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Before my first craniosacral therapy (CST) massage, I was skeptical.
I like deep-tissue treatments where the therapist makes it her personal mission to identify, attack and pummel every last knot in my back and shoulders.
Craniosacral treatment, on the other hand, involves light touch — “about five grams of pressure, or the weight of a nickel” according to The Upledger Institute Clinic, which was founded by John E. Upledger, the osteopath credited with creating CST.
According to the clinic, “skilled CST therapists can enhance fluid flow and balance membrane tension, helping to bring increased vitality to the system.”
During that first treatment, a therapist gently held my head and hovered her palms over several locations of my body, testing for ease of motion and rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid pulsing around my brain and spinal cord. Any agitation I had about the light touch dissolved quickly. When the session was over, I found myself so deeply relaxed that I nearly floated out of the room.
And that’s how I found myself, years later, with a masked therapist cradling my head at Amangiri — Aman Resorts’ exclusive desert retreat in Canyon Point, Utah. The 25,000-square-foot spa offers treatments inspired by Navajo traditions — as well as a water pavilion featuring a step pool, a plunge pool, a steam room and a sauna, all of which are complimentary for guests to use.
But I chose to spend my first morning in near darkness, receiving CST. This time, though, I was in a floatation pool.
An Amangiri signature treatment, Desert Dream — like all Amangiri treatments — begins with a sage smudging and ends with a short crystal sound bath. The meat of this session, however, is entirely unique, combining CST with floatation therapy, followed by a steam shower and a massage of choice. Like everything at Amangiri, Desert Dream takes experiences that pack a punch and combines them for something extraordinary.
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The resort’s saltwater float pool is located in a private suite that encompasses a changing area, a shower and a bathroom (where guests with cuts or razor burn are encouraged to armor themselves with Vaseline), followed by a hallway that leads to a small cave-like chamber filled by the pool and enough space for the client and the therapist.
Lit only by candles, the cozy atmosphere makes guests feel like they’re in an underground well. And it sure beats the usual way it’s done — in a coffin-shaped sensory deprivation tank.
While Amangiri’s version is much more reminiscent of a Tuscan bath than a tomb, the concept is the same: Float in about a foot of salt water heated to your body temperature, in darkness and in silence.
I had entered the pool with a pounding headache, and found that the water — coupled with my therapist’s gentle touch — quickly made me lose attachment to my senses, including pain.
My therapist then left me in the pool for 30 minutes of alone time — or so I was told.
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My comprehension of seconds and minutes completely — and blissfully — dissipated, along with the constraints of gravity. There is something incredibly freeing about temporarily disassociating from the parameters of your body — along with space and time. (If this is beginning to sound a bit woo-woo, note that the first sensory deprivation tank was designed by John C. Lilly, an American neuroscientist whose subsequent experiments with manipulating consciousness were conducted with hallucinogenic drugs.)
Thirty minutes, hours or centuries later, my therapist retrieved me from the pool and guided me back into the world of external stimulation. We left the dark suite and walked a short distance in the bright, desert sun to a more traditional treatment room, where I was instructed to shower off the salt water and then lie down on — or, more accurately, melt into — my massage bed.
The room had a window that framed the sandstone boulders outside, but there was truly nothing hard about me anymore.
For once, I found myself telling my therapist I did not need her to apply the most intense level of pressure. I was already deep into my desert dream.