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Stop breathe relax 

In advance of the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort Spa and Wellness Center Open House on Nov. 18, I stepped from my car in a body full of stress and anxiety, and onto the lush, incredibly intoxicating, and beautiful 118-acre wooded property. I hurriedly marched toward a charming gazebo amid the greens, just steps from civilization. There, I encountered a "cell free and smoke free zone." It was painful, but I switched off my BlackBerry and took a deep breath. Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort is serious. Serious about repose. They want you to stop. Breathe. And relax.

From the grassy knoll, I was led (by a helpful and charming staff member) to the beautiful, crisp, white locker rooms to slip into the softest of robes and store my stuff. The handy locker key hung from my wrist, but I didn't notice as I walked a few flights of stairs to one of the 20 rental hot tubs that inhabit the hills of the property. (Each of the 74 rooms has its own hot tub as well.) The private outdoor redwood tubs are nestled between the trees and the stars (depending on whether you're soaking midday or late at night--the tubs are open until 2 a.m.). Several of the tubs contain water that has healed for centuries, but other tubs--including a large rock spa known as Oasis--contain fresh water. All of the tubs, including Oasis, are inexpensive to rent by the hour ($12.50 to $15).

My soak was invigorating, and got better with each passing moment. Bubbles periodically floated up to the water's surface as I gazed through the trees. I was one with nature clothing optional.

After I pulled myself out of the circular tub, I slipped back into my robe and

lazily walked down to the Sycamore Treatment Center to await my massage. Lynn Thomas made sure the next hour of my life involved nothing but the fabulous aromas of orange and lemongrass as her touch guided my consciousness into another realm.

The rest of the day consisted of a short hike up to the Yoga Dome to experience a phenomenal yoga class with Rachel Simmons, who thankfully kept me "low to the ground." Finally, I encountered the stone labyrinth on Sycamore's property, something I had never seen or heard of--and admittedly was intimidated by. A thousand-year-old practice involves strolling through a "unicursal" of stones, in the hopes of finding that Zen moment. A nearby cairn (conical pile of stones) is just as beautiful and mysterious in its design and purpose.

After hours of self-indulgence at any proper retreat or "Spa Day," you shouldn't have to go far for nourishment, and Chef David McWilliam at the award-winning Gardens of Avila Restaurant on site does just that. Don't miss his spectacular scallops on the half shell (the best I have ever had) or the decadent and perfect tiramisu.

There have been many changes to the resort itself recently. Alice Bergendorff, the new spa director, spent a decade in Las Vegas in the spa industry, and now will bring her fresh eye and ideas to Sycamore Mineral Springs. In addition, there are many new products, travel packages, and upcoming events scheduled. A Christmas Story Package, running through Dec. 23, includes a two-night stay in a spa suite and two tickets to the Great American Melodrama Holiday show, among other things. A Club Rio event happening on New Year's Eve is also in the works.

The Open House is set for Nov. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m. A variety of activities--including spa treatments complimentary yoga, Pilates, and tai chi classes and skincare consultations--will be offered. Guests will also enjoy live music, complimentary refreshments from the Gardens of Avila Restaurant, resort prize giveaways, a festive happy hour, and special evening offerings in the bar and restaurant. But everything comes back to relaxation.

General Manager Roger Wightman says it best: "We are all about the water."

Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort is located in the lush Avila Valley at 1215 Avila Beach Drive. For more information, call 595-7302 or visit sycamore springs.com.

Calendar Editor Christy Heron compiled this week's Strokes and Plugs. E-mail your business news to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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