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Spa Wellness Programs Battle the Winter Blues

Innovative spas have adopted novel approaches to address seasonal affective disorder

December 21, 2023

Inns of Aurora Resort & Spa, New York / Photo: Courtesy of Inns of Aurora Resort & Spa

If your body feels off-kilter, changing weather could be to blame. The winter blues—a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder—can affect up to five percent of U.S. adults. Scientists believe its causes include winter’s decreased sunlight and shorter days.

Yet winter isn’t the only time seasonal change impacts well-being. Our bodies are intertwined with the rhythms of nature. This knowledge has long informed health systems such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Ayurveda, which originated in India millennia ago, breaks the year into three seasons, with recommendations on what to eat when to optimize your mental and physical health. During Ayurveda’s kapha season, the cold, damp stretch of winter into spring, it’s recommended to wake up early and eat lighter like vegetable soups and warming spices, such as chili.

Another ancient medicine system, TCM recognizes five seasons: spring, summer, late summer, fall and winter. Each introduces a different energy, and harmonizing oneself with each season can improve health and prevent disease. Take winter, the time most associated with yin—a cold, dark, introspective energy. During this time, TCM suggests seeking balance and rest to preserve kidney health. Get adequate sleep, spend time meditating or journaling, and seek foods like ginger, sweet potato, mussels and black beans.

In more recent years, innovative spas have adopted a seasonal well-being approach. The Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park’s Leaf Spa is one of the industry trailblazers. “We wanted to bring nature into the core of everything we do through the seasons,” says Marizza Contreras, the spa’s founder. “As human beings, we’re part of the cycle of nature, as well.”

The spa welcomes guests with a wish tree—a symbol of hope in Native, local and Indigenous cultures. Next, the Alchemist Bar gives spa-goers the chance to learn about healing herbs and plants, then create their own scrubs, oils and ointments to take home. “We teach them about the 13 more important aromatherapy oils, and the nine important herbs to use on their skin,” Contreras says, noting the team makes personalized recommendations, such as what herbs to use when, say, winter leaves you with dry skin. “Your skin goes through a seasonal transition. We want to help your mind and body walk through each season.” Additional spa highlights include an infinity-edge soaking tub, massage treatments, steam and shower rooms and a 24-hour fitness center—ensuring guests can stay active between rejuvenation sessions, even during Chicago’s notoriously dark and biting winters.

Leaf Spa isn’t the only wellness escape helping guests navigate Earth’s changing seasons. Hotel and resort spas around the world give travelers a leg up with their cyclical wellness practices, too.

Spa treatment room at Aman Summer Palace, Beijing / Photo: Courtesy of Aman Summer Palace

In Beijing, the Aman Summer Palace incorporates deep seasonal traditional Chinese medicine practices into its spa offerings. In winter, for instance, therapists integrate warming herbs into the sessions, while offering ginger tea after each treatment to help with blood circulation and stomach regulation.

Up in winter-wonderland Vermont, the Woodstock Inn & Resort’s 10,000-square-foot spa hosts unique wellness experiences based on the time of year. Winter brings therapeutic offerings to the resort’s ski-town spa, including the Your Signature Experience package, which features 100 minutes of hyper-tailored pampering. Guests begin by workshopping their own scent for the session at the Aroma Design Bar. Then it’s time for full body exfoliation, hydration and what every winter skier or snowboarder needs—a warming body wrap via heated blanket, then a head-to-toe massage.

Southern California’s newly renovated two-story Spa Vea, located at the Vea Newport Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, helps visitors unwind with a Winter Well-Being Seasonal Duet Experience. The treatment features a nourishing facial, relaxing massage and dry-skin renewal via exfoliation infused with lavender.

Coastal Escape massage at Vea Newport Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, California / Photo: Courtesy of Vea Newport Beach Marriott Resort & Spa

The Inns of Aurora Resort & Spa in New York’s story-booklike Finger Lakes based its spa experience on ancient Ayurveda beliefs. Not only will guests enjoy the rotating landscapes in this four-season getaway—from the region’s en-chanting winters to its bright, verdant summers—but they can also partake in an assortment of cooling or heating therapies based on what their bodies need. Warm and hot spa pools, steam and sauna rooms, warming teas and in-door and outdoor plunges are among the property’s myriad wellness amenities. In addition to traditional services such as massage and facials, The Spa at the Inns of Aurora runs energy work sessions to ensure visitors leave with honed healing skills for every season.