Developing skills in: quiet meditation; slowing my breath; mentally spotting my physical chronic pains; reflecting on the power of natural medicine; the power of my Asian ancestors; and, the joyful nostalgia of adolescence in my pan-Asian, pan-immigrant hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area. These are the gifts that Seoul Spa in Baltimore County provided me over the past several years. Connection. Ritual. Health. Harm Reduction.
On July 15, 2019, Seoul Spa USA was sadly permanently closed after 8 years of business due to lease termination. Almost 2,500 Marylanders signed a change.org petition to keep it open, but on June 24, 2019, a court ruled in favor of the new landlord and the small business was required to close down.
My heart hurts. For several years, Seoul Spa, a traditional Korean health and wellness center, was an important resource for my personal harm reduction practices. While visiting any “spa” requires some financial privilege, Seoul Spa in Baltimore County was affordable for my grassroots organizer salary. It kept my heart and mind calmer in trying times, which we know as harm reductionists, trying times are persistent.
Traditional Korean spas uniquely offer myriad options for one to tend to their mental and physical needs; consider it a centuries-old harm reduction space. I would drive to Security Mall in Woodlawn, usually with a close friend, travel the maze through the vacated hallways up to the second floor and arrive at the elaborate beautiful doorway (pictured).
After changing into the required uniform (frustratingly gender binary options of orange t-shirt and shorts for women or blue for men), we would head into the kiln saunas room. There, we would have our choice of several rooms for relaxation, meditation, and healing. My favorite practice was to lay down in the Himalaya Salt Room for 10-15min, which helped with my cramps and muscle inflammation. I also enjoyed the Terracotta Room, which always helped to relieve my allergies and asthma, and made stretching in a 165-degree room somehow soothing.
I have immense gratitude to Seoul Spa for teaching me about the natural healing properties of salts and minerals. The medicine in our earth. I am thankful that this magical place also gave me pause to truly appreciate my Asian ancestors and elders. Even the side glances of judgement from aunties made me feel at home. Thank you, Seoul Spa. You will not be forgotten.
— Rajani Gudlavalleti, is the BHRC community organizing manager