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The staff at The Spa takes your health seriously. Like Caesar, they want you to come in, so they can see what ails you and then they’ll conquer it.

When you enter the spa, on Third Avenue at 88th Street, they ask you to sit down and fill out a medical questionnaire that is designed to find out what you need - and what you’re allergic to.

The Spa has built up a strong customer base over the past four years that are fans of its massage therapy, body care and personalized facials. But as their clients become more savvy, they become adventurous about trying new things, explains aesthetician Shalene. That means that although the seaweed facials and body treatments they offer are tried and true, Shalene has gone back to the ancient Romans and Cleopatra for inspiration for her "new," customized body treatments.

Think of the decadent Roman baths and their masseuses and think of a time when facials and body wraps came from natural ingredients, not pre-packaged boxes.

"Cleopatra used to bathe in milk," said Shalene. "Imagine how soft her skin must have been!"

While The Spa is the exclusive Brooklyn vendor for the Matis product line, which it uses in its facials and body treatments, Shalene can also whip up the purest, freshest ingredients to give you a wrap or facial that’s right for you.

When I arrived at The Spa for an hour-long personalized body wrap ($95-$125), I had just finished a very 21st-century, 19-hour shift staring at a computer screen and had just a few hours of sleep. I requested a treatment that would be hydrating and invigorating.

When I entered the newly redecorated, intimate treatment room, I noticed the scattered rose petals and long-stemmed flower just for me. It seemed fitting, because like Narcissus, today I was taking time out to love my neglected self.

I was instructed to shed my clothes and put on only the briefest of disposable underpants and to lay on a sheet of silver Mylar. This was going to be an adventure, but if those decadent Romans could be proud of their nakedness, so could I. (It’s not like this was a public bath after all.)

Shalene came into the treatment room bearing fragrance-free massage oil, green grapes, rose petals and rosemary essential oil. With a mortar and pestle she ground up the roses and grapes and added them to a bowl with massage oil and dead sea salt, making an all natural, aromatic body scrub to slough away the dull, dead skin. Like the most beautiful empress of old, I was going to have smooth, dewy skin for the spring bacchanal.

(The Spa’s owner and a licensed massage therapist, Sheila Brody, says the scrub also serves to stimulate the lymph system that aids in eliminating toxins and improving circulation.)

With her all-natural mixture, Shalene exfoliated my body from neck to toe. (Brody explained that depending on what Shalene mixes up - which is customized to the client’s needs - occasionally the same mixture can also be used on the face.)

Shalene also squeezed the green grapes between her fingers and rubbed those mashed fruits along my legs and arms explaining that they are a natural antioxidant. I was then wrapped in the Mylar sheet and blankets for a warm and cozy 20-minute doze while the juices and salt worked their magic.

(Brody explained that this time in the wrap promotes hydration and forces toxins out of the body through the pores.)

While I lay wrapped, Shalene thoughtfully brought in round pads soaked in green tea for my overtired, puffy eyes and a heated neck wrap. With my eyes closed and my body wrapped snuggly on the heated massage table, there was time for me to listen to the soothing ocean sounds - is that the Mediterranean lapping against the shore? - and contemplate the wisdom of the ancients. Wasn’t it Hippocrates who said, "The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and a scented massage every day"?

The aromas of Shalene’s next step were certainly therapeutic. She mixed up warm peppermint and eucalyptus oils, which she trickled over my scalp before a pressure point massage ($25). Her fingers worked through my tresses while I lay wrapped in my cocoon. The scents of the oils were invigorating and were tempered by the earthy scent of the green tea pads. The peppermint also brought a slight tingling sensation to my scalp.

When my time on the table was up, I was brought, now in slippers and a towel, to the shower stall to hose off the salts, ground grapes and rose petals. (For those of you who would rather not interrupt your relaxing treatment with a shower, the Spa offers a delicious Parafango treatment in which paraffin and Spanish sea mud are painted over the body. It’s a scrub and a wrap that just peels off, without sticky residue.) Out of concern for the ears of its clients, the spa discourages the use of blow dryers. If a client needs to dry their hair, it should be requested when the appointment is booked.

After I toweled off, it was back to Shalene’s table for a full-body massage with avocado oil scented with eucalyptus and rosemary. A warm and relaxing end - for my skin and mind - to a surprisingly hydrating and rejuvenating treatment.

The Spa also offers a range of manicures and pedicures including a special monthly pedicure. In March, they will feature a "hot lava rock" pedicure, a la Mount Vesuvius.

Like the aquaducts, surely this pampering, all-natural approach to body care is another one of the great gifts of the ancients - and in this case, it’s a lot more rewarding to experience it than it is to read about it.

See The Spa in the Spa Directory.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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