I'd like to say that my experience at the Korean spa was relaxing, but I think that a more accurate description would be that it was interesting. Interesting to see so many women comfortable in their own skin, interesting to see women going about their cleansing rituals without giving a second thought to their bodies (or anyone else's), interesting to observe the culture within the entire space -- within the different rooms, interesting to spend the day with a group of friends uninhibited by social norms.
Interesting because everyone is totally and completely NAKED.
Spending time at a Korean spa is a vastly different experience than spending time at a traditional American spa. At times it can feel strange, frightening, overwhelming, and different, but I recommend that everyone try it at least once. And here's why.
1. It's really affordable. Most Korean spas charge between $15 and $20 for admission. This means full use of the spa; including hot and cold plunge pools, saunas, steam rooms, clay and jade rooms, scrubbing stations, locker rooms, relaxing rooms, nap rooms, and a restaurant. Extra services such as massages, manicures, and body scrubs require a separate fee, but still at very affordable prices.
2. Nap rooms. Did I mention they have rooms dedicated to napping?! After a hot soak, a lounge in the warm clay room, and a steamy bowl of Korean soup, you can march yourself over to the nap room for a well-deserved siesta.
3. Being naked is empowering. Initially, everyone starts out in robes provided by the spa. As you leave the locker room and enter the spa, the robes must be abandoned. It's the law of the spa. If you try to keep it on, someone will come up to you and ask you to remove it (I know because I tried and got caught by the naked police.) The moment I removed my robe, I was acutely aware of my nakedness and the vulnerability of it all. I couldn't recall a time I had ever been completely naked in front of a room of other naked people. I'll be honest, it's strange. It's like one of those nightmares where you show up somewhere naked on accident, only here everyone is naked ... and it's real life. Yes, it's really bizarre and kind of intimidating, but it gets better. After a short time, your focus moves away from your body, and settles into experiencing the different sensations on your skin. Piping hot water, freezing cold water, rooms with clay, rooms with coal, rooms with jade, rooms with steam, people all around you cleansing/scrubbing/relaxing/bonding. The idea of having clothes (or no clothes) becomes irrelevant, and it's empowering.
4. The staff uniforms are amazing. The staff provides massages and body scrubs wearing black lacy bras and underwear, and it's kind of awesome. These harsh middle-aged Korean women are anything but gentle. They have a strict no-nonsense approach to handling you during your treatments, and the seriousness of it all is kind of diminished by the fact that they are working in underwear.
5. It's a unique bonding experience with your lady friends. Everyone is naked, and you have to let that go. You have to move beyond the discomfort, beyond the fear of judgment, and just be. Only then can you begin to connect with people on a different level. A level that is nothing but your bare self.
6. It will challenge you. The Korean spa is not for the faint of heart. You must be willing to leave your body image fears and your modesty at the door. In this space, everyone is the same. We are all women on a mission to unwind, purify, and connect with ourselves and each other. If you get a professional body scrub, they will literally scrub you clean. They will scrub so much that you begin to wonder if you have any skin left, and in this process, you will get tossed around a bit. I know, I know, I'm really talking you into it here. But if you can withstand their almost aggressive ways, you will come away feeling truly cleansed and renewed.
Although my day at the Korean spa was not the traditional relaxing experience I was used to, I still walked away from it feeling refreshed, cleansed, invigorated, and re-charged. I felt relaxed in a different sense, in a more spiritual and connected way. I felt like I was let in on a secret cultural experience; an underground spa that exists in full swing. I encourage everyone to try this at least once. If you hate it, obviously you never have to go back again. And if you like it, you might feel like one of the girls from my group who said, "I didn't even know this was a thing. This is totally a thing, and I'm coming back."