Sampling Self-Care Southern California Style


From Massage Magazine March 2014

By Mia Miller, LMT

I am often in awe of how both built and natural environments stretch our sense of what’s enjoyable, desirable and possible. Whether you’re suiting up for a winter run in below freezing temperatures, packing up swim gear to hit the gym after a long day of work or perhaps you’re disciplined enough to do some restorative yoga at home alone in the wee hours of morning before the day kicks off, we are incredibly adaptable creatures when we allow the places around us to suggest and shape our routines of self-care.

I have found two different distinct, new ways to be take care of myself since my move West: long hikes and regular trips to the Korean day spa.

The Walk

I am a relatively recent transplant to the West Coast, having spent 11 years in Brooklyn prior to my move to Los Angeles in the spring of 2009. The predictable 70 degree temps were a direct invitation to get outside and stay there. My new home was in the foothills against a wall of mountains known as the San Gabriel range, unique to the area as it runs East to West and enjoys various climatic influences. Los Angeles County hosts high dessert, coastal, moutainous and inland valley topography providing great odds for outdoor wandering, as nine times out of ten you’ll be in dry conditions with pleasing, moderate temperatures. Southern California really is a unique place to explore hills, valleys, beaches and desserts on foot most days of the year.

california beach - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register MarkPast my initial anxiety, I eventually got my bags packed and headed out to find a trail about 15 mins from my house and began my first hike. Right at the start, I saw a sign that announced “rattlesnakes are a vital part of the ecosystem, don’t disturb” and I knew for sure I was on freshh ground and off for a different kind of walk than I was used to. My hike in the San Gabriels was distinct from former walks on busy city streets, where everyone and everything can mingle. In this setting, I was able to sense and commune with non-human existence and open space, possibly discover new life in the dirt and brush.

In case the effects of a slightly challenging hike are easy to overlook, let’s review a few physical benefits here. When walking, we nourish our tissues with fresh oxygen and improve the flow of synovial fluids for joint health and lymphatic fluid for smoother, more effecient “plumbing.” While hiking here, you hit inclines, some steady, some extreme, thus building stamina, increasing pulmonary and circulatory functions and building bone mass with each step. Back and forth along switchbacks at a nice clip, we have the opportunity to witness a literal widening perspective which always seems fresh when we look. We relax the nervous system promoting a nice calm, even while we are exerting ourselves, a very stabilizing combination of effects, I think.

Its been a few years since this intial sojourn and I have since ventured deeper into the Angeles National Forest for longer hikes, as well as places that required a little more planning and gas in the tank. While driving can be aumtomated and disembodied, once you hit that trail, the contrast is quite acute and the body gains in appreciation with each dusty push off. It’s the promise of adventure, new terrain and intimacy with it, that really eases the mind and settles the misfires and chatter inside.

Day Spa

A second ritual of self-care I have discovered for mind/body restoration takes me indoors in Los Angeles. A contrast from trails at 5,000 feet, day spa’s are environments in which to unwind and commune with the elements in a more passive fashion, often in a basement of a big office building. Searching Yelp, you’ll find more than 6,000 hits for day spa’s in Los Angeles. I am eager to share my impressions of Korean Day Spa’s in Koreatown, a neighborhood adjacent to downtown. Some are small and for women only, while others are very spacious and filled with families. Others have co-ed saunas with heated jade floors and a communal nap zone with separate gender specific spaces in which to enjoy contrast bathing and unrobing to steam. The locations I’ve visited are all peaceful, clean, centered on client comfort and incredibly affordable, many with a fee of only $15 for use of the facilities.

Many folks expereince a spa environment for the first time when they are on vacation and decide to splurge on a body wrap or a high priced package deal. Logistically, what I appreciate most about these bi-monthly Korean day spa excursions is you are able to design the day for yourself, but not from that organized sort of place. It’s much more casual and free form. You can pack your own supplies, such as a dry brush, home made body scrub and your own clay mask, possibly a bag of goodies you rarely make time to use at home and settle in for a few hours to experience the elements in a less controlled manner. At the spa, you peruse more, feeling how long to stay in each place. While there is no exact protocol you have to follow, there are suggestions for how to use the facilities and your safety in extreme temperatures is obviously important to pay attention to, so know limitations and listen to your body, the point of the day anyway! Drink lots of water throughout as well.

Choice activites and effects:

  • Dry sauna to open my pores, 5 to 10 mins at a time with a cool downs in normal temperatures in between. Some places have heated jade floors with mats where you can rest and gently stretch out. Some folks sleep here for quite a while if they are staying for a long time. I’ve also been to a place that has a separate quiet room to nap in and be cool, quiet and still.
  • After several rounds of saunas, (salt said to be good for skin conditions, jade for muscle tension, cerebral temp, arthritis and stress, and clay for heavy metal detoxification) I make my way to the steam room. The steam room really warms and loosens the connective tissue and allows for that full body, deep abdominal breathing. Often, eucalytptus oil is factored in and further opens the thorax.
  • Contrast bathing, going back and forth between a hot whirpool and a super cold pool, is likely my favorite part of the day. Begin with heat and end with cold. In your birthday suit, you walk slowly down the steps into the hot tub. After a bit, you just naturally get up and hop in the cold pool, maybe you attempt to dip in and hang there for 3 to 5 mins but you start craving the warm waters again so you hop out. Great to hang in each for several minutes and rest on the side as needed. The greater the difference in temperature, the larger the effects on local tissue as they are strengthening your vascular system with each entry, leading to greater blood flow and nutrition to your tissues.
  • Remember that bag of special beauty items you packed? This is the time to use it. After you’ve hopped out of the cold pool for the last time and possibly taken a little siesta, read a little, maybe write a letter or some ideas down (you can get very lucid and inspired while here) it’s time to set up at a little station with a stool, mirror, shower and bowl for rinsing. I love these little areas as you’ll often see a little girl gettting her hair washed by her mom or an older lady getting a back scrub from a friend and they are chatting away, appearing timeless and free. While washing my hair or brushing my skin, I have visual proof that I am taking time to myself to be good to my skin and body. It’s a great way to end the day at the spa.
  • Somewhere in the mix, I will treat myself to a nice vegetarian meal as there is often a cafe with delicious Korean fair.

Heading out, again often paying $15 for my time, I hit the warm air and smile. My drive home is so relaxed and peaceful and whatever comes next is laced with pure joy and contentment.

There are no lack of spas in many towns and the big, bad U.S.A. has tons of trails and places to wander around outside. I am thrilled to incorporate these activities into my life as I call the West Coast home. I often encourage clients and friends to explore these options and they are always happy they did. As we care for others in a very tactile, physical way through bodywork, we too can learn to dial it back and take in the built and natural atmosphere and it’s affordable little gems. I invite you to check out what’s around you and be well. The world is waiting for you to check it out!

Mia Miller is a specialist in oncology massage and runs her private practice, Somatic Space, in Los Angeles, Calif. She is a passionate proponent of integrative medicine and a therapist at City of Hope and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Visit her website:

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