My Spa Experience
Why Dead Sea Mud is Better Than Walking On Water
A few years ago, I was walking on water in Israel, when I had what seemed like a powerful — and badly needed — revelation about healing. Earlier that day, as part of a press tour of luxury spas in the Holy Land, our group had taken a side trip to the legendary mountaintop fortress at Masada. I was feeling claustrophobic from the bus ride, so I decided to run up the old trail to the fortress rather than ride up in the gondola. It was 1,300 vertical feet, and I didn’t stop to get a hat or water bottle. I just charged upward, leaping from rock to rock in the desert sun. Along the way I noticed that I’d stopped sweating. What I didn’t notice was the damage I was doing to my right knee. I got to the top feeling triumphant, sat down, and could barely get up again. I hobbled through the tour of the fortress, rode the gondola back to the bus, and we drove to the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Dead Sea Spa.
I felt exhausted and hurt and exceedingly stupid. But I knew that people had been coming to the Dead Sea for healing since Biblical times, so I pulled on my bathing suit and limped across the white, salt-crystal beach into the water. I kept walking, straight out, and pretty soon I no longer felt the salt crystals underfoot. That’s when I realized two marvelous things: I was walking on water (albeit chest deep) and my knee had stopped hurting.
To walk on the fresh water of the nearby Sea of Galilee takes a miracle, but here the salt is so thick that anyone can do it. I jogged and danced, pain-free, feeling as if I myself had walked into a Biblical healing story. But then I walked back out, hit the beach, and realized that my knee still hurt like hell. So much for that.
An hour or so later, I was lying on a large sheet of plastic in a small room in the hotel spa, while a powerful Russian woman slathered my body with hot mud. Once I was completely basted, she wrapped the plastic as well several layers of heavy blankets around me, so that the only things capable of movement were my thoughts — which went something like this: I should feel exceedingly grateful for this press trip. Spectacular places, remarkable food, exotic treatments — and all of it gratis! But maybe I should feel guilty. I’m a journalist. How can I objectively evaluate these often wildly expensive experiences that I haven’t paid for?
Here I was wrapped for free in hot mud prized by Roman emperors, and I was estimating how much money I would gladly pay someone to please get me out of there.
Mostly I was feeling a sense of irony. Here I was wrapped for free in hot mud that had been prized by Roman emperors, and I was estimating how much money I would gladly pay someone to please get me out of there.
After I had been unwrapped and unceremoniously hosed off by the Russian woman, I headed up the marble stairs, relieved that it was over. Then I abruptly stopped. I shook my leg tentatively. I hopped gently. Then I leaped upward. “Oh my God!” I said aloud. My knee was healed! I suddenly and viscerally understood why ancient baths and spas were regarded as sacred places for healing. I also understood how the spa industry developed from those sacred spaces. In fact, I found myself in the gift shop stocking up on local skin creams and wishing I could bring home enough Dead Sea mud to fill a hot tub.