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Absorbing well-being at Osmosis

By Davina Baum

There's always a new, hip spa treatment just aching to garner all the attention. Hawaiian this, aromatherapy that--there are plenty of divine luxury treatments out there to spend a lot of hard-earned money on. Japanese enzyme baths perhaps sound like the next fad to hit the cover of Spa Life magazine--but Osmosis has been providing this soothing treatment in Freestone for 17 years, ever since proprietor Michael Stusser came back from Japan entranced by the magic of the baths.

"I was so captivated by it. I was totally convinced it was my mission to bring it back to the United States," says Stusser, a lithe salt-and-pepper-haired man with kind eyes. Stusser was a gardener at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center before he left for Japan, where he wanted to learn how to create a meditative environment--"an important missing piece in our culture."

He discovered the baths, which are used in Japan for therapeutic treatment, and decided to introduce the treatment to Americans as a spa experience. Osmosis is still the only place in the United States that offers an enzyme bath. Now visitors come from all over the country--spa junkies and vacationers--though Stusser feels that locals are strangely underrepresented.

Everything about Osmosis promotes meditation and wellness. Entering the building, I am escorted into a tea room that looks out on a small Japanese garden. A bath attendant, Leah, shows me the changing room, where I change into a robe, then return to the tea room.

After a few minutes, Leah brings a tray of tea. In the cup is a white substance, an enzyme powder, Leah explains, to aid in digestion before I enter the bath. She pours peppermint tea over it, mixes it, and answers my questions while I sip.

I'm given more time alone in the tea room, until Leah takes me into the bath room, which is dominated by a large, square tub filled with what looks like finely cut wood chips. It's light brown in color. Leah has dug out a spot for me, and I disrobe and step into the bath, settling down into the hollowed-out area while Leah covers me with the material.

The tub contains a bioactive blend of cedar fibers, rice bran, and plant enzymes, which are in a process of fermentation--thus the warmth. It's strange. It feels like I'm sitting on a straw mat: not itchy but not smooth. It's spongy, soft. I'm covered up to my neck, and I can move my hands and feet, although I don't really want to. I don't ever want to move again.

The weight of the material on top of my body is soothing, like a very heavy blanket. The smell is intense, the scent of cedar, but more earthy, alive. I try not to imagine Night of the Living Dead zombies reaching their hands up through the sawdust.

Leah comes in every once in a while to put a cold compress on my face and feed me water through a straw--it's hot. I can feel that my heart rate is up, although I'm not moving. The enzymes don't just clean pores; the bath is said to be soothing for the nervous system and good for digestion.

When 20 minutes are up, I rise from the tub and stand so that Leah can help me brush the material off. Then I step into the shower and rinse off--the material gets everywhere.

Back into the robe I go, and into clogs that Leah has put out for me. She leads me outside, to one of the massage pagodas. There Leah leaves me, passing me on to Janice, my massage therapist.

It's bliss. For 75 minutes, all I hear is leaves falling, birds calling, lavender oil rubbing. When Janice is done, I make my way back to the main house, straight to a facial with Roberta. Osmosis uses Jurlique products, which are entirely organic. The facial is 75 minutes long and includes a foot spa and a neck and shoulder massage. I am limp.

After the treatment, I walk with Michael Stusser out to the meditation garden, which is Osmosis' latest addition. A huge pond is at the center of the garden, and around it landscaping provides ample space for walking or sitting after a treatment. It's a beautiful place to finish the experience, and there I sit for a while, reluctant to reenter the real world.


An enzyme bath at Osmosis is $75 (includes tea room and blanket wrap); bath with massage is $150. Aromatherapy facials are $90. Osmosis, 209 Bohemian Hwy., Freestone. 707.823.8231 or www.osmosis.com.

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From the October 3-9, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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