Going to the spa was once considered an extravagance reserved for ladies who lunch or those redeeming anniversary and Mother’s Day gifts. However, as “self-care” becomes this moment’s catchphrase, getting a spa treatment is more than just an indulgence. With the stress of modern-day living, comes modern stress relievers — alternative spa treatments that sure aren’t your mom’s humdrum Swedish massage.

We looked into some of the coolest alternative spa treatments that may not be off the beaten path for too long. Treatments like these have gained traction for the restorative powers they promise, as well as their unconventional nature and the sheer Instagrammable factor.

LED Therapy

I have the back of an 80-year-old furniture lifter, and I’m always looking for pain relief. My lower back, specifically two herniated discs, is a live grenade that will suddenly explode without even the hint of a warning sometimes. Because of that, I try to treat L4 like the Queen of England, which usually boils down to a good ol’ massage. But it’s 2019, and in the spirit of alternative spa treatments, I tried the LED therapy massage for pain at Warrior Body Spa in Tucker, Georgia.

Warrior Body Spa uses the LightStim two-panel light device to help treat a variety of issues. I chose the red LED light used to treat pain (there’s also a blue combination panel). The LED infrared light is a two-sided, hinged panel attached to an arm that hovers above your skin. The therapist shines the light on individual sections of your back (or whatever body part needs pain relief) while the massage carries on. The red light adds another level of relief by increasing circulation and reducing stiffness and pain.

“Infrared helps reduce inflammation,” says Aaliya Bashir, Warrior Body Spa owner. “After a session with the LED pain panel, it really helps relax your muscles, relieves tension and this is also an FDA-cleared way to help relieve arthritis pain.”

Warrior Body Spa also offers the Infrared Sauna Therapy that takes the concept of your standard dry-heat sauna to another level — instead of high temperatures, the infrared sauna uses infrared light to heat your body directly without heating up the surrounding air. By penetrating your cells more deeply, the process is believed to help the body detoxify, improve circulation, relieve pain and purify.

alternative spa treatments

Warrior Body Spa‘s infrared sauna offers chromotherapy lighting technology, utilizing colors based on their energy and healing properties. For example, the sauna’s blue light is believed to stimulate muscle and skin cells, nerves and the circulatory system. Image: Melanie Preis

alternative spa treatments

Each LightStim device uses different colors of light, or wavelengths to treat various issues. The red LED light, pictured here, has been clinically proven to temporarily relieve pain, relax muscles and increase blood circulation. Image: Warrior Body Spa

Cryotherapy

Not into all that heat therapy? Try cryotherapy for one of the coolest alternative spa treatments around. Literally. Though the treatment has been around for a few decades, it really started to gain traction in Western countries more recently. For two to three minutes, a person exposes his or her body to a super cold temperature ranging from -200 degrees F and colder. Just as if you’ve sprained your ankle and applied ice to the joint, cryotherapy claims to reduce inflammation and muscle pain. And with the ability to reduce inflammation, some icy enthusiasts may notice their skin issues looking better as well. Some cryo spas also claim cold therapy aids in better sleep, stress reduction, collagen increase and other benefits.

There are cryotherapy spas/studios/saunas located throughout the Southern region. Places like The Cryo Club in Louisville, Icebox Cryotherapy in Atlanta and Tallahassee and Cool Spot Cryotherapy in Nashville price their services either by individual sessions all the way to yearly memberships with unlimited cryo sessions. There are also toning, slimming and skin care sessions that use cold therapy technology to sculpt the body, speed up metabolism, slow down the aging process and improve circulation.

Alia Alston, owner and co-founder of Icebox Cryotherapy as well as a former StyleBlueprint FACE, has told us that “this innovative cold therapy decreases inflammation in the body through a systemic flush that detoxes your blood, pushes oxygen into your muscles and shifts your body into a hyper-healing mode.”

