Holiday Guide: How to stop stress and bliss out
By Liz Barrett
Holiday stress sets in when those annoying Christmas commercials start before Halloween and doesn’t officially end until the last of the confetti is tossed in the trash on New Year’s Day. Fortunately, there’s a better way: total escape. Step away from the whole frenzy and get a little unadulterated me-time. Stop in at a spa for a facial, get a soothing massage or, if you’re really out of time, try a 30-second yoga pose or a 10-minute tea break. You’ll find everything you need to relax and renew right here in Alameda.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to go from frenzied to serene in less than a minute is yoga. The amazingly restorative “Child’s Pose,” or Balasana, is quick, simple, and doesn’t even require a mat.
Start by kneeling on the floor. Then, touch your big toes together and sit on your heels. Keep your knees about hip width apart. Lower your forehead to the floor while gently exhaling. Bring your navel down between your knees. Place your hands on the floor, either in front of you with your palms down or behind you (by your butt) with your palms up. Relax your shoulders.
Hold the pose for at least 30 seconds or for up to two minutes.
Option: Support your head with pillow(s) or a rolled-up towel if it’s more comfortable. Remember: When it comes to relaxation, less pain = more gain.
If that felt great and you want more, drop in for a yoga class. If you’re in the downtown area, check out Alameda Yoga Station (2414-A Central Avenue; 523-9642); drop-in classes cost $17. If you’re on the West End, stop in at Island Yoga (911 Central Avenue; 205-5003); drop-in classes cost $15. Schedules for both studios are available online.
Try a Little Tea
Tea is the universal comfort drink. It has carried people through centuries of war, famine and economic crisis. When all else fails, tea soothes the soul.
From the backyard gardens at Julie’s and Wescafe to the clickety-clack of laptops at Blue Danube and the family-friendly atmosphere at Jay’s, there’s no shortage of charming Alameda cafés for a 10-minute tea break. Addresses and hours:
Julie’s Coffee and Tea Garden, 1223 Park Street; 865-2385. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday (will special events to 10 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday), and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Wescafe, 1536 Webster Street; 522-7200. Open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Jay’s Coffee Teas and Treats, 1414 Encinal Avenue; 769-9030. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Blue Dot Cafe and Coffee Bar, 1910 Encinal Avenue; 523-2583. Open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Blue Danube (formerly Java Rama), 1333 Park Street; 523-2116. Open 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Stop at a Spa
It’s pretty tough for to-do lists to race around your brain when your face and head are getting a massage. That’s why facials are one of the ideal stress-busters. Plus, they leave you looking fabulous for all of your holiday parties.
Locals rave about La Princesse (901 Encinal Avenue; 865-2881), where even the name promises you’ll be treated like a princess from the moment you walk in the door. The best part is that you won’t need to sell the family jewels in order to afford it. Take a half-hour break for a $50 mini-facial and you’ll get the luxury of the salon’s signature treatment – cleansing, exfoliation, neck and shoulder massage, and a mask selected for your skin type – in an abbreviated time frame. If you can take an extra 15 to 30 minutes, go for the full royal treatment; it only costs $25 more. Call ahead the same day or the day before.
If you can spend a little more money and plan a little bit ahead, call The Wellness Center Spa (2017 Central Avenue; 337-0485) to set up an amazing aromatherapy facial ($110). An expert therapist will analyze your skin and spend at least an hour and 15 minutes calming and rejuvenating it with customized blends of natural oils that turn an already soothing facial into sheer bliss. The spa is only open on Saturdays during the holiday season, though, so be sure to make an appointment in advance or call in to see if there have been any cancellations.
There are a lot of great reasons to book a facial at The Spa at Harbor Bay (200 Packet Landing Road; 521-5416 ext. 125). Top three: sauna, steam room and whirlpool. The spa is part of the Harbor Bay Club, so when you check in for any service you are given a robe, a locker key, and carte blanche to use the aforementioned facilities at no extra charge. That means you can book a 30-minute express facial and turn it into a half-day spa retreat for a grand total of $50. It’s exactly the same as the full signature facial – including a face, neck and shoulder massage – but without any extractions. Or try the $45 NuFace® quick lift microcurrent facial; it’s a nonsurgical mini-facelift that is getting rave reviews. If you have time, get to the spa an hour early so you can relax in the steam room before your facial. It opens your pores and makes the facial even more effective. After your skin treatment, soak in the whirlpool or lie in the sauna, then savor a spa shower before you get dressed and head back to the “real world.” One last bonus: The spa offers super-inexpensive child care, so you can bring the kids along.
La Princesse: Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
The Wellness Center Spa: Open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Spa at Harbor Bay: Open 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, though facials can last later).
Get a Massage
Few things in life offer as much relief from stress as a massage, whether it’s a full-hour body rub or a 10-minute chair massage. Alameda has far too many talented independent massage therapists to list here. All of them require advance appointments. There are two places, however, where your stressed-out muscles can get relief seven days a week, with little or no advance planning.
Body Techniques (1320 Harbor Bay Parkway, Suite 104; 864-9339) is tucked away where you’d never expect to find it – in an office building across the street from the Raiders headquarters on Bay Farm Island. It’s probably one of the busiest massage studios in the East Bay, but it doesn’t feel that way because there are always plenty of available therapists, either on site or on call. It’s surprisingly affordable, too. You can enjoy a full-hour massage for the same price you’d pay at most spas for a half-hour session. Swedish massage costs $59 for an hour, $79 for 90 minutes; other techniques cost $69 for an hour, $89 for 90 minutes. They’re open Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Walk-ins are welcome.
Take care of your grocery shopping and chill out at the same time at On The Spot Massage Relaxation Station (Alameda Marketplace, 1650 Park Street). Look for the red umbrella inside Alameda Natural Grocery. Therapists with massage chairs soothe shoppers’ muscles every day except Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a simple process: Drop in, sign up, pay cash. It costs about $1 a minute, so a 10-minute massage will only cost around $10. You can even get $5 off 10- to 30-minute massages with an online coupon. Therapists list their schedules online, where repeat customers may reserve time with their favorites.
Body Techniques: Open 10 a.m to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
On The Spot Massage Relaxation Station: Open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.