A world-renowned, high-end luxury spa that originated in Australia and partners with a Parisian skin-care and fragrance company has chosen Indianapolis for its second U.S. facility.
Spa Chakra, which uses Guerlain SA products exclusively, opened in the new Conrad Indianapolis Hotel in May.
There are 16 Spa Chakra locations worldwide, but only one other in the United States-in Portland, Ore. Locations are expected to open in Bal Harbour, Fla., later this year and in Washington, D.C., in 2007.
The spa, which was recently voted Australia's top spa, boasts not only high-end massages, facials and body wraps, but also says it uses a systematic, analytical "healing" approach to improving overall health by identifying causes of stress.
Considered a medi-spa because of its use of health assessments, a naturopathic medical approach, and health and wellness retreats, it also has a licensed health care practitioner on staff part time.
Naturopathic medicine suggests there is a healing power in the body that maintains and restores health. Practitioners use treatments such as nutrition and lifestyle counseling, dietary supplements, exercise, homeopathy and treatments from traditional Chinese medicine.
It's not about making someone feel relaxed and look better temporarily, said Kate Westover, the spa's sales and revenue manager.
"It's curing the cause. If you're not working from the inside, it's just a quick fix," she said.
In fact, the word "chakra" is taken from the Sanskrit word meaning "wheel" and refers to the seven energy centers of the body.
Clients start by filling out a 60-question self-assessment, while getting a 90-minute foot and hand treatment, that reveals whether their stress-considered an underlying cause of many ailments-is nutritional, emotional, electromagnetic or physical in nature.
A therapy that Spa Chakra calls Transformational Health is then tailored for clients to target their particular profile.
For example, a person who scores high in the electromagnetic category might be exposed to high levels of radiation from computers, cell phones and other electronic equipment and gadgets, the spa says.
Therapists might therefore recommend seat covers, sleep systems and innersoles for shoes, as well as adding certain nutrients and herbs to the person's diet.
At the core of each treatment plan is relieving overall stress, which is aided by some of the spa's exclusive massage and body therapies.
A client might soak for an hour in a hydrotherapy bath where 145 jets of water prepare the body for massage by warming and loosening the muscles.
A patented facial and body massage technique-the Guerlain Method-involves the use of lymphatic drainage, a light, rhythmical massage.
Lymphatic fluid helps deliver nutrients, antibodies and other immune components to tissue cells, while removing toxins, cell waste and dead particles, which are then cleansed by clusters of lymph nodes, according to the spa.
A full-body exfoliation removes skin that dies every 28 days and anti-aging therapies identify how imbalances in skin cells can be corrected.
Spa Chakra's services fall in line with a growing trend toward the use of alternative medicine by consumers.
A study by the Harvard Medical School estimates that the number of people in the United States using at least one alternative therapy grew 47.3 percent during the 1990s. During the same time, the use of herbal medicines nationally grew 380 percent and the use of vitamin therapy 130 percent.
A study by The International Spa Association indicates the use of alternative medicine in spas is increasing, partly because baby boomers and their children don't mind paying to look younger and healthier. Spas have also gained respectability with guests who view holistic approaches as a more attractive alternative to cosmetic injections and surgery.
It's also big business.
There are an estimated 12,100 spas in the United States, according to the association. The largest category is the day spa, accounting for seven of every 10 spas. Resort/hotel spas are the second-largest group, accounting for 41 percent of the $11.2 billion in revenue generated by the industry in 2003.
Spa Chakra features Italian marble flooring and high-end brands such as Bouvier water equipment, Bang and Olufsen stereo systems and Bernardaud china, but the treatment rooms are intentionally sparse, bare of any artwork or distractions. Lighting is minimal and the staff speaks in a tranquil, quiet tone.
"The focus is on providing a peaceful environment," said Westover, an Australian who came to the United States at the spa's opening.
The spa is staffed with seven massage therapists and estheticians. All were hired locally and have been under the wing of Helen Thomas, the spa's international training manager.
Also from Australia, Thomas spends time at each spa's opening, training the staff up to Spa Chakra's standards.
While there was some concern about finding qualified estheticians in Indianapolis, Thomas said a wealth of applicants provided plenty of opportunity.
Comparisons with other spas is difficult. Many spas define themselves based on the services they provide, as Spa Chakra does.
The International Medical Spa Association defines a medical spa as "a facility that operates under the full-time, on-site supervision of a licensed health care professional. The facility operates within the scope of practice of its staff, and offers traditional, complementary, and alternative health practices and treatments in a spalike setting."
The only difference for Spa Chakra is that its health care professional travels between Indianapolis and Portland, Ore., its other U.S. site.
Beyond The Image MedSpa LLC and Regalo Laser Skin Care, both in Indianapolis, plus Skin Spa Services in Munster are the only Indiana spas listed as members of the International Medical Spa Association. Spa Chakra is not.
Web sites for the three spas all focus on medically administered cosmetic treatments, such as Botox and collagen injections.
More traditional spas that do not define themselves as medi-spas, such as Villaggio Day Spa in Fishers and Escape Day Spa in Indianapolis, provide face and body massage treatments, but also hair coloring and waxing services, which Spa Chakra does not.
So it's possible that Spa Chakra with its Guerlain products is the first of its kind here in Indianapolis, as the staff says.
While too new to gauge its prospects for success, it expects to draw 40 percent of its clients from hotel guests and the rest from area residents or other visitors to the area.
The Indianapolis location also has a fitness center, something not all Spa Chakras have. Each spa is designed after surveying interests of residents and competition in the area. Chakra officials believed fitness would be a necessary component for its location here.
And like the spa's focus on wellness, the fitness center includes a kinetic analysis that creates a profile for members based on a person's overall fitness, nutrition and medical history.
"The spa experience is not a quick fix to anything," Westover said. "It's about understanding a person's lifestyle that sets us apart."