Good Vibrations

Americans are plagued by stress—it’s an epidemic that can rack up billions of dollars in healthcare costs—but it turns out there may be a simple solution. Once the province of mystics and spiritualists, ancient resonance therapies—those that combine sound and vibrations—are achieving mainstream success as a tool to reduce stress, increase an overall sense of wellbeing, and alleviate the symptoms of more serious ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fibromyalgia. Spa furniture and equipment companies are racing to incorporate the latest technologies and market vibroacoustics to their clients, and all it takes is the proper equipment.

Sound Effects

Twenty-some years ago, neurologist Dan Cohen, M.D., and three colleagues, all experienced meditators and medical professionals, began researching ways of achieving deeper states of relaxation and meditation through sound and vibration with two main goals: serious stress reduction and greater degrees of spiritual experience. A decade later, they began to design a chair that would vibrate and produce sound uniformly. Studying the chair’s effects on a small test group, Cohen and his team found they were able to quickly move people into a more relaxed state. “It was a wonderful learning experience for us that just with synchronized sound, vibration, and magnetic fields, we could essentially counteract the stress response,” he says. And the effects were long lasting.

Cohen began selling the final product, a zero-gravity recliner, at the end of 2013, placing approximately 200 units with chiropractors, industry professionals, and consumers before a fortuitous meeting with Jeff and Michele Kohl of Spa & Club Ideations changed the trajectory of their business plan, and Jeff realized that the unit would be perfect for the spa market. Dubbed the SolTec Lounge, the chair was introduced at the International Spa Association (ISPA) Conference & Expo this year, and its distributors have big plans. “Our goal over the next 18 to 24 months is to be in 200 cities in the U.S.,” says Kohl.

According to him, the SolTec Lounge can be used pre- or post-treatment, either to begin the relaxation period before a massage, facial, or body treatment, or to extend it at the other end. It is also an ideal stand-alone relaxation and stress-reduction treatment. Prior to its debut, the SolTec Lounge was exclusive to one facility—Spa Gregorie’s (Newport Beach, CA)—but it’s already a marked success there. “We’ve positioned the chair in a very private area of the spa where guests can immerse themselves in the experience, using headphones, a comfy blanket, aromatherapy, and chromatherapy,” says principal Angela Cortright. Time in the lounge is available as a pre-treatment add-on to any service at the spa ($25, 30 minutes; $45, 60 minutes), and management has found that guests who opt in see better results. “The deep relaxation that the chair provides allows clients to benefit more from their other booked services,” says Cortright. “Nearly every guest so far has stated that they enjoyed the experience, felt more relaxed, and would recommend it to a friend.”

Also debuting at ISPA this year was Touch-America’s collaboration with So Sound on a vibroacoustic enhancement for its zero-gravity Breath Pedi-Lounge. “This lounger has a center pivot point, and the movement of your diaphragm allows the chair to rock back and forth subtly with your breath,” says Hart Griffith-Zill, business development director at TouchAmerica. The So Sound Vibrational Healing package is a retrofit add-on that places acoustic resonators called So SoundHearts on the chair. “Feeling the sound and music resonate through the body provides a deep feeling of relaxation, sensory integration, and body-mind harmonization,” says Suzannah Long, cofounder and CEO of So Sound Solutions. “While listening to music through your ears provides one level of experience, simultaneously feeling the music takes it to a whole new dimension emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.” Griffith-Zill agrees. “This is powerful technology, and it provides amazing comfort,” he says. “So SoundHearts have often been put onto massage tables or put onto stationary products that don’t move with you, so we could see that it would create an experience that would be very unique, with the rocking and the free motion of the Breath lounge along with the vibrations and the music. It almost makes you feel like you’re suspended.”

The upgraded product is equally at home in public areas and specialized treatment rooms. “It’s a great relaxation-room lounger,” says Griffith-Zill, who visualizes alternating multiple chairs with side tables for beverages. “You’d have a single acoustic resonance track that would play simultaneously through all the loungers, and people would be able to come and go, or you could charge per hour. It could also be used in a salt room, or you could incorporate aromatherapy,” he says. Long sees the chairs as “a stand-alone unassisted revenue opportunity for guests to use on a consistent basis as a way to simply let go, relax, reduce stress, rejuvenate, enhance creativity and productivity, and support a deep sense of inner coherence or harmony.” They can also be used before or after services to maximize the guest experience or to enhance other therapies, such as reflexology, pedicures, and massage. “As someone listens with their whole body and is quickly moved into their natural relaxation response, they are more receptive to other treatments,” she says.

