Osmosis: A Singular Spa Experience

Healing Lifestyles & Spas Magazine – Jul/Aug 2003

“All movement in living tissue is catalyzed by enzymes,” says Michael Strusser, founder of Osmosis, a day spa in Sonoma County and the only location in America that offers enzyme baths. Enzymes spark the exchange of oxygen from the lungs into the bloodstream, manage the nervous and immune systems, and even regulate the blinking of an eye.

The biochemical activity in Osmosis’ baths of fermenting cedar chips, which is essentially an enzyme orgy, mimics that within the internal organs. “When immersed in the tubs, the core organs get a rest,” explains Strusser. “Their work is being done for them from the outside in by the enzyme bath.” This breaks down wastes and cleanses the body on a cellular level. Toxins are released through intense perspiration; the skin being our own semi-permeable membrane. Hence the name Osmosis.

Caitlin, a kimono clad bath attendant, begins the treatment by pouring a cup of enzyme tea. This mixture of digestive enzymes, peppermint and other herbs is taken in a Zen inspired tea room overlooking an exquisite garden. The sweet and pungent drink warms the body and sparks internal enzyme activity in preparation for the bath.

And the bath is a singular experience. A distant scent of cedar becomes an overwhelmingly raw, musky aroma as I enter the bath house. Caitlin works diligently to dig out a comfortable resting place in the tub with a pitchfork (I am fairly certain that this is the only known spa treatment where the healer wields such a utensil). She molds and shapes the chips to provide comfort at the knees and neck. I climb in and am buried with heaps of steaming cedar, covered from chin to toes. The weight on my chest is substantial, and my limbs are nearly immobile.

What happened next is unclear, save a lot of sweating and sighing, because the enzyme bath brings about an altered state and provides a glimpse beneath the surface. Enzymes are something I have always taken for granted. Their work is of the yeoman variety. Unlike the heart, brain and lungs, they are content to toil unnoticed, but resting in this enzymatic swirl I feel the heart beat with tremendous intensity, and I sense my lungs wring then inflate to their zenith. The mind is alert yet quiet. Alone in this undulating presence I am the microcosm in the macrocosm, soaking in the wisdom of the ancient cedars.

Be forewarned that this treatment is seriously hot. Hotter than any spring I have soaked in and more searing than a sauna or steam bath. Caitlin attends without rest. She wipes my smoldering brow and neck with cool compresses and wets my parched palette with fresh water. Prior to the bath, Strusser mentioned that most people lose track of time in the tubs, and my twenty minutes, the maximum treatment time, seemed like five.

Afterwards, I am handed a brush to shed flakes clinging to my skin and hair, before gliding into the capable hands of my massage therapist. She finishes the job that the bath began, and I emerge unwound and refreshed, open and centered.

Osmosis is the only location in the country that offers this Japanese healing tradition, and, though it is a day spa, there is plenty of lodging available nearby. It is a mere five minutes from Sebastopol, thirty minutes from Sonoma, and just over an hour from San Francisco. After a final tour of the grounds, I leave whispering well wishes to the weeping cedars rustling in the breeze, and offer a silent nod to the enzyme gods vibrating within.