Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis
additional images courtesy The Spa at Turning Stone
I am fascinated by the healing rituals and traditions of indigenous populations world-wide, and more so by Native American customs that have for so long been known and practiced only in their own communities. More and more spas and health retreats incorporate the healing wisdom supplied abundantly in nature, and many First Nation treatments are becoming accepted mainstream therapy, i.e. the healing power of botanicals; roots, herbs, flowers, and tree bark; crystals and stones; and soothing mud and clay infused naturally with minerals. Many of the treatments I have enjoyed over the past few years have featured the earth’s bounty in conventional as well as ethnic-inspired spas.
My latest exposure to Native America healing techniques took place at the Skaná (skan-nah) Spa at Turning Stone Resort Casino, a holding of the Oneida Nation in upstate New York. The Oneida people call themselves Onyota’a:ká: translation: The People of The Standing Stone. Every Oneida village had a ceremonial granite rock at its center and legend states that the rock moved from place to place until it finally rested where the Oneida Nation should make its home. Another version of the story tells of the people fleeing from their enemies into the forest. When their pursuers entered the forest the Oneida’s had disappeared, turned into the standing stones scattered about. Regardless of the version you prefer, for thousands of years the people lived in the Northeast and their agricultural lifestyle revolved around The Three Sisters of corn, beans and squash; the sustainers of life. The earth fed them and provided herbs to heal their bodies. Sage, Sweet Grass and Cedar provided spiritual cleaning and was burned as an offering to the Creator, helping to lift their prayers heavenward.
The 33,000 square foot award-winning spa at Turning Stone’s operating principle is to promote inner peace and harmony and in the Oneida language Skaná is the word for “Peace”. Upon entering the spa your first vision is of a round stone pond filled with the soothing sound of running water while on the wall behind is an artist’s rendering representing the three sacred clan animals of Wolf, Turtle and Bear. The peace loving Oneida’s enjoy a matrilineal kinship through which name, affiliation and inheritance pass.
Proceeding down a long corridor to the ethereal sound of flute music, I was warmly greeted in the handsome lounge designed to resemble an Oneida longhouse, supported by natural hewn logs and with a circular stone fireplace in the center. After registering I was personally escorted to the gender-specific changing room which was beautifully equipped with relaxation area, sauna, steam room, and whirlpool. The male and female sections come together at a lovely central co-ed cooling pool.
A vital life element, water is a very important and prominent life force in Oneida teaching. A self-guided therapeutic balancing water ritual includes the alternate use of hot and cool water to increase circulation, aid in detoxification, and release muscle tension and is recommended to be completed prior to your treatment. In order to get the full benefit, I was encouraged to arrive an hour early so I could enjoy the Balancing Waters Ritual without rushing.
A few combination packages are offered at the spa; Serenity, Harmony, and Peaceful Retreat, as well as treatments for two: Dance of the Song Birds, The Oneida Journey, and A Walk in the Deep Forest. I choose my own two treatments based on my personal preference; a Natural Face Lift facial that included a signature anti-aging treatment with plant stem cells and peptides and the use of the amazing ultrasound and micro-current technologies. Rita was my esthetician and she was sensitive to my concerns and focused on the areas that I felt needed work. I thoroughly enjoyed her soothing touch and sage advice, and speaking of sage...
Sage, White pine and Sunflower
Sage has long been used by the Oneidas for its ability to bring about clarity and deep relaxation and is one of the signature oils used at the spa, another sacred oil is white pine.
The white pine is the Great Tree of Peace in the Oneida culture and is a valued botanical for healing fatigue and mental exhaustion along with sunflower oil. Oneidas praise the sunflower for its soothing qualities. The other treatment I selected was the Harmony Massage which uses the combination of sunflower with jasmine. The massage uses long connective and flowing rhythmic strokes to promote deep relaxation. Leigh was my masseuse and she tempered her pressure according to my responses.
After each treatment I was presented with a card recounting the legend relating to the large dream catcher decorating one wall in each of the treatment rooms. I personally love the stories of Black Crow, The Grandfather, Buffalo Woman, and Maize. Each treatment room also sported a coverlet with traditional Oneida symbols over the warmed and very comfortable adjustable table, while artifacts decorated the walls and hallways providing an overall immersion in Native American tradition and lore. The space is lovely, the welcoming warm, and the treatments exceptional; all and all a terrific destination spa and entertainment venue for gamblers and non-gamblers alike.
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