Sonic Boom

Market newbies aren’t the only ones experimenting with sound and vibration—other companies have recognized the niche for some time. Living Earth Crafts began incorporating vibroacoustics into its line with So Sound equipment about nine years ago, and the two have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship ever since. In fact, So Sound technology is standard on Living Earth Crafts’s Nuage Vector +Studio, and it can be added to the Nuage, Pro Salon, Wave Lounger, and Glow Lounger. “The So Sound system can simulate a heartbeat or a pattern, and adding a speaker or pumping music into a table or piece of furniture gives you a whole different stimuli. It’s auditory, but more than auditory, it’s emotional,” says Brian Paris, vice president of sales for Earthlite and Living Earth Crafts. “It’s the same concept as the Tibetan bowl or bells. Sound waves bring a vibrational movement to your body to put you in a rhythm.” With this resonance system, an esthetician can control the rhythm of the guest’s experience, dialing the intensity up or back down and changing pace as required, often taking cues from the guests themselves. “Therapists learn modalities, but they’re used in combination with feedback—verbal and nonverbal—from the client,” says Paris. “The energy the guest emits allows a therapist to tailor his or her work to that individual.”

Personal Experience

That client feedback is a key to Living Earth Crafts’ operational philosophy. The brand champions the personal over the pre-programmed, encouraging  guests to provide their own music during treatments and piping individual playlists through loungers or tables via Bluetooth. “My preaching is to use the sound that works for the client, and go with it,” says Paris. “You can pace your massage differently, you can do different intensities, you can listen to what someone chooses in music, and you can follow that in your massage style.”

Living Earth Crafts has found that vibroacoustic therapies connect with guests, and the company is betting big on the technology’s power. All future products will incorporate either sound or vibration and some will incorporate both, says Paris. It has also been collaborating with Klipsch for the last year to incorporate the audio giant’s speaker systems into furniture, aiming to launch new products in early 2017. Its Zenvi cushion, a face pillow with an iPod hookup, can go on just about anything Living Earth Crafts offers, including portables, massage tables, and esthetic chairs. “With the Zenvi, you really truly get to personalize the experience,” says Paris. “It’s a wonderful, affordable way to create a personal, emotional experience.”

The Zenvi was critical in the design of the Fusion Chair, a massage chair created specifically for Marriott’s Spa by JW concept, says Kenneth Ryan, vice president of global spa operations for Marriott International. Equipped with the sound-enabled Zenvi, as well as a screen visible through the face cradle that plays unobtrusive nature videos, radiant heat through the chest and knee pads, chromotherapy lighting, aromatherapy, and a flap that folds over the head for a cocoon-like atmosphere, the Fusion is a requirement in the brand’s new express treatment spaces, a luxury version of the quickie services offered in airports or shopping malls around the world. “When we designed this chair, we wanted to recreate the full experience you’d get in our luxurious spa treatment rooms, so we tried to incorporate all of those elements into the chair. The Zenvi cushion was key to encompassing that environment,” Ryan says. After the first spa launched in Mumbai, express treatments with the Fusion chair soon accounted for 20 percent of the total revenue, he says, adding, “We’re having huge success with it and seeing that immediate appeal to the customer.”

Indulgence-loving spa-goers will also enjoy the Amphibia Spa.Wave from Gharieni. It’s as luxe as one would expect—even without the Swarovski-crystal upgrade. Less than 100 of these tables are in circulation worldwide, and all feature the brand’s Spa.Wave system, which uses binaural acoustic and vibrational stimulation for brain entrainment, syncing audio frequencies to the body’s internal organs and chakras to reduce anger, depression, mood fluctuations, and psychological aspects of pain. First invented to treat U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq with PTSD, Gharieni’s technology has since evolved to help a wider population address sleep problems and burnout, among other issues. “For years now, many of our spa tables have had the option of including motors that provide wave effects and beats in the upholstery, a subwoofer below the surface for oscillations, and high-tone speakers at the headrest for a surround-sound effect,” says Andreas Blum, head of the company’s psammotherapy division. “Now we go one step further. The Amphibia sends vibroacoustic waves through the chair’s water cushions via transducers—water is the great transporter for these waves.”

Blum suggests the Amphibia Spa.Wave as a stand-alone application, but the table can also be used for face and body treatments when the Spa.Wave function is offline. Blum, who is responsible for the company’s treatment concepts, doesn’t advise clients to book concurrent therapies, however. “You need to let it work,” he says. The Amphibia is perfect “for those who would like to achieve more,” says Blum, and guests at facilities like The Spa at Turnberry Isle Miami are doing just that, thanks to services ranging from short programs ($50, 24 minutes) devoted to achieving peace of mind or to stop smoking to more involved treatments like the Hypnotic Facial ($179, 50 minutes), a classic, customized European facial.

A Word of Caution

While it is suitable for almost all clients, vibro-acoustic-enabled furniture can have contraindications. Guests with pacemakers should avoid magnetized chairs, and resonance should be kept at a low level for pregnant women. As always, a doctor should be consulted about any health conditions that may be of concern. Also, learning to use the technology may require a bit of patience. “Our normal tendency is to try to figure everything out, to want to understand it, and it takes some time before you can forget about what’s happening and just enjoy what’s going on,” says Kohl. But for tenacious clients, achieving inner peace may only be a session or two away. “Everything in the known universe is vibration, resonating at varying frequencies, and in today’s high-tech world, with all the chaotic frequencies transmitted through cell towers, phones, and computers, we need environments that remind us how to simply let go, relax, and restore our natural state of harmony,” says Long. “Energy medicine is the wave of the future.”

