04/10/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Five Things You Find Out When You Go to a Spa

Some people go to spas all the time. Other people wouldn't be caught dead inside one. Whichever camp you fall into -- or if you fall somewhere in between -- here are some things I learned from my recent trip to the Lodge at Woodloch. I hope you'll agree that they're worth sharing, whether you ever go to a spa or not.

# 1: If you cut your normal portions of food in half -- or even by 2/3 -- it's possible to feel full and not go hungry.

I admit, when I would sit down to dinner, I'd be afraid I wouldn't feel full afterwards. But by the time the miniature dessert was served, I was satisfied and didn't feel hungry again until breakfast -- which was, fortunately, a buffet. With bacon. Still, I found myself eating much less than usual. Perhaps because there was nothing made with white flour in sight, that burning hunger sensation never made an appearance.

# 2: You can't change your whole life in three days, but you can press the reset button.

People don't just go to spas to lose weight. Frankly, you're not going to lose much in three days, anyway. Spas are filled with all different types and sizes of people looking for different things. Some for dieting advice, some for exercise, some for stress relief. This time there were actually quite a few pregnant couples enjoying their last moments of freedom. As for me, I was looking for rest and recovery from a stressful time. And I found it. I found it is possible to let go of the past and create a new future -- but when you get back to the post-spa real world, you still have to make that happen for yourself.

# 3: In the quiet isolation of a spa, the greatest luxury is reconnecting with your inner self.

There are other ways to do this too -- finding time in nature, traveling to new places -- but I have found that for intense reconnecting with myself and my purpose, there is no better place than a spa. In the quiet, peaceful, stress-free spa world, I can focus on the little voice inside of me. Without daily interruptions, I can think far into my future and visualize where I want to go and what I need to do. For me, that's priceless.

# 4: Never open up your eyes underwater in the pool.

I was so proud of the fact that I swam 30 laps in the beautiful indoor pool. It felt so good! I didn't bring goggles, and I usually don't wear them anyway. But by lunchtime, the world was all in soft focus. By dinner, the world was still in soft focus, and I was beginning to imagine myself living a life of blindness. It was scary. I realized just how much visual stimuli are important to me on so many levels. Fortunately, a good night's sleep (12 hours!) restored my sight. But I thought you should know.

# 5: While massages and other bodywork might seem like pampering, they are important ways to learn about your body and prevent (or heal) pain.

Having someone else untangle the stress from your muscles can give you important insight into where you are holding on to your stress, so during stressful times, you can remind yourself to relax or stretch those areas. I have also had massages that unlock tightness that had been causing persistent pain. For me, a massage isn't just a feel-good, fun-time experience; it's like having a thorough checkup that actually leaves you feeling better when you're done. And your only prescription is knowledge, understanding your body more.

Well, I'm back from the spa now, and back at work, trying to keep my portions small and to stay focused. Now that I'm 48, I can't fool around too much anymore with procrastination about my health! Whether you ever go to a spa or not, I hope you can benefit from my tips.

Oh, and here's one more: Spa music is nice, but it can get grating after a while. Here are my recommendations for a spa soundtrack of your own -- these are what I listened to while I was there last time:

Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago. Dreamy, sweet acoustic songs that are very relaxing.

The Antlers: Hospice. This record is perfect for anyone who has just had someone die of cancer. You can enjoy it without having had that experience, of course. But I found the music captures the mixed emotions in an extremely quiet way, so that you don't even realize what it's about the first few times, it just sounds nice.

Sigur Ros: Takk... or ( ). An Icelandic band that really captures the dreamy magic of Iceland -- which is, actually, a whole country that feels like a spa -- except for all the nighttime drinking.


For more from Maria Rodale, go to