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Wellness: Heads Up

September 28, 2012 | 6:43 AM
Though often overlooked in the treatment room, the scalp can benefit from skin care, too. Dry weather and harsh blow dryers can leave it feeling tight and brittle, while the hundreds of thousands of hair follicles on our heads can suffer from styling product buildup or poor circulation, leading to lackluster hair and eventually even thinning. Clients with medical scalp disorders such as psoriasis or alopecia should consult a doctor, but for everyday stress relief (and a surefire headache remedy!), special scalp techniques from basic to exotic can relax the muscles as well as the mind.

basic: aromatherapy scalp treatment
For an easy add-on to a body wrap or water treatment, spas across the country are selling therapeutic scalp treatments that combine a stress-relieving massage with soothing aromatic oils. At Rodica European Skin & Body Care Center in Chicago, Illinois, technicians will upsell the service if a client has damaged or dry hair, or complains of dry, flaky scalp. Or, if they just sense the need for extra TLC after the harsh Midwest winter.
    "Just as aromatherapy is good for the body, it's good for the scalp too," says owner Rodica, who is known to her numerous clients by just her first name. "First, evaluate their hair type, if it's soft and fine, or coarse and curly; then select oils that correspond to their personality—some may want relaxation, others stimulation."
    The service, which costs $48 by itself, consists of a 30-minute scalp massage with an essential oil blend, followed by the application of a vitamin-enriched hair mask from the spa's private line. The hair is then covered by a bonnet to allow for maximum penetration of ingredients, and the client has the option of receiving a facial or foot reflexology during that time (for efficiency, the scalp treatment is often sold as part of a multi-service package).
    After the services are complete, the client is left in the room to shower and wash the oils out of her hair. Her scalp should feel hydrated and nourished, and her hair will be softer and static-free. Explains Rodica, "The scalp is important to treat because it is where many people hold their stress. Clients may not realize that. But when you massage their head, they will rave about it. Once they've experienced it, clients love this service."
integrative: cranial
sacral therapy
    Though not considered a massage, cranial sacral therapy can be performed as a stand-alone service or as part of a massage. At Indian Springs Spa in Calistoga, California, bodywork professionals recommend the latter for optimal results.
    Cranial sacral therapy is relatively unknown to the general public, but can provide tremendous relief for those suffering from constriction or tension in the cerebral-spinal system, including the scalp and the length of the spine, which can lead to illness or chronic conditions. Nikki Mallon, co-owner of Brownes & Company in Miami Beach, Florida, describes it as a "very gentle therapy that uses more of a very light, vibrating touch as opposed to handling."
    The therapy is usually performed in a quiet, darkened room, and the client can remain fully clothed. Beginning at the scalp, the therapist uses her fingers to feel subtle patterns of body rhythms. She will then move down the length of the back to the sacrum, "listening" to the body through her hands. Through gentle pressure, she will help the body make adjustments to its systems and relax, opening up the cranial sacral system and restoring energy flow to the entire body. At Brownes & Company, clients can choose from a 50- or 75-minute service, and price varies.
    Though it may seem to first-time clients that the therapist is not doing much, this type of therapy can remedy aches and pains, as well as migraines, digestive problems and some claim, even dyslexia and autism. Clients without those maladies can still benefit from immediate relaxation and a renewed sense of physical, emotional and mental well-being. And once they've had the service, confirms Mallon, they will realize that subtle adjustments can lead to powerful effects.

exotic: lotus balancing treatment
Inspired by Ayurveda, this herbal hair and scalp treatment is popping up on spa menus across the country, such as Spa Nordstrom locations and the Preston Wynne Spa in Saratoga, California. Why is it so popular? "It's meditative and balances mind and body," says Dionne Fountain, marketing assistant for Preston Wynne. "It enhances energy flow and purifies the body at many levels."
    Before the treatment, the therapist determines the client's dominate dosha, or the elements predominate in her constitution, such as Vata (ether and air), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (water and earth). Then dosha balancing is performed. "For example, a Pitta dosha out of balance is irritable, emotionally drained or aggravated," says Fountain. "To balance this, the Pitta body must be cooled, nurtured and calmed." Herbs and essential oils are
formulated for each specific type, and Shirodhara (step 6) eases racing thoughts and facial
tension. The complete service is described below.
    Preston Wynne charges $190 for a 120-minute treatment, and clients think the price is well worth it. "Those that receive this treatment on a regular basis reap the rewards of a more balanced and content disposition," says Fountain.

1. Place a warmed pillow on client's stomach.
2. Cleanse skin and subtly introduce aromatherapy under the nose.
3. Apply a warm mask to face and neck with a gentle brush.
4. Next, apply an Ayurvedic body mask to front of body from the shoulders to toes, careful to maintain a comfortable temperature and modest draping.
5. While the body mask is drying, remove facial mask with a warm towel.
6. Next, prepare client for Shirodhara: Pour dosha oil over the third eye, or the center of the forehead between
the eyebrows. (According to Ayurvedic theory, this is the intellectual center of the brain.) Allow oil to seep into the hair.
7. Gently massage the oil into the scalp along the hairline, then wrap with a warm towel.
8. Remove body mask with dry brushing. Adjust your technique depending upon the client's dosha.
Vata: Massage should be firm, slow and warming
Pitta: Massage should be soothing and nurturing,
focusing on any tension
Kapha: Massage will be more invigorating, and
warming—almost stimulating
9. Once mask is removed, massage the body with dosha oil, front and back. Again, adjust technique depending upon client's dosha.
10. Place steam canopy over client's body and perform a scalp massage.
11. When finished, allow client to shower.

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