Indian springs: My first mud bath


I tend to have a highly sensitive bullsh*t meter when it comes to spa treatments. Aside from massages—which generally have a real-time, tangible result, I have very low expectations on claims of efficacy. This, believe it or not, takes very little away from my ability to enjoy said treatments. There’s something about the ritual of it all that is, in itself, so pleasurable. I think it’s a pleasure that comes from knowing I’m doing some special, with the sole goal of feeling good.

Spa culture is fairly new to me. My first massage was in Thailand on our honeymoon. I didn’t grow up getting pedicures or using saunas, and I’d never been to a spa before the age of 28. So there’s plenty that still feels very novel to me.



Case in point: Aron and I went to Indian Springs in Calistoga last week for a one-night getaway. The kids stayed with grandparents—an amazing treat!—and we drove over the hills into the Napa valley. It’s only about 90 minutes away, but we felt much further away. On this hot, dry day, the resort, with its thermal geysers and mineral pools, could have easily been in Southern California—or even Mexico.

It was the perfect escape, with little on the agenda but soaking, floating, relaxing (with a brief interruption by a debate full of interruptions), and some spa treatments. Aron signed both of us up for the mud bath, followed by a couples massage. (Hip, hip!)

We checked in and went to our respective locker rooms and then, even though we were together for the massage, had to wait to debrief on the experience until two hours later.

Here’s how it goes…


A woman came to get me and bring me into a hot steamy room with three large tubs full of “thermal mineral water from our geysers and 100 percent pure volcanic ash from our grounds” … “perfect for detoxifying and relaxation.” (Meter reading high! Ding ding ding!)

The scene is a little crazy and I tried to strike the appropriate balance of glancing without staring to take it all in as there were two other women in the middle of their treatments. There were about five female staff members in the room, a few wearing gloves and thick aprons; one wielded a hose. Another told me to give her my robe and rinse off in the shower. I hoped I was correct to assume I should be naked as I handed it over.

Next came the awkward task of getting into the tub. “Sit here. One hand here, one hand there. Lower yourself onto the mud…”

You don’t actually sink in at first. I tried to pretend it was totally normal for me to be completely exposed like this as I lay on top. But before I could feel too shy, she dug a big gloved hand into the mud—the pure volcanic ash, rather—and scooped heaping, hot mounds onto me—first, my groin and then my breasts, like she was covering me with fig leaves, before burying the rest of me.

I felt the heat intensifying under the mass and started wondering what this must be like if you’re at all claustrophobic. (Please note: do not do this if you are at all claustrophobic.)

I asked if she would dab my eyes which I’d neglected to wipe clear after the shower in my haste to get into the tub. Then I suddenly felt an itch on my cheek… then my eye… the kind you feel as soon as you’re not supposed to touch your face. “Screw it!,” I pried my hand out of the mud.

They placed cold towels on my head and asked how I was doing. (“I’m starting to feel a little panicked about the heat and I’m not sure I can stick it out!” I thought.) “I’m fine!” I answered as I started to lift my hands and feet out of the mud in an attempt to cool like a sea lion waving about for the sun.

I confess I was pretty happy when we moved on to the next parts—a mineral water soak (they must have refilled my glass of ice water about ten times), a (very intense) steam, and a blanket-wrapped cool down in a little cabana where I think I happily dozed off for a few minutes until they came to get me for our massage.

I couldn’t wait to hear Aron’s impression—which is to say, while it wasn’t the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done, I enjoyed the novelty of the experience tremendously.


Aron told me he was the only one on his journey. He looked around and, without any confirming visuals, asked aloud “I’m supposed to be naked, right?” He got the fig leaf treatment as well and, then, after sinking in was left alone. He told me he looked down at himself, covered in black mud, and couldn’t resist doing his best Hans-Solo-trapped-in-Carbonite impression: hands raised in protest, mouth agape.

Have you ever had a mud bath? Or “taken the waters” at the mineral springs? What’s the most unusual spa experience you’ve had?  

P.S. Our day at the Spa Castle in Queens. And the closest we’d previously gotten to this: a mud slide at Solage. Also, more to do in the Napa Valley. 



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