A Ringing Endorsement

For those not yet ready to invest in a tricked-out treatment table or acoustic chair, there are vibrational bowls, also known as singing bowls, that can be used to center the mind and help relieve tension in both the body and mind. “Singing bowls are a great alternative for spas, because they are an easy way to introduce sound therapy,” says Christine Hays, chief energy officer at Eastern Vibration. “They are easy to transport and store, and they do not require a big investment or purchase of large equipment.”—Heather Mikesell

Testing the Waters

Some companies are opting to dip just a toe in the vibroacoustic pond, experimenting with pedicure chairs that feature sound techniques. Michele Pelafas, Inc. is in the early stages of development on a prototype for a sound-enabled chair, while Living Earth Crafts plans to launch pedicure chairs with personalized sound systems by early 2017. According to Brian Paris, vice president of sales for Living Earth Crafts, each chair will feature headphones, because guests are usually in a room with other people during the service.—M.S.

Music and Lyrics

There’s some debate over which form of aural stimulation is most effective: recognizable music or abstract tones. For Dan Cohen, inventor of the SolTec Lounge, it’s abstract all the way. “The music we’ve created has a lot of layering to it, so it’s not the kind of thing you can follow,” he says. “It took us a long time to figure out that that was the best stimulus, because we don’t want you to pay attention to it, but we do want the music to get in your ears and to your brain. When the brain gets relatively monotonous stimulation, it inhibits the auditory and somatosensory cortices, so the brain’s apparatus for trying to detect threats is now gone.” With this lounger, it’s not like you’re hearing songs, says SolTec distributor Jeff Kohl. “It leaves you in a place where you can let go. In some ways, it’s probably better spa music than the spa music that’s in many facilities. You could use your own music, but there’s not a reason to.”

Not so fast, says Living Earth Crafts’s Brian Paris. “We’re very much behind the emotional state of massage, and my personal feeling is that music brings that emotion out,” he says. “You can choose to be in a blues mood, you can choose to be sad, you can choose to be happy. Rather than have it prescribed for you, you can choose to be in whatever space you want.” So a melodic, airy, and fun tune could make a massage feel lighter, and deeper music might result in a slower, more intense experience. Paris’s favorite treatment soundtrack evokes his early ‘70s childhood, and his wife’s go-to playlist is from the birth of their first son, while a buddy always picks classic rock. “In a spa, we customize the massage, the oils, the aromas, and sometimes even the lighting. Why would we stop there?” he asks. “Sound, both acoustic and resonant, are amazingly strong senses. To allow a guest to be transported to a time, a moment, or even a feeling is allowing them to find their perfect space to experience the moment and take it all in.”—M.S.

The Sound of Spa

Massage therapists and estheticians can help clients reduce chronic pain, stress, and fatigue with this spa furniture featuring sound and vibrational therapy.—Darby Radcliff

1. Body Balance System Portable Massage Table: Featuring vibroacoustic therapy, this lightweight table showers the body with sound waves and soothing music.

2. Bradford Heated Serene Lounger: Featuring an internal radiating heat system, this lounger has a hidden transducer audio system that resonates sound throughout the body of the lounger.

3. Continuum Pedicure Spas Maestro: This pedicure chair features six oscillating motors and a vibration function with heat embedded into the seat back.

4. Earthlite Zenvi Sound Table: Offer the soothing effects of high-fidelity sound vibrations with this portable massage table designed with a convenient sound cushion.

5. Elysium 4 Senses Lounger: This multisensory relaxation bed features a warm and softly vibrating surface with traditional Chinese medicine-based sounds.

6. Gharieni Spa.Wave System: This system offers music featuring precise audio frequencies matched to the organs and energy centers of the body.

7. HydroMassage Relaxation Lounge: This water massage chair includes a smooth-wave, full-body jet system and a customizable LED-panel lighting package.

8. J&A Cleo DaySpa Pedicure Chair: This ergonomically designed chair is equipped with Relaxor vibration massage with soothing heat.

9. Lexor Envision Bench: This pedicure chair features Tru-Touch Massage, which combines three different motors and offers pressure-point control, kneading, tapping, and vibration.

10. Living Earth Crafts Nuage: This massage table is designed with proprietary Electra-Glide lift actuators, ergonomic hand and foot controls, and provides the SO SoundHearts Acoustic Resonance Therapy system.

11. So Sound The Adagio Lounger: This minimalist recliner offers a profound acoustic resonance experience enhanced by a specially designed foam gel and visco/memory foam pad for comfort and acoustic benefits.

12. Sybaritic Spa Oceana 2G: This capsule is equipped with a 150-watt waterproof speaker with 10 pre-set treatment programs of different temperature, vibration, and shower variations.