Spa Journeys for Astral Travelers

What A Trip

By: - Jun 10, 2020

After steeping myself in pandemic art for my recent TB-AIDS Then, Covid-19 Now article, I knew it was time to fly away from the topic of viruses.

But where to?

Somewhere I could have my hair styled, my nails done, afternoon tea, a massage, a holistic experience, meditation, relaxation.

Of course, a spa.

But, I’ve never been a spa kinda person.

Then again, I’ve never lived through a pandemic.

Where to start? A Japanese ryokan, a Turkish hammams? a Finnish sauna? A Roman bathhouse?  An Indian Ayurvedic spa? mineral ,medicinal, Thalassotherapy,  aroma therapy,  oh my God. I had no idea there was so much to choose from.

But wait a Covid minute. I’m hunkered down at home, sheltering in place, not keen to get on a plane.

Is this even the moment to visit a place where the entire experience is about intimate interaction?

But what if there were a way to take a spa journey without putting one’s self in harm’s way?

A vicarious spa journey could keep one’s mind off social distancing. Surely, there has never been a better time to  escape reality. If I were going to travel in my escapist dreams, I better do some homework.

And that’s when I met, (through a virtual interview,)  Michah Jackson, the mastermind behind mind-travel spa experiences.

Jackson is the C.E.O. of Esqapes Immersive Relaxation, the world’s first, and so far only, VR wellness center. A graduate of UCLA’s design program, Jackson’s career path has led him from web and graphic design to game production for Disney Interactive.

 “I  guess I would classify myself as a dreamer,” Jackson told me.  “I used to say that if there is one thing I could do, whether or not I got paid for it, it would be building VR experiences.” And so he did. 

But what exactly is a virtual reality experience?

Imagine you’ve signed on to a strange kind of travel agency that gives you a drop-dead gorgeous and dead-on serious vacation of the mind.

Like magic, you’re transported to a desert, a garden, a ‘snowbank cabin’, a Moroccan resort, the middle of a thunderstorm, and all the while sitting in a massage chair.  Get the picture?

“While working on a totally unrelated project, I created a heavenly environment and found myself just sitting in it for 10-15 minutes.

It triggered the thought, ‘I wonder if other people would like this?’ said Jackson.

“ I have made fifteen location environments that provide immersive relaxation by tapping into 4 of your 5 basic senses.”

Oddly, that reminded me of “Smell-O-Vision” created by the great Michael Todd Jr. back in the ‘60s. He called it the “smell brain” where he pumped odors into the theater while the audience watched Scent of Mystery.

In a sense VR has been around for decades. Think about it. Anyone who has ever laughed or cried in a movie has to some extent experienced VR. 

But this is the first time it’s ever been used in the context of a spa environment.

All of Jackson’s fifteen worlds are a product of his fertile imagination. There is no use of video. "Each environment is 3D rendered, designed and built in the computer. Think of being inserted into an animated movie.  That’s what Esqapes are. An all-new, immersive experience that uses  VR and extra-sensory components, run by my proprietary software,” explains Jackson. "The unique software not only generates a virtual world, but while you’re in that world it turns on the sensory experience. Different scents depending on the environment one is in.'

The  headset literally tricks the brain into thinking one is on vacation – anywhere in the world.

Perhaps not exactly the vacation implants Arnold Schwarzenegger used in Total Recall, but with Covid -19 still in our lives, spas with a virtual edge could be just around the corner.

I asked if it’s possible for someone to get ‘cyber sick,’ like motion sickness. “VR in general can give someone motion sickness,” said Jackson.  “However, this is less likely if you are sitting someplace like in the Pagoda, an environment in which you’re not moving around.” I decided not to ask about mountain climbing!

When I asked him if he’d any plans to make Esqapes available for at-home use, Jackson replied that the goal for now is for more Esqapes centers.

Alas, Jackson’s VR headsets are not available to download, nor in VR app stores.

They are only available at his Esqapes location, in downtown L.A., and come with a full, non-virtual massage experience.

 For now, to have the spa escape of my dreams I still need to be in a physical space. But in the shifting world of virtual reality something tells me I won’t have to wait long.

So much for my astral journey.

I learned a lot. The Adventure was over. What a mind trip! 

Link to Esqapes.