The ancient healing modality of Ayurveda gets a modern-day glow up at Surya Spa in the Santa Monica Proper Hotel. Here, in one of Los Angeles' most buzzed about properties, thousand-year-old treatments take place in a gorgeous space designed by Kelly Wearstler, the reigning queen of West Coast interior design.
Upon entering, spa-goers are enveloped in a warm, earthy hug, thanks to glistening, henna-hued Zellige square tiles that cover the floor and travel up the undulating walls. A jewel box full of treasures, the entrance houses countless potted plants and jars of oils, lotions and potions — many of which are created (or “cooked”) by Surya staff and used in treatments.
But before a treatment begins, clients are taken to a communal waiting room, where they are offered tea and a snack — and given their first taste of Ayurveda. Surya’s Balancing Digestive Tea, a blend of cumin, coriander and fennel, provides a grounding earthiness that pairs well with the spa’s famous almond-flour bread, which is served heated and topped with ghee (clarified butter).
The waiting room is also a visual feast: Some walls are covered in paneled wood, while others are covered in the kind of patterned textiles you would pick up at an Indian tailor for a custom-made kurta (a pajama-like top).
The spa transported me back to my own memories of picking out fabrics and watching healers pound herbs for Ayurvedic treatments on a trip to India several years ago. That trip was largely driven by my interest in yoga and Ayurveda, which took me to Ananda in the Himalayas, an Oprah-approved wellness retreat outside of Rishikesh that is rooted in Ayurvedic practices, meditation and yoga.
Accessing Ayurveda in the U.S. is a luxury in every sense of the word. Among the spa’s biggest fans are actress and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow and reality star Kourtney Kardashian, who most recently chronicled her multiday series of fertility-related Surya treatments with musician husband Travis Barker (called a Couples Panchakarma Program, it starts at $1,590) on her family’s television show, “The Kardashians.”
Kardashian and Paltrow — who famously introduced her Goop readers to yoni steams, which are offered at Surya for $175 per session — are longtime followers of the spa’s hands-on founder, Martha Soffer, considered by many to be one of the top Ayurvedic herbalists and doctors in the U.S.
Visiting Surya offers a glimpse into how Soffer has achieved her cult-like following: She adapts the ancient modality to modern Western sensibilities, making Ayurveda approachable, luxurious, bespoke and results-driven.
While the experience of going to Surya differs from that of a traditional hotel spa (there are no blow-outs or Botox-like facials on offer here), the signature treatments do a great job of tackling the kinds of ailments many travelers are seeking to relieve.
Signature Treatments at Surya Spa
On most wellness travelers’ bucket list is the four-handed Abhyanga massage, and it’s not hard to understand why four hands are so much better than two. Folks who are looking to achieve deep relaxation and have had their share of forgettable Swedish massages will love this treatment — and will be wowed by the amount of oil used during the course of an hour.
Sesame oil is cooked with herbs the night before treatments and customized to the client’s dosha (or individual constitution). Two full bottles (the kind that are usually filled with condiments at a diner) of heated oil were used on my 5-foot, 5-inch frame, all in the name of calming my nervous system and restoring my skin’s glow.
For folks who prefer deep tissue massage, Surya’s alternative is called Vishesh and, if booked for 90 minutes, can be coupled with Abhyanga to warm up the nervous system.
Both treatments are perfectly complemented by Shirodara, where oil is gently streamed over your third eye chakra (located in the middle of your forehead) for about 30 minutes. I have always been curious about the allure of this treatment and was shocked to find out how deeply relaxing it is, like floating in a warm pool. One of my therapists, Pam, told me “Receive breath, rather than take it in,” and soon after, I heard myself let out a little snore. (To be clear, I don't usually snore.)
Of course, guests can also opt for an in-depth wellness retreat, "Kravis" style, with a three- to 21-day Panchakarma or Couples Panchakarma. Packages can be easily customized to include three meals a day at Surya — featuring traditional Ayurvedic foods such as mung bean dahl and kitchari (a grains and legume soup) — and sound baths, yoga and meditation sessions. Surya also offers an Ayurvedic consultation with Soffer; an Ayurvedic Birth Preparation treatment; and much more.