Spa vouchers would make a perfect Mother’s Day gift, but how can a busy mum switch off? Serene Spy discovers the art of relaxation...
The school run, emails, my baby’s upturned lunch and the eternal M6 roadworks all conspired to leave me almost late for my appointment at Macdonald Craxton Wood Hotel and Spa, near Chester. I arrived worried I wouldn’t be able to access my inner calm to get the most from my spa day.
I’m not alone on the frazzled front. Most people I know, especially working mums, are constantly rushing around. Relaxation and self-care are low down on their list of priorities. It’s a recipe for disaster and burn-out. So how do such spas ensure we switch off swiftly and make the most of our limited downtime?
The warm welcome I received had an instantly soothing effect, as did being given time to calm down. Drinking a smoothie shot, I yielded to the spa’s comfy sofas and became aware of the absence of small people leaping about my body.
I turned my attention to the health questionnaire, circling my areas of concern on the outline of a human body: shoulder and neck tension. To relax I scribbled, where it asked what I hoped to achieve today.
My therapist, Amy, was warm and calming, and as a busy mum herself, she understood my needs. We chatted easily while she explained my treatment: ESPA ‘Hero’ (£90), focusing on my back, face and scalp. She passed me cotton wool pads daubed with ESPA oils, and noticed that I opted for the perkier scents: orange blossom, lemongrass. It seems I needed recharging rather than simple relaxation.
The treatment was divine, leaving me with silky skin and clean pores, my muscular knots and aches from carrying a wriggly baby smoothed away. I felt relaxed, but invigorated rather than sleepy; the citrusy scents I’d instinctively chosen had worked their magic.
Amy showed me to the stylishly plush relaxation room. The style of the spa is countryside chic, with blankets and cushions to make it feel like a home from home. There is also a serene garden room, a cosily elegant café and a quiet thermal space.
Surroundings are so important for instant relaxing. Donald Macdonald, founder and now executive chairman of Macdonald Hotels & Resorts, told me consistency is key.
“It’s about creating a uniform experience,” he said. “There is no point having a beautiful reception area and relaxing spa, then giving guests a poor-quality bedroom. Our holistic approach means everything must be right from start to finish.”
Holistic skincare company ESPA fits perfectly with this ethos, so it’s good news they are opening shop at Craxton Wood. After the spa, I popped along to their champagne launch and met Susan Harmsworth, who founded ESPA 25 years ago.
She told me that when she managed Grayshott Spa in the 1980s, clients were asked to arrive 45 minutes before their appointment, engage in hot-cold treatments to boost their circulation, and then rest so their body was ready, mentally and physically, to receive therapy.
“And then the world went mad and everybody wanted ‘instant everything’,” she said. “People weren’t prepared to take the time out and they were coming to our spas so stressed they weren’t getting the full benefit of their treatment.”
ESPA are currently focusing on breathing, visualisation techniques, exercise and mindfulness as part of their treatment programmes.
Guiltily, I thought back to my flustered arrival and asked Sue for tips on maximising the benefits of one’s spa time.
“Slow down and allow yourself to switch off from constant distraction, from technology in particular,” she said.
Sue went on to explain how research in neuroscience has revealed that the blue light emitted by smartphones, tablets and laptops suppresses our levels of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. My sleep is interrupted enough: I made a mental note not to add to it by turning off my phone.
We discussed one of Sue’s adages – “do the important things first, not the demanding things” – and how treating yourself to a spa day is important.
“You’re doing something healthy, and you’re doing something for you. And I think when you’ve done it, it’s easier to re-appraise your priorities in your life,” she says.
This rung true: coming here, I didn’t feel like I was abandoning my children, but renewing my energy and enthusiasm for the coming week. I found myself wishing spa vouchers could be issued to all caregivers as a matter of national concern: I will definitely give spa days as gifts to my friends, who might not think of treating themselves. We could all go together: as Sue says, there’s nothing like friends to remind you of what matters in life.
Finally, Sue stressed the importance of proper breathing.
“With young women, the earlier they can learn breathwork, the better. It’s proven to bring your heart rate down, it brings your blood pressure down too. You can use it all your life. I use it without thinking about it.”
Suddenly I had several new tools to deal with the stress of everyday life. And Sue, who is energised and radiant at 72, made me want to start implementing them right away.
Prioritise, breathe, relax, and switch off. Having arrived in a tizz, I left Craxton Wood on a cloud of orange blossom and optimism.