story by LIESEL SCHMIDT
photography by AARON HUIE + GABRIEL SOTO
Since opening in 2022, Balian Springs has been a sanctuary and haven of health and wellness, offering the best parts of wellness culture from around the world in one Alexandria-based destination. VIP sent local influencers, Aaron Huie and Gabriel Soto, there to enjoy a relaxing day focused on their minds and bodies.
Take a walk back in time and you’ll see a myriad of ways ancient civilizations engaged in selfcare, from the acupuncture treatments of China to the curative thermae baths of Rome. Clearly, the spa concept is nothing new. Today, we have updated treatments and combined practices and methodologies to create the most holistic environments possible.
Since opening in 2022, Balian Springs has been a sanctuary and haven of health and wellness, offering the best parts of wellness culture from around the world in one Alexandria-based destination. “We haven’t reinvented the wheel; we are spotlighting known methods and therapies that have worked for centuries, while keeping our pulse on any new trends and treatments that all can tie into longevity and health,” says owner Stephanie Chon. “Fusing together traditions with modern science, physical health with spiritual healing, Balian Springs is all about balance. What sets us apart is the community aspect that [is] sometimes overlooked when it comes to health. We are a social club focused on wellness and driven by greater human connection.”
That social aspect is one of the draws for making a day at Balian Springs such an experience not only for individuals and couples, but also for friends like Aaron Huie and Gabriel Soto, who spent a day together focused on their minds and bodies. Huie, a management consultant, small business owner and local artist, lives in Alexandria, while Soto is a systems engineer at a tech startup based in DC.
“This was my first time to Balian Springs and I was overjoyed to hear that something like this exists nearby,” says Huie. “While I was traveling in Asia, the Japanese onsens—or bathhouses—were one of the greatest highlights of my time there. Balian Springs is the only location in Virginia that is truly comparable to the bathhouse experience that Japan offers. My friend and I both decided it would be an excellent choice to prioritize our physical and mental well-being and take the day to explore all of what Balian Springs has to offer.”
And what the spa has to offer is, indeed, plentiful.
Huie and his friend spent their day moving throughout Balian Springs in a progressive order that capitalizes on the effects of its various treatments. First, they started out at the private bathhouse. “Our Aqua Lounge is a modernized bathhouse with showers, wet treatment rooms, three plunge pools and a dry and wet sauna,” says Chon. “This is just one of the offerings we brought from overseas and is really an homage to the social aspect of wellness that we have neglected for many decades. Back in ancient times, bathhouses were the pillars to society, where business was conducted or lectures held. The whole idea of a quiet, solo visit to a day spa is a very Western way to experience self-care and to offer healing through water — or salus per aquam — which has been around for centuries, but [to] ignore the bathhouse culture where it all stemmed from would be inauthentic.”
Everyone must shower before entering any of the pools and it is typical that spa guests self-exfoliate during their shower, as well. Next, guests enter different temperature pools, working their way down in temperature, starting from hot and ending in cold.
After leaving the Aqua Lounge, Huie and Soto moved to three of the spa’s different saunas: Himalayan salt, gold and infrared. The warm, pink-hued glow and salt-infused air of the Himalayan salt room promotes respiratory health and cleanses impurities in addition to soothing the muscles, invigorating the senses and restoring balance. The gold room is designed to improve mental sharpness and concentration through heightening the conductivity between nerve endings. Gold treatments are also believed to improve the function of sluggish organs, especially the brain and digestive system, and reduce the symptoms of autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. The infrared room utilizes microscopic infrared waves that are directly absorbed into the body to reduce pain, stiffness and fatigue. Infrared also promotes the production of collagen and promotes a youthful glow.
Next, the friends moved to the chilly temperatures of the igloo, which, in sharp contrast to the heated rooms they just visited, is a cold sauna. Short bursts of exposure to cold is shown to improve the body's antioxidant capabilities and helps strengthen immunity, firm the skin and tighten pores. Contrast therapy between hot and cold is also helpful in lymphatic drainage. “The Himalayan salt sauna and the igloo room were some of our favorite aspects of our day at Balian Springs,” Huie notes.
"While I was traveling in Asia, the Japanese onsensóor bathhousesówere one of the greatest highlights of my time there. Balian Springs is the only location in Virginia that is truly comparable to the bathhouse experience that Japan offers." - Aaron Huie
“Contrasting treatments like Aaron and Gabriel experienced are extremely beneficial,” Chon says. “The heat of the saunas opens up the pores and increases blood flow and circulation, which quickens the nutrient delivery to injured areas throughout the body to promote recovery and healing. The cold helps tighten it all back up, inducing vasoconstriction of the blood vessels to reduce inflammation and slow things down. The cold exposure also brings down the heart rate and helps your body acclimate to normal temperature after being in such heated environments as the saunas.”
Having returned to a more normalized body temperature, Huie and Soto enjoyed a delicious lunch cooked by Chef Dom, along with a bottle of Brut. “Chef Dom and his cooking were such a wonderful part of our time,” says Huie.
After lunch, the men revisited the pools to level up their experience, starting with the 104-degree-pool, moving next to 70 degrees and finally ending in 45-degree water. “We spent most of our time cycling between the heated and cooled pools,” Huie says. “Doing so both relaxes and stimulates the mind-body connection.”
Adds Chon, “Moving from hot to cold helps decrease pain and inflammation, soothes sore muscles, boosts your immune system and circulation, strengthens your metabolism and boosts endorphins. Ending in cold immersion also helps acclimate the body back to normal temperature after we’ve expanded blood vessels and heated up the body in heated water.”
"Back in ancient times, bathhouses were the pillars to society, where business was conducted or lectures held. The whole idea of a quiet, solo visit to a day spa is a very Western way to experience self-care and to offer healing through water. -Stephanie Chon, Owner
Having been revitalized by the cold plunge, the pair of friends hit the gym, where Balian offers cardio equipment such as treadmills, ellipticals and bikes as well as a range of free weights and an interactive workout mirror.
They finished the day with a shower and a final visit to the Aqua Lounge. “In both of our fields of work, our minds are subject to a constant state of decision analysis,” Huie says. “It can be a challenge to take the proper rest and slow down both mentally and physically as we both maintain multi-faceted creative and professional lifestyles. Deciding to take a full day to dedicate to wellness not only benefits the mind and the body, but also helps to properly prioritize the matters of importance in our lives, instead of running on auto pilot. Taking a wellness day refocuses and re-energizes the mind and body in a results-oriented way.”
Balian Springs is located at 6432 General Green Way in Alexandria, VA. Explore their treatments or book your spa day by visiting them online.