what to make of it. After the treatment I slip on my robe and meet Christine in the hall. To my surprise she details my experience exactly as it was happening in my mind. “It really was as if you were the branches into the sky – your energy would soar out – and then you’d go deep in like the roots into the ground.”

                “What does it mean?” I ask.

                “I think you got out your negative energy.”

                 It’s as if I’ve just been through some intense, yet nonverbal, psychoanalysis, and it takes a Rose Quartz Facial and some down-to-earth extractions from Buki, my Albanian facialist to bring me back to reality.

            That night my tree therapy inadvertently continues as the entire wall facing my bed at the boutique Hotel Indigo is a mural of birch trees. Now I know how a wood nymph must feel when she wakes from her bed of moss.

            Over breakfast the next morning it occurs to me I could take it one step further and get into some real woods. A 15-minute taxi ride takes me to the entrance of Gatineau Park in Quebec, where the outdoor Le Nordik Nature spa is a scattering of pools, waterfalls, Finnish sauna, steam bath, relaxation cabins and deck chairs in a forest of maple and oak.

             After doing the sauna circuit I sit in the hot pool. Water cascades down the granite rock face behind me and the wind rustles through the leaves. Ah, this is the life. I’ve kicked out my negative energy and replaced it with a tree-inspired calm. Maybe now I can go home and tackle those unpacked boxes.


Just the Facts:

Where to Relax: Holtz Spa: 45 Rideau St. Tel: 1 877 241 8889

Le Nordik – Nature spa: 16, chemin Nordik, Chelsea, Québec. Tel: 1 866 575-3700

Where to Sleep: Hotel Indigo: 123 Metcalfe St. Tel: 1 877 660 8550

Where to Eat: Graze through the small-plates menu at the hot new eatery Play Food & Wine in the ByWard Market at 1 York Street. Tel 613 667 9207

For more information on Ottawa visit Ottawa Tourism


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