Sun, 04 Jun 2000

A spa helps you boosts inner beauty

By Mehru Jaffer

JAKARTA (JP): "To be pampered like one there is no need for you to be born a princess," says Ida as she emerges from a local spa glowing like the full moon on a midsummer's night. A modern day Javanese who spends long hours at her public relations office, the thought of working out at a fitness center seldom inspires her. But with many health clubs in Jakarta converting their premises into spas, she feels better coaxed into visiting one.

One of her favorite haunts is the newly opened LifeSpa at the Hilton Hotel where a 50-minute aromatherapy massage after a herbal drink brewed from ginger is enough to revive her exhausted limbs. As a central Javanese, Ida was always aware that different kinds of baths and massage practiced within her family helped relieve stress and beautify women. She has faint memories of corners of her home wrapped in the scents of exotic oils and elders often being scrubbed, masked and kneaded with creams of mysterious odors.

As she has spent much of her time abroad, before returning to work in Jakarta, she was left with little time to indulge in the luxuries enjoyed by her ancestors. For centuries, the Javanese have lived with the philosophy of inner and outer beauty or rupasampat wahyabiantara as cosmetic queen Martha Tilaar calls it. It gives the example of the legendary princess Ken Dedes, whose secret of her exquisite beauty and strength lay in the herbal and floral treatments she routinely treated herself to.

But the modern day Indonesian woman prefers to deprive herself of all this goodness as she has lusted for decades for a body like Jane Fonda's instead, and for creams and perfumes made only in Paris, London and Rome. Besides, it was impossible until only a few years ago to get Javanese royalty to share the secrets of beautifying the body with natural ingredients with those who did not belong to the court.

When she first offered creams made from pulverized rice and crushed jasmine petals, high society called her kampungan (from the village), Martha never tires of saying. But she continued to research and finally released at least some of the rejuvenating recipes to the average woman whose health and beauty she found was fast withering away with stress, pollution and the work pressure of modern life.

Mooryati Soedibyo of Mustika Ratu cosmetics has gone a step further and has brought to the people a small slice of the palace itself. She has designed Taman Sari, The Royal Heritage Spa like a water palace used by members of the royalty of a bygone era. Now anyone can walk into this lap of luxury and be transported for a few hours at least into a world reminiscent of the regal boudoirs of Javanese kings and queens.

Spa is little else but one village in an eastern province of Belgium. The popular mineral springs found there earned the reputation of having magical powers that could cure disease and inspired all health resorts thereafter to be called by the same name. Already known in Roman times, the springs were rediscovered in 1326 and have been visited since the 16th century, reaching a zenith in the 18th century when they were visited by European royalty. For centuries after, bathing in, and drinking mineral water was believed to promote good health.

Today, many a medical authority feels that most of the beneficial effects of spa therapy are indirect, resulting from relaxation of the patient facilitated by the environment of the spa.

Once Brian Billdt of LifeSpa was convinced of the logic of the above argument he was quick to redesign his health club at the Hilton. He expanded the 450 square-metre premises to more than double that size. He separated the men's sauna from the women's and stretched the opening hours from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

He hired spa therapists to help guide clients to choose the right treatment of the day and offers four different kinds of massage, from reflexology to the traditional local massage that works wonders on the blood circulation as thumb and palm pressure is firmly exerted on aching muscles. He dimmed the lighting and ensured that the place always smelled of a bouquet of fresh flowers.

"What the work out machines do is to keep the body fit. What I have done now is to help both the body and mind to unwind, to relax in an atmosphere that is charming," Brian told The Jakarta Post.

An important activity at all spas is the bath. Bathing is something that has always been popular, whether for enjoyment, health or hygiene.

It is true that water not just quenches the thirst but also cleanses the body and relaxes the mind. A jacuzzi with jets of hot water propelled around the body is both soothing and stimulating while just the sound of a gurgling stream is enough to calm raw nerves.

But there is a difference between bathing out of necessity and being in water for the sheer pleasure of it. At a spa, bathing becomes an entire experience, similar to that of creating a symphony.

Highly popular with those who believe in such an indulgence now and then there are different types of body scrubs applied after a massage and before a bath. Concocted from the Dewi Sri range of aromatics inspired by the rice goddess of fertility of the same name, the scrubs are a mixture of the finest rice combined with a variety of pure essential oils whose sweet smelling and penetrative properties remove dead skin cells, leaving the body feeling soft and supple.

That women around the world have been using organic potions to care for themselves for centuries is something that Anita Roddick of The Body Shop respects very much. In her 1992 autobiography Body and Soul, she says that when she first visited Tahiti she found women straight out of a Gauguin painting. Despite all the exposure to the sun and the rigors of their lives, their skin was exceptionally smooth and elastic because they constantly rubbed cocoa butter on themselves, on each other and just like their mothers had done before them.

Roddick, whose spa essentials were launched here recently, is currently in the midst of a vigorous campaign to bring the bathroom alive again by adding to it a few spa essentials to boost one's well being. One of her suggestions to all those having to juggle home, careers, child care and social agendas is that they do not have to go out to a spa when they can stay in and have one.