The "African Rainforest Experience" is an awkward name for a spa treatment. Unlike a deep-cleanse facial, or dumbbell massage, you really don't know what you're getting yourself into when signing up for this one.
But once you've experienced it, there's no looking back: they have taken elements from the rainforest, such as extreme heat alternated with pouring "rain", stirred in some humidity, and then mixed in some African fragrances, and there you have it! An African Rainforest Experience in good old semi-arid SA.
"They take a number of sauna and shower elements from around the world and combine them with African fragrances and ideas about relaxation," says Hanri van Zyl from ArabellaStarwood Hotels & Resorts South Africa. "The result is a remarkable and distinctive experience…"
But enough background, let me tell you more about the good stuff…
The African Rainforest Experience is called an "experience" because it involves various treatments in a 15-step programme that takes about two and a half hours to complete. The menu includes scrubs, therapeutic showers, steam treatments and more.
The underlying logic is to vary heat and cold to stimulate circulation, to enhance the powers of aromatherapy oils, and to promote detoxification.
The heat is created by sauna, steam room and heated blankets. Although science is not convinced of the medical benefits of sauna, popular belief is that it has relaxation and health benefits, hence the old Finnish (where the sauna originated) saying: "…if the sauna doesn't make you feel better, you are probably dying."
A sauna's dry heat has profound effects on the body. Skin temperature soars and the average person will pour out about half a litre of sweat during a short stint in the sauna, claims the Harvard Medical School. The pulse rate jumps by 30 percent or more, and most of the extra blood flow is directed to the skin.
"All in all, saunas appear safe for the body, but there is little evidence that they have health benefits above and beyond relaxation and a feeling of well-being," says Dr Harvey Simon from Harvard Men's Health Watch.
A word of warning: because of the effect on the heart rate, heart patients should probably check with their doctors before taking a sauna.
Cold showers, a mist shower and reflexology foot bath comprise the "cold" element of this hot/cold treatment. Cold showers need no introduction. The mist shower is gorgeous: you are bathed with a soft drizzling mist to cool you down after the sauna. The reflexology foot bath involves two tanks of water - one hot, the other cold - between which you alternate your feet. This controls body temperature and is said to stimulate blood circulation and relaxation.
Treatments are spaced by resting periods during which you 'chill' under a hot blanket, butter yourself up with hydrating moisturisers, drink water, or take a nap.
The grand finale of the 'active treatments' is a full body massaging shower. Full body because, instead of standing up you're lying down, with warm water pelting you from head to toe. It's magic.
The African Rainforest Experience is rounded off with a 30-minute relaxation session in a warm, dimly lit room.
For more information, or to book a treatment, phone 028 284 0000 or visit www.westerncapehotelandspa.co.za.
Step-by-step explanation of the African Rainforest Experience
Step 1 – A soap or salt rub
To slough off old, rough and dry skin and make it more receptive to the treatments that follow.
Step 2 – A hot shower followed by a cold shower
The hot shower warms the body up, relaxes the muscles and opens the pores of the skin. The cold water improves circulation.
Step 3 – Eucalyptus steam room
The steam opens the pores and benefits the respiratory system, while the eucalyptus is effective against headaches, fatigue and stress.
Step 4 – Cold shower
Cools the body down after the high temperature of the steam room. It also stimulates the lymphatic system to clear toxins.
Step 5 – Rest underneath a heated aromatherapy towel
Aromatherapy oils such as lemongrass, lemon, orange, lavender, peppermint, and ginger encourage relaxation and help induce feelings of calm and serenity.
Step 6 – Aromatherapy sauna
Your choice of aromatherapy oil is added. The heat of the sauna increases the benefit of the oil which helps the body detoxify faster. The pores open and the body starts to perspire, flushing away toxins.
Step 7 – Waterfall shower
This cool shower cleanses the skin and closes the pores. Again lymphatic drainage is stimulated and circulation enhanced, helping to detox.
Step 8 – Dry heat sauna
The dry heat sauna causes more perspiring so the body is further cleansed. Muscles are relaxed by the heat.
Step 9 – Cold mountain mist
Soft cold mist falls lightly down on the skin and cools the body.
Step 10 – Dry relaxation beds
This is where the body calms down, refreshes and relaxes. During this step you should also drink water to prevent dehydration.
Step 11 – Reflexology footbaths with pebbles
Alternating your feet between warm and cold water tanks. The warm water regulates the body temperature. Through heat the water will activate circulation, giving a relaxed and calm feeling.
Step 12 – Rainforest shower beds
Pamper and relax under a cascade of warm water. This treatment is said to soothe the mind and bring the heart rate down.
Step 13 – Drying and application of soothing and rehydrating moisturisers
After the hot sauna and using the showers, the skin needs its moisture replenished with soft, hydrating cream.
Step 14 – Relaxation experience in the Candle Room
Your body's detox system has been activated but you will be feeling very, very relaxed. Fall asleep, allow the body to calm and awake feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Step 15 – African Tea ceremony
Choose between a relaxing rooibos/chamomile or cleansing rooibos/peppermint blend.