A note of caution: The FDA hasn’t cleared or approved whole body cryotherapy devices for any specific medical conditions. There can be a risk to your skin, like burns or frostbite, so make sure you visit a knowledgeable, trained business and technician. And it’s always a good idea to get the go-ahead from your medical provider before choosing alternative treatments for serious conditions.

odd spa treatments

Three minutes may feel quick during everyday life, but when it occurs while shivering inside an ice sauna cranked down to a frigid -200 degrees F, that time feels like an eternity. Image: CatMax Photography

Float Therapy

Sensory overload is a very real thing in today’s busy, stressful world. And even when we do try to consciously unplug and be mindful, there’s just so much going on that it seems impossible to completely detach from our surroundings. Float therapy is the way to reach relaxation nirvana.

Flotation tanks are usually soundproof, lightproof and set so the water hovers around skin temperature. The shallow water (about 10 inches deep) is filled with Epsom salt — the added buoyancy allows the floater to easily lose track of where the water begins and the body ends. Think of it like drifting in the dark abyss of space for an hour — where your muscles, bones and complete anatomy aren’t affected by gravity. Besides the obvious benefits of joint and back pain relief, floating is a meditative sensory masterpiece. If you have a hard time being mindful and focusing on your heartbeat and breathing, floating is an intensive way to make that mind-body connection. Places like Weightless Float Center in Louisville,  FLO2S in Atlanta and Float Nashville offer the opportunity for floaters new and old alike to experience all-encompassing weightlessness.

Depending on the style and size of your float tank, there is a possibility for newbies or people with claustrophobia to have a tougher time adjusting to the silent, black space. Also, because it is saltwater, be mindful not to splash any water near your eyes and mouth. It may take those looking to induce deep relaxation a few floating sessions before they can completely let go in the float tank.

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FLO2S offers float chambers (pictured here) and float tanks — the former is built into the room and offers the option of adding light; the latter is pitch black and creates a deeper experience. Image: FLO2S

Ear Candling

Ear candling is exactly what it sounds like — lighting a candle in your ear. This age-old practice involves lighting a hollow beeswax candle (preferably by a professional) on one end while the other end sits inside the ear, creating a vacuum thought to dislodge dirt and help remove earwax. Besides the immediate cleansing effects, other benefits of ear candling claim to help eliminate ringing in the ears, ear and sinus pressure, congestion and more. Though ear candling fans swear by the therapeutic results of the practice, the scientific community isn’t swayed; researchers say the treatment isn’t effective at removing earwax and can actually cause more problems, like face and ear burns.

When I visited Warrior Body Spa, I did have an ear candling treatment, and all I can say from my experience was that it was fascinating and super relaxing. Almost all my senses were involved during the treatment — the oddly reassuring sound of faint sizzling and popping; the warm, calming smell of smoke; the gentle candler (in my case, Aaliya) who talks you through the routine while holding the candle in place. The whole process only lasts about 20 minutes (10 minutes per ear), and the best part, while also being the grossest, is the reveal at the end, when you cut open each candle and see the disgustingly fantastic debris and earwax caught inside.

“First-timers to ear candling are always pleasantly surprised by how relaxing it is,” says Aaliya. “Some people have a misconception that they’ll be confronted with balancing a flame on their face, however it’s the opposite. The warmth of the process is so soothing, you can doze off.”

Atlanta radio personality Jenn Hobby visited Warrior Body Spa’s Aaliya Bashir for ear candling. Image: Warrior Body Spa

There are so many other cool alternative spa treatments to cover — detox foot baths, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, cupping, sound massage, halotherapy (“salt therapy”) — but we will leave that job up to you. Step up your relaxation game and try something that seems a bit “out there.” Some treatments are based in science and have proven therapeutic results; others may sound wonky to the medical field but garner glowing reviews from wellness enthusiasts. Whatever treatment you choose, even if that means home remedies like sitting in a dark closet to hide from the kiddos and find your zen, I wish you peace, light and self-care love.

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