Healing in pairs

An idyllic retreat in an urban setting, the Sal Mia Spa works wonders to revitalize body and soul.

spa guru 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy of Sal Mia)
spa guru 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy of Sal Mia)
The Sal Mia spa specializes in treatments for couples. The enchanting Herzliya Pituah facility, on Rehov Uziyahu Hamelech, also offers a wide variety of treatments for individuals and day-long group workshops, but the spa's owners estimate that 90 percent of their business involves the flagship Together with Love packages. The session starts off with a hot, candle-lit bath. As participating couples soak in the soothing suds and oils, the sounds of the coastal highway (less than a block away) are barely audible. Instead, they are soothed to the sounds of Gregorian chant-ambient lounge renditions of popular songs. Incense burns as couples are encouraged to enjoy mineral water while lounging in plush terrycloth robes and matching slippers until a massage therapist of each gender enters the room - so that clients can choose who will massage whom, in accordance with their comfort level. For 50 minutes, the couple lie side by side in a candle-lit treatment room as their muscles are therapeutically kneaded and loosened, culminating with a soothing scalp rub using warm aromatic oils. While the massage therapists on the Sal Mia staff each has his or her own area of specific expertise (such as Swedish, Chinese, Shiatsu or Thai massage), the movements at each treatment table are coordinated, with the double massage taking on a choreographed harmony. Next, spa guests climb the stairs and join Sal Mia's owner, Moshe Avital, for a guided meditation session in a room lined with mats and cushions. Over the course of nearly an hour, Avital leads couples "slowly, slowly to enter the quiet, tranquility and pleasantness." Symphonic new-age soundscapes play in the background. Avital uses systematic healing visualizations, Eastern relaxation methods and Kabbalistic letter patterns to craft an experience that is at once rejuvenating for the individual and collectively strengthening for the couple. Speaking to this paper over a cup of herbal tea in the side-street villa, located adjacent to his own, Avital is smiling, relaxed and has a sparkle in his eye - rare attributes for the manager of a service-oriented business. "I really believe we have a special place," he says. "What we offer people is a few hours of quiet - specifically right next to the highway," explains Avital. "People come for a few hours and leave full of love and relaxation. They go on their way and take with them whatever they take into their lives. I hope to help them." Avital did not always spend his days pondering and spreading love and relaxation. He immigrated with his family from Morocco when he was six years old. After earning a degree in economics and an MBA from the Hebrew University, he managed the life insurance department at a Haifa agency. Having adopted the rat race mentality, Avital went on to operate his own successful insurance agency. And then he developed the rare, debilitating condition ulcerative colitis, and his life changed forever. Sufferers of ulcerative colitis develop painful sores throughout their lower intestines that can severely impair their abilities to nourish themselves and function normally in society. Avital began to slowly waste away as he regularly visited hospitals for heavy doses of intense medications, including steroids. "I was in a panic. It was getting worse and worse," he says. But his spirit was strong, and he began to research as many healing methods as he could discover. Avital points to a wall-lined bookshelf. "This library is from that time. Before this experience, I had never even heard the word 'meditation.' I came to believe that there is a strong connection between bodily and spiritual health." He began monthly cleansing juice fasts and found his abilities improving. The ritual involved a wheat grass juice breakfast, followed by three daily cocktails of bell pepper, cucumber, beet, celery and lettuce juices. According to what Avital learned from alternative medicine practices, the tongue changes color and bodily functions are altered according to stages throughout a long-term juice fast. The most intense fast he experienced was during this period, lasting an entire month. "After 31 days, my tongue became clean and red, and I stopped," says Avital. His colitis will likely stay with him for the rest of his life, but thanks to his new lifestyle the symptoms are far more manageable today, and he rarely needs medication. "I have no idea how I did the full 31 day juice fast then. Now I do 14 days every six months or so, together with guests of the spa," he says. He also jogs regularly, running 14 kilometers along the Herzliya coast four or five times a week and participates in half marathons. "Running is great in terms of its energy," he says. Invigorated by his renewed health and emboldened by a new lifestyle, Avital founded the Sal Mia Spa three years ago with his wife, Olga. The name comes from two symbolic letter sequences that appear on a Kabbalistic chart that Avital prominently displays in his meditation room. "Sal" represents economic success and prosperity, while "Mia" represents the will to explore spiritual happiness. In contrast to much of Avital's previous professional life, Sal Mia developed on its own, without hands-on business strategizing. The decorating scheme of the treatment rooms "is always in flux and always becoming nicer," says Avital. "You need harmony in the rooms, so we try to adjust the color combinations according to feng-shui." Regarding the spa's specialization in treatments for couples, Avital maintains that this was not niche marketing, rather something that found its way to him. "Because of the love Olga and I have for each other and the love with which we run the spa, it's mainly couples that call us." The basement of the building has been converted into a sizable hall used for group meditation sessions. Corporations have been known to hire the facility for day-long collective healing experiences, with colleagues indulging in Jacuzzis, massages, meditations, numerology workshops and catered banquets of Sal Mia-approved dishes. While the spa's business plan may still be developing, Avital's outlook and the values that guide his business have jelled considerably since his days of searching for every possible healing method under the sun. The cornerstones of the Sal Mia methods are "health, nutrition, juices, treatments and meditation," says Avital, with the guiding principle that "the body and the soul are one." The Sal Mia approach seems infectious, as the spa has blossomed into a rare business success story that combines spirituality with profits - and not only in name. "It's fun here with us," says Avital. "There are many spas, but ours was born out of love. That's the energy that rules here. Professionalism and love."