I tried the interactive VR headset in the "Cosmic Steam Room."
- I visited the "Luxury Escapism: Oddly Satisfying Spa" in Brooklyn that promised a relaxing, detoxing experience with the help of ASMR triggers and immersive art and technology.
- I didn't know what to expect, but as an ASMR enthusiast, I was hoping to achieve some "brain tingles" from whatever was in store for me in the virtual reality-infused "treatments."
- Inside the spa, I was greeted with stations that reminded me of a cross between a children's museum and an alien spaceship. The experience was totally unique, and at times pretty relaxing – for me, at least.
- For an experience that costs $40 for two hours, and could better be described as an immersive art installation as opposed to a spa, I'd recommend it. But if you're looking for a massage, it isn't for you.
Not only did I not know what to expect from Luxury Escapism: The Oddly Satisfying Spa, but I walked right past its unassuming front door in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn. The spa, which is reminiscent of a pop-up museum exhibit, is housed in a dim, warmly lit basement down a set of stairs.
I visited the spa after I heard about its immersive technology and use of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) triggers. As an ASMR enthusiast myself, I knew I had to see whether an in-person intentional ASMR experience could provide the relaxing "brain tingles" that the YouTube subgenre conjures up for listeners.
Inside, I found a heavy emphasis on sensory stimulation, with hands-on "treatments" for sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste that made me feel like I was onboard an alien spaceship. It certainly wasn't like any other spa you can book an appointment at in Brooklyn, and for a two-hour stay in the technicolor playground, it costs $40.
Luxury Escapism let me and my friend Marianne (who is not an ASMR enthusiast) visit their facility for free. We arrived on a Friday night after work, and the facility was soon packed with a full group of about 15 other people. After our two hour visit we re-emerged into the New York City streets with a lot to unpack from our experience – which turned out to be nothing like I expected and weirdly relaxing at times.
Right away, the spa had something for each of the five senses, and included visual trickery.
The "Welcome Campfire" at Luxury Escapism, a glowing art display accompanied by the sounds of a crackling fire.
Stepping into the lobby, I noticed the smell of peppermint tea, which would be replaced with incense once we entered the main room. There was actual peppermint tea that could be sampled, but I hate the taste, so I declined.
Inside, I checked in with a lobby attendant who reminded me of the rules – no phones, whispers only. Before heading into the spa, a soothing male voiceover would say the same and add a brief explanation of the spa and its purpose – to "relax your mind and inspire your senses." In the meantime, soothing musical tones played over speakers, along with the sound of a crackling fire.
In fact, there was a fake fire in the corner. By the time I got there, other members of my group had already arrived, so the seating options were limited to the wooden circles around the paper-and-stick "fire." At first glance, I thought they were actual wood, but like many things in the Oddly Satisfying Spa, they were deceivingly soft.
Guests of the Oddly Satisfying Spa store their belongings in cubbies and wear a robe and slippers for the duration of their stay.
A peppermint tea station and cubbies with tan robes and slippers greet visitors to the Oddly Satisfying Spa.
Before I sat down, I hung up my coat and put my shoes and backpack into a cubby, where there was a tan robe and slippers for me to put on. The e-invitation to the spa asked visitors to wear as comfortable clothes as possible. I wore jeans, but I'd recommend sweatpants or leggings.
This room was lit somewhat normally, with yellow lighting, but inside there were other shades of pink and purple lights to guide us.
As we got ready to enter the spa, we were split into small groups with different colored wristbands.
Right away, Luxury Escapism tricks the senses with floor pillows that look like wood and a fire-less campfire.
Some staffers came into the room after the instructional voiceover and divided us up into groups of about four to take through. I thought my staffer would be with me and my group the whole time, but the introduction was just a brief.
The wristbands were for the "Sonic Sauna" attendant to figure out who was ready for which "treatment" at what time.
Once inside, our group's guide gave us a few instructions about the different stations around us.
Guests at the Oddly Satisfying Spa have lots of comfortable seating options to choose from in the open floor plan.
I didn't know what to expect in terms of interaction with the people who worked at Luxury Escapism. Traditional ASMR, and the kind I prefer, is pretty human-centered. You stare at someone, they provide visual and audio triggers. That was not what the Oddly Satisfying Spa was like.
That being said, there were several staffers lingering around to help if needed, and seating options like hanging lounge chairs were placed near different VR headsets for sampling.
I had assumed the experience would involve me interacting with a staffer, but instead, it was up to me to decide what to do, with some exceptions.
The sofa seating area in front of the "Lux TV" is like a family living room from a sci-fi movie.
We were pretty much on our own to decide what we wanted to do in the spa, when we wanted to do it, how we wanted to interact with the exhibits, and for how long. There were some instructions for some of the treatments, and the "Rainbow Waterbed" and "Sonic Sauna" were directed by staffers, but the other nine activities weren't.
At the center of it all was the "Lux TV" and sofa set-up, and a coffee table with some different interactive toys. The aesthetic of the place reminded me of a retro alien spaceship.
Everything was very soothing, and there were little surprises scattered throughout, like a sequined wall tile you could brush back and forth to make designs in, and one of those toys with hundreds of tiny metal rods you can press your face or hand into to make an imprint.
On the coffee table there was also a remote, that clicked through scenes of the TV that reminded me of the vibe in the "Video Killed The Radio Star" music video.
I knew my group was first to try out the "Rainbow Therapy" waterbed, so I used a strobe light headset while I waited for my turn.
I used one of the 8 different headsets that each contained different psychedelic visuals.
My assigned staffer told us we were going to proceed one-by-one into the "Rainbow Waterbed" room, and first I got comfortable in a human-sized beanbag and was handed a strobe light headset by a staffer.
While I waited for my turn, I turned on the strobe lights and settled back. It was literally strobe lights (you're supposed to keep your eyes closed) pulsing in my face, accompanied by soothing sounds, and at one point I got a blanket over me. That might not sound relaxing, but it strangely was.
I spent a lot more time with my thoughts than I usually would, since I couldn't turn to my phone instead. That may be relaxing for some, and not so much for others. In another beanbag, Marianne was given an equally strange massaging device (I was glad I got the strobe lights, since I didn't want to mess up my copious amounts of eye makeup).
I loved the out-of-body experience of the "Rainbow Waterbed," but Marianne found it too intense to be relaxing.
A staffer at Luxury Escapism demonstrates the "Rainbow Therapy" waterbed treatment.
Once it was my turn to try out the waterbed, I entered a separate room, where I was instructed by another staffer to get onto the waterbed, which was much jigglier than the type you'd sleep on. There was a dial I could use to increase or decrease the intensity of the experience.
I, being pretty adventurous, kept it at the highest possible intensity for the seven or so minutes we were each allowed in the bed. Apparently, if there had been fewer people there, we could have each been in it longer – something I would have loved, because it was one of my favorite parts. Marianne? Not so much. She found it pretty intense and a little alarming.
Basically, the waterbed – with you suspended in it – vibrated a lot. And around your head