Health & Grooming: Sweet Surrender

“It’s okay to surrender,” says spa director Barbara Schultz, as she tucks a chenille blanket around me. I have spent the past two hours cocooned inside the Montage Resort and Spa in Laguna Beach, Calif., sitting naked in hot steam, dipping into ice-cold water, resting under mounds of blankets, and then repeating the process a second, and a third, time. If military regiments could find such bliss in their surrenders, the world would no doubt be a more peaceful place.

Montage’s four-day Surrender retreat is not designed to defeat you; it is intended to heal on a most personal level. Schultz, a longtime fitness expert, came up with the idea five years ago over dinner. “I’ve always found ordering from a menu confusing,” she explains. “You may not be familiar with the ingredients, the preparation, or what’s best for your body. The same is true with spas. Everyone has different needs, and most spa-goers have no idea what treatments are best for them.” Her concept, therefore, is about designing individualized healing experiences for clients based on what is going on in their lives and with their bodies.


The program begins prior to your visit with an in-depth telephone interview assessing physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Questions range from how you feel about your body, food, and aging to your medical history and spiritual beliefs.

Upon arrival, you are immediately guided through the Art of Spa, a program intended to teach the proper way to steam and cool the body for maximum health benefits. However, says Schultz, it also serves the purpose of helping guests to “relax and get out of their heads.”

Following my Art of Spa introduction, I undergo a two-hour aroma-balancing therapy, or “body reading,” with Michelle, my personal spa therapist for the duration of my stay. Using essential oils and various massage techniques, including abdominal and reflexology, she detects a sluggish liver and digestive system, as well as residual muscular trauma (from a car accident when I was 19).

From this body reading, Michelle plans my surrender. I am to start my day with an early-morning beach walk (both on sand and in waist-deep water) to raise my heart rate. Daily candlelight meditation and yoga are prescribed to calm me and keep me “in the moment.” She also recommends an additional Art of Spa session combined with hot-and-cold treatments to combat fatigue and improve my circulation and metabolism. Among these treatments is the spa’s signature Laguna Beach Kur, which consists of a warm mustard- seed soak followed by a wrap in sheets that have been dipped in ice water—a detoxification therapy first practiced in the 1700s in Italy.

Over lunch on my final day, I learn that while I have been detoxifying and chanting “om,” a fellow participant has been sprinting up and down steps, then undergoing pampering massages—therapy for the recent loss of her spouse. Another visitor, recently diagnosed with cancer, is complementing his oncology treatments with a Surrender program.

“There is no cookie-cutter approach,” says Schultz. “Surrender is about personal transformation, healing—inward and outward—and moving to the next level of wellness. Every Surrender is different.”


Montage Resort and Spa



More Destinations