An emerging mecca for the best in alternative therapies, Laguna Beach offers deep relief and rejuvenation of every kind.
By Lisa Marie Hart
Word of mouth has always been the key to sourcing a compassionate therapist, a sharp attorney or a shrewd financial planner. Over the past several years, however, Laguna locals have found it far more urgent to spread the good word on matters of the mind, body and spirit. Beyond the practical matters of life, we’re discovering how to really live—and live well. While the rest of this fast-paced world reaches for a box of Band-Aids or a bottle of aspirin in moments of injury or illness, Lagunans prefer to slow down and heal from the inside out.
The concept of living well in Laguna not only incorporates daily wellness practices, but also encourages seeking out holistic ways of returning to a state of balanced well-being whenever one happens to fall out of it. Whether through meditation or Eastern medicine, more of us are aiming to restore ourselves both mentally and physically the all-natural way—without prescription drugs or invasive treatments. In fact, alternative practices are hardly the outliers in an area where a fresh crop of healing practices have touched down and developed roots.
From alkaline water and detoxifying foot baths to Thai massage, herbal medicines, floral elixirs and Epsom salt tanks, the curious would-be practitioner has a host of fascinating remedies from which to choose—complete with experts ready to soak, knead, rub, push, poke or even float clients back to robust health.
“Health care is expensive and not always natural,” says Renee Ulnick, founder of Pure Body Wellness Center off Pacific Coast Highway. “People here want to look better, feel better, have more energy and an improved ability to handle stress—all through natural, preventative care.”
Instead of earning an advanced degree to master the wide world of natural therapies and alternative medicines, many locals choose to start small. Luckily, Laguna Beach brims with methods for adding a dose of heady mindfulness to a regular routine. At places like OM Laguna Beach, a downtown meditation center, clients can select from guided group sessions, drop-in workshops, wellness classes and private appointments with professional guides.
Others turn to the power of aromatherapy to instantly transform their state of mind. The Lotus Wei flower elixirs and essences found at nontoxic cosmetics shop ROOTS The Beauty Underground are part of a booming brand that owner Laura Linsenmayer calls “a complete health movement.” Add a few potent drops of ingestible therapy to a water bottle to reap the beneficial energy of flowers and plants. Especially popular among local overachievers, the Quiet Mind elixir aims to hush mental chatter and squelch overanalyzing; meanwhile, the Inspired Action mist combats procrastination while catalyzing innovation.
Also at ROOTS, Buddha Nose body salves have become cold-weather essentials. Immunity Booster Salve, which includes essential oils like cinnamon, clove and patchouli, offers an extra layer of defense against bacterial and viral infections. Meanwhile, Deep Breathe Balm enhances meditation and yoga practice, and dispels congestion. On a more emotional note, the company’s Heart Spray pledges to lessen the effects of heartbreak and loss with its comforting floral and rose water mist.
Natural healers throughout Laguna understand that the body’s need for lasting renewal doesn’t keep standard office hours. Many stay open late into the evening for those desperate for something more nurturing than a mani-pedi after a grueling day.
Laguna’s Float Lounge is just one of those refuges. Likely the closest possible thing to sensory deprivation found in Orange County, a Float Lounge experience sees a client’s body completely suspended in an enclosed tank of water and Epsom salts. As guests surrender to total darkness, the lounge’s owners attest, the muscles achieve total relaxation and healing, stress is reduced and sleep will come more easily.
Opened in 2012, the Float Lounge is just one component of a larger entity called Feeling Functional, which offers holistic lifestyle and subconscious coaching, physical restoration and myofascial release therapy, among other alternative treatments.
“From clients with chronic back pain feeling freedom to clients looking for insight into themselves and coming out feeling peace and clarity, each person’s experience in the float tank is completely unique,” says Float Lounge co-owner Rosanne Ramirez. “We are one of the few cultures that does not practice stillness or quietness, and floating allows one to experience that in a very simple and graceful way.”
The opposite of stillness is fluid motion, which has its own place in the healing realm. For those who don’t mind breathing deeply through the therapists’ assertive Eastern techniques—“not for the bashful,” says one client—the results from a visit to Laguna Thai Massage & Day Spa may include decreases in muscle pain, tension and blood pressure with increased flexibility, circulation, mental clarity and concentration.
“Thai massage is basically an assisted yoga session where a masseuse manipulates your body and applies gentle pressure to your muscles,” explains owner Joey Laongpanich, who opened the spa under new management in 2012. Unlike the passivity of Swedish massage, Thai massage poses force fresh circulation to specific areas of the body, aiding in lymphatic drainage and the return of blood to the heart and organs. Some masseuses even hold onto ropes for balance while pressing their feet into the back or legs to yield a deep-tissue massage.
“Although you’ll be moving around, Thai massages are really quite relaxing, since they return your body to a Zen-like state,” Joey says. “At the end of my session, I always feel extremely calm and ready to conquer the world. You may even notice on day two or three how loose your once tight muscles and stiff joints still feel.”
Less of a quick fix and more of a kick-start for a total lifestyle overhaul, the program at The Pearl Laguna has quickly garnered international acclaim. Although in business for just four years, this intimate retreat center for yoga-inspired rejuvenation has already earned praise from both The New York Times and regular visitors who return to the idyllic sanctuary for refresher courses every six months. “We work on teaching people how great it is to live, eat, breath and think naturally,” says yogi extraordinaire Geo Moskios, who founded The Pearl Laguna with his wife, Katresha, in 2009.
During a single-week retreat (although many opt to stay longer) at the 12-bedroom property in Laguna Canyon, a global clientele eases through a flowing schedule that combines a cleansing diet—organic and vegetarian with alkaline water; no alcohol, caffeine or refined sugars—with daily massage, yoga, hikes and beach walks, in addition to the ample time and serene environment most conducive to meditation and reflection.
“Most people come to relieve stress, lose weight and clean out their bodies,” Geo explains of the retreat. “They want to get off sugar, white bread, refined food, alcohol, cigarettes and God only knows what else.” He affirms that while many clients see a drop in blood pressure and cholesterol, it’s also not unusual for men to shed 10 pounds or more and for women to lose between five and seven pounds.
“We get the best results of any spa in the world because we teach and work with the four pillars of health: proper exercise, proper diet (mostly vegetables and fruit), rest and, most importantly, positive thoughts,” he adds. “Each of our staff members shares their ability to give positive, loving energy. We want people to leave The Pearl with a fearless, open, loving heart.”
Anyone with a genuine interest in self-improvement knows the importance of consistency.
“Always make time for yourself,” says Yvonne Nahl, president of the newly opened Skinterest Day Spa on Forest Avenue. “In the end, it’s just you looking in the mirror, and [time] catches up pretty quick. As women and mothers, we give, give, give, but it’s important to receive and recharge too. People are into working out, but they also need to slow down, take a break and not keep chasing after things.”
Opportunities for taking a break at Skinterest move beyond the facial menu to include Pressotherapy, an advanced leg compression treatment to improve circulation (not to mention a favorite treatment of pregnant women) and Vacuodermie, which removes excess fluids and reduces swelling to tighten the skin and combat cellulite.
The Endermologie cellulite treatment at Pure Body Wellness Center offers another natural way to smooth unwanted bumps and dimples. Most clients, however, unearth this wellness outpost for its experience with colon hydrotherapy.
“After one hour, guests have a feeling of well-being and say they feel lighter and cleaner,” says Renee. A safe, gentle procedure that rids the large intestines of waste through filtered water as opposed to the use of drugs, the treatment also strengths the colon muscle. “This makes the body more efficient and better able to absorb nutrients,” she adds.
South Orange County also teems with unrivaled therapeutic acupuncture offerings. In Laguna, a top-notch acupuncturist is Zhong Yi Yao Inc. Traditional Chinese Medicine. Those willing to go under the needles may find relief from issues ranging from anxiety and fatigue to insomnia, digestive troubles, skin conditions and chronic pain. Acupuncture treatments at Zhong Yi Yao are paired with Chinese herbal medicine, traditional cupping techniques and nutritional counseling based on clients’ needs.
Likewise, North Laguna Wellness Center specializes in chiropractic care to aid a laundry list of ailments, from lower back pain and abdominal cramping to allergies and stomach disorders. After a look at a client’s blood chemistry and a round of nutritional testing, the center’s practitioners craft an individualized wellness plan to promote proper nutrition, digestive health and, if desired, weight loss.
Where there is a need for healing, there is, in Laguna, a healer. And with more and more locals seeking long-lasting holistic wellness rather than temporary solutions, alternative treatments will only continue to grow in popularity. LBM