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Going with the Flow ~ Escape to The Langham Huntington Spa, Pasadena


Set on magnificent grounds, The Langham Huntington, Pasadena feels a world away from the stresses of the city. The hotel’s proximity to Los Angeles’ downtown makes for a perfect day spa getaway.


Words by Marina Chetner

Photography by David Young-Wolff

Over a century old, The Langham Huntington, Pasadena is a palatial property set on more than 23 acres. One end of the property is flush with lush green lawns and gardens; the other side is home to Chuan Body + Soul, a spa offering treatments founded on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Transitioning from the meditative calm of the hotel’s immaculately groomed Japanese Garden to the Feng Shui-inspired spa interior is at once aesthetically pleasing and holistic. Fittingly, Chuan means “flowing water” in Chinese; the property fuses culture, nature, and tradition to create a nurturing experience for the mind, body, and spirit.


The first branded Chuan Spa was launched in the Langham Place Hotel in Hong Kong in 2005. Its concept was conceived by the hotel’s Chairman, Dr. Lo, and the Chuan brand was launched worldwide across the Langham properties by CEO Brett Butcher and Group Director of Spa, Barry White. Hotels are located in cities within Asia, the UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand, and while their Chuan Spas adhere to a set of primary design characteristics –-all must incorporate contemporary and authentic Chinese elements with a harmonious TCM approach – they are allowed freedom of interpretation based on geographic location. For example, the white, minimalistic Bob Lounge Chairs in the Dream Room (a transition space) at the Pasadena location are evocative of the popular mid-Century styles found in Los Angeles while still being reflective of the Chuan brand.


Based on a centuries-old medical ideology, TCM is a holistic system; this ancient medicine understands the human body as a composition of two opposing yet mutually dependent halves: Yin and Yang. TCM states that any disharmony of the equilibrium of Yin and Yang, or disturbance of their flow, causes imbalance. By addressing imbalance through acupressure, breathing exercises, or herbal medicine, the aim is to supplement any deficiency, or reduce the excess.

The theoretical foundation of TCM is based around the pillars of:

  • Yin and Yang
  • Wu Xing (known as elements of wood, fire, water, earth, and metal, TCM strives to create an optimal balance with all five to empower physical and mental forces)
  • Zang Fu (known as the internal organ system)
  • Qi, Jeng, and Shen (our vital energy, our life force, and our mind and spirit)
  • Jing Luo (the meridian system)

Supported by these guiding principles, and by taking into account one’s energy flow, the time of year, the body’s present constitution and its biorhythms, the Chuan Spa therapists aim to achieve an optimal balance of the body’s contrasting elements by personalizing treatments.

In addition to standard training required at a typical spa operation, all Langham hotels have an on-site spa trainer who not only teaches proper Chuan techniques, but is responsible for in-house refresher courses every few months. Everything from pinpointing the correct acupressure points, to accurately explaining the Five Elements, Breathing Ritual and philosophy behind Chuan therapies and TCM is reviewed. Once a year, the Hong Kong based Group Spa Therapy Manager Amy Chan travels to all spa locations and leads a re-certification course that further exemplifies the brand’s commitment to standards.


The spa experience begins in the Contemplation Lounge. In keeping with the TCM approach of self-healing and treating the whole person, the guest completes a five element questionnaire and sensory assessment to determine which element needs to be balanced on that particular day.

Based on the elemental imbalance revealed in the profile, a tailor-made treatment is designed to restore one’s harmony. This includes assigning a specific breathing exercise to promote relaxation, and selecting the appropriate Chuan essential oil that forms the basis of the treatment. For example, if a person’s overall feeling is one of worry, this means that the Earth element is in need of balance. To address this in a full body massage like Chuan Balancing, after leading in with an Earth Breathing Ritual which includes exhaling with the sound “gong,” the therapist uses the Earth Element Oil to help with grounding and applies acupressure techniques to stimulate the body’s Qi.

The ingredients of the essential oils and massage oils are provided by an Australian company, Li’Tya, known for their quality and high level of expertise in developing indigenous products. The proprietary oil blends are developed under the guidance of the Langham’s Group Consultant TCM doctor to ensure their authenticity and connection to the Chuan concept. The massage oils are available for sale to continue the journey post-treatment, as are private label Chuan soaps, bath melts, and candles based on the five elements.

At the conclusion of the treatment, the journey continues in the Dream Room — a soothing space allowing visitors a place to transition accompanied by a pot of tea, also tailored to one’s element. For the Earth element, a honey peach-flavored Osmanthus Blossoms infusion is served.


Wood Liver Anger and Depression Green Chamomile Blossoms: A brew of these tiny blooms helps to expel heat in liver, eases tension, alleviates headaches and dizziness, lightens cold symptoms, and promotes restful sleep.
Fire Heart Joy and Over Excitement Red Ginseng Oolong: a flavorful tea that helps clear over heating from within, decreases tiredness, refreshes energy, rehydrates the system, and regenerates stamina.
Earth Spleen Worry and Over Thinking Yellow Osmanthus Blossoms: An autumn harvest of these blossoms makes for a sweet tea that warms the stomach, clears toxins, and soothes tooth infections.
Metal Lungs Sadness White Deluxe Iron Buddha: Believed to exude a soothing experience similar to a devotional experience with Guan Yin Buddha, its cooling properties stimulate digestion and calm stressfulness.
Water Kidneys Fear Black/Dark Blue Supreme Lung Ching: A green tea, it quenches thirst, assists in digestion, aids in dilating blood vessels, prevents high blood pressure and  contains levels of antioxidants.



Technically not part of the Chuan Spa Journey, the Japanese Garden at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena is a beautiful spot to either begin and/or end the spa experience. Designed in 1913 by landscape architect William Hertrich, who also worked on the design of the nearby Huntington Botanical Gardens, it features a rushing brook, wading ducks, bamboo, palms, ornamental pagodas, and seasonal blooms. In itself a contemplative space, the setting promotes an overall feeling of serenity.

What makes the Chuan Spa experience unique is the guest’s immersion in an educational experience from the perspective of ancient medicine. Designed to enhance each person’s vitality and well-being, the level of detail used to tailor treatments makes for a mindful approach. Additionally, the beauty and space afforded by the hotel’s natural location is a bonus to the spa experience.

{kat give this a different treatment at the end} The Langham Huntington, Pasadena’s Spa facility is currently a hybrid operation (Chuan Body + Soul is one area within the larger Huntington Spa). The hotel will completely transform its spa facility into a full Chuan Spa in 2014. In July 2013, the Langham Hospitality Group is launching its first Chuan Academy in Hong Kong when it will accept the first enrollments for the ITEC* Level 3 Diploma in Holistic Massage. For more information, go to chuanspa.com

Marina Chetner is Managing Editor of Find Bliss Magazine. She muses about travel on her blog, www.marinachetner.com and tweets on @mchetner

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