Taking care of yourself is something not to be neglected. After one too many hours in front of my laptop and long work days, I’m ready for some serious ‘me time’. I recently discovered the Miraj Hammam Spa on South Granville in Vancouver. This secret little gem has been open since 2000 – I’ve been driving by this spot for years without noticing it!
A hammam is the Middle Eastern variant of the steam bath, while the gommage is a detoxifying full body exfoliation. Owner Surinder Bains first visited a hammam in Paris in late 80’s and knew she had to bring the concept back to North America. I sat down with her to learn more.
What is a hammam?
The hammam is a steam room, similar to a Turkish bath. Historically, hammams were always attached to the mosque and people would go cleanse their body prior to prayer hour for cleansing of their soul. In many cultures, it’s still the same, you wash your feet before you go into a temple. The Romans had based their bathing in big roman public baths, you’re basically bathing in the same water. And then the Arabs thought, you’re really bathing in your own filth, so the best thing to do is do a separate shower situation. That’s where they started with buckets or water and heated steam, you would do your steam, exfoliate (also known as gommage) and cleanse, and get all the dead skin cells off your body and go for prayer.
Do you remember your first hammam experience?
It was the fall of 1987. I went to hammam in Paris. I was blind as a bat cause I had to take my glasses off. All I could hear was the wailing of women, it was a huge open hammam. You can have 150 – 200 women in there, like a city square. You strip down and nobody cares. My husband said you should go check it out. Typical North American, I thought ‘why would you go have a public bath when I have a shower at home?’ When I went in, it was insane. What a mix of cultures and races, nobody cares what you look like, nobody cares about body types, everyone is comfortable in their own skin. I had the most amazing experience, the steam and exfoliation. They have six massage tables and the relaxation area. Everybody sees you gommage, and everybody sees you being massaged. Nobody pays attention. I had the treatment, when I was finished, I had this sensation, I had either been there before, or I was home. I kept going back, every week. I was going every single week, I was addicted to it.
What inspired you to open Miraj Hammam Spa in Vancouver?
I moved to Paris in 1986, where I started going to the hammams there. Hammams are huge all over Europe. I was the first one here (North America). I’ve been living in Vancouver and Paris since 1986. I wanted to bring a hammam to North America. For me, it was a cultural experience and a spa environment, that’s all I wanted. I didn’t want to be a frou frou spa. Why not bring at taste of North Africa and France to Vancouver? It worked.
As we got onto the topic of a gommage treatment at her spa, Surinder said I just had to try it myself to understand what made it so special. You don’t have to ask me twice!
My Hammam & Gommage Experience
The spa is cozy at 1800 square feet. Taking off my shoes at reception, I was given a pair of slippers and shown to the change room where I was given a locker and a sarong. Yes, I stripped down naked, but if you’re a little shy, they have disposable undies available too.
First You Steam
Connected to the change room is the hammam/steam room, it’s a eucalyptus steam that’s really good for opening your pores. Inside, I relaxed, lying down on my back, I tried to zone out for the next 15 minutes or so. Taking a few deep breathes and sipping a glass of water when I felt I needed it. The way they time their services, you’ll be inside the room by yourself.
The Body Exfoliation
After 15 minutes, the gommage attendant greeted me for my gommage body exfoliation, taking place right outside the steam room. Laying down on the marble surface with my sarong down, the attendant takes a Moroccan black soap infused with eucalyptus and scrubs me down with a gommage glove from front to back. At this point, I’m thoroughly relaxed and thinking about all that dead skin that’s going to be sloughed off. Exfoliation has many benefits, it helps with hydration by bringing new cells with lipids and moisture to the surface, can reduce age spots and pigmentation and will prep the skin for self-tanners – avoiding those uneven patches. The treatment lasts about 15 minutes. After the scrub, the attendant rinsed me off and I headed to a 15 minute massage in one of the massage rooms.
Post Gommage Massage
Now 15 minutes isn’t very long for a massage (you can book a longer treatment), so I had the masseuse focus on my shoulders and neck (way too many hours on a laptop). It was a perfect follow-up to the gommage.
Rest & Relax
After the massage I got led to a cozy lounge lined with colourful pillows and magazines, along with a cup of tea and treat. Sadly, I was in a rush with dinner plans – but if I wasn’t, I’d probably hang out here for a good 30 minutes to wind down. It’s a really nice way to end the experience.
Walking out of the spa, my skin was super smooth, I felt relaxed and extra light on my feet. I can totally see why Surinder had gotten addicted to visiting hammans in Paris. Sometimes you just have to treat yourself.
And if you’re in Toronto, you do have to visit the Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudalie at the Shangri-La, 4x’s the size of the Vancouver location and open in 2014.
You can purchase your own gommage glove and Moroccan black soap for at-home treatments.