Manhattan's bustling times square is perhaps the last place one would imagine finding a haven of serenity and meditation. However, it is there that mind-body physician and best-selling author Deepak Chopra, M.D., has opened his new Chopra Center & Spa inside the posh Dream hotel. The center will integrate Chopra's singular vision of mind-body consciousness as well as the 5,000-year-old principles of Ayurveda into spa treatments designed to soothe the spirits of stressed-out New Yorkers and frazzled tourists. Already, many of them are heeding the call.
This new 7,500-square-foot facility offers guests customized spa services, daily meditation and yoga classes, and even mind-body lecture sessions, all of which incorporate aspects of Ayurveda. The center is modeled after the widely popular Chopra Center for Wellbeing (Pasadena, CA) and is a collaboration between Dream hotel owner Vikram Chatwal, Chopra, and David Simon, M.D., co-founder and medical director of the original location. Together, Chopra and Simon are the authors of multiple best-selling books and are two of the nation's foremost authorities on the effective use of holistic health-care practices. "I think New Yorkers need this," explains Chopra. "For more than a decade, the Chopra Center in Southern California has touched the lives of our clientele, and they have been asking us for years when we were coming to the East coast."
Signature Chopra hand and foot treatments are performed in the manicure and pedicure room.
To ensure that Chopra's vision for the Chopra Center was realized, Chatwal enlisted the services of spa consultant and designer Alexis Ufland, who hired the staff, designed the spa, and had a hand in developing some of the treatments. The team Ufland assembled was chosen for its considerable knowledge of Ayurvedic principles and was trained for several months by Simon and key members of the Chopra staff from California. They were schooled on analyzing doshas, also known as the mind-body constitution; essential oils and the extensive Chopra Center product lines; and new massage techniques. "I have never been part of teaching therapists their trade from the ground floor," says spa director Kerry Williams. "The massages we practice are very cooperative and involved; the movements are choreographed like a dance."
Overlooking the spa's retail area is a 20-foot-high fresco painting of a Buddha.
With 17 full-time estheticians and massage therapists, the center can facilitate 30 to 35 treatments per day. However, the goal is to give specialized attention. Through their training and the initial guest questionnaire, the Chopra Center staff is able to prescribe just the right blend of Ayurvedic oils to stimulate and balance clients' doshas. For example, guests with an intense, fiery makeup, also known as pitta, may be prescribed a blend of herbs and oils to balance their often-sensitive skin and relax their minds. Kapha clients, with their nurturing character and larger-boned body composition, sometimes need spicier oils and products to give their bodies a jump-start. Creative, enthusiastic, and lively vata clients with thinner, lighter body types, meanwhile, may need calming oils to settle their sometimes-anxious bodies and spirits.
All of the areas at the spa, including the men's locker room, were constructed with easy-to-clean materials to accommodate the use of Ayurvedic oils in many of the treatments.
Along with a number of standard spa services, the spa menu offers several distinctive treatments incorporating dosha-balancing oils and the center's extensive line of private label products. One of the most popular massages, the Abhyanga Synchronized Treatment ($395, 70 minutes), features herb-infused oil poured over the entire body while two therapists perform a coordinated, gentle massage. For guests looking for detoxification, the Srota Clearing Treatment ($95, 35 minutes) is an herbal steam treatment that helps mobilize ama, or toxicity, in the body. It opens the channels of srotas (circulation), allowing impurities to be eliminated. The private label spa products used inside the Chopra Center & Spa are available for purchase on the ground floor boutique. The retail area is perfectly poised to welcome pedestrian traffic and showcase the extensive line of proprietary products that includes books, music, skincare items, supplements, yoga gear, videos, and more. "We're brand new, but I'm hoping in time the retail area will stand on its own and be driven by special packages, new products, and especially gift certificates," says Williams.
The center offers a variety of yoga and meditation classes.
During the planning of the Chopra Center, Ufland worked with architect Greg Colston to tackle the spa's biggest design obstacle: much of the available space is located below ground. "Greg really listened and added his own flair, and the result was perfect," says Ufland. "The height of the retail boutique on the first floor is almost twenty feet. By using the entire twenty feet for a hand-painted Buddha fresco, we were able to create the illusion that the space is even larger. Also, when descending the flight of steps to the spa, the combination of color, lighting, and glass we incorporated makes the space feel open and airy. I love the curved walls and the circular relaxation area. The flow is smooth and even, so guests never feel claustrophobic."
There were other specific challenges in designing an Ayurveda-based spa, which generally requires more space, specialized equipment, and the ability to deal with messier treatments that incorporate a great deal of oil. While designing the treatment rooms, Ufland and her team took these aspects into consideration. "In every spa we create, we have a signature millwork design called the 'Working Cabinet' that masks the not-so-pretty stuff and makes it easy for the therapists to have all of their tools, equipment, and products organized," says Ufland. "We prefer that the clients never see the tools or spa products the therapist uses—not only does it take away from the design of the room, but we feel it takes away from the service."
In one of the Udi Rooms, clients can participate alone or as a couple in the Udi ($85, 60 minutes), an exfoliating, hydrating treatment.
To address the oil issue, the treatment room walls needed to look appealing but also be properly finished and constructed with materials that could easily be sprayed down and cleaned each night. "I think a huge turn-off is to go to a spa that feels or looks unhygienic, and oily fingerprints scream 'unhygienic,'" says Ufland. "I always like clients to enter the treatment room, close their eyes, and have this wonderful treatment and then open their eyes, and wonder 'How did that happen?'"
Other small touches within the center encourage guests to slow their pace, such as the noticeable creep of the elevator into the spa from the Dream's lobby. "The loud noises, and hectic pace that New Yorkers experience on a daily basis create significant amounts of stress that can be detrimental to our clients' health," says Williams. "The minute a guest walks through the door, we want to eliminate stress. The smells, colors, music, and especially our spa treatments are designed with a single purpose: to quiet the mind."
Chopra Center & Spa
In the future, Chatwal hopes to expand the Dream hotel into many different locations around the world, with the Chopra Center & Spa as an integral part of all of them. Says Williams, "We want to do everything right with the center in New York and make it succeed; then we foresee being able to bring the Chopra Center & Spa at Dream to Bangkok, Chicago, Miami, and many other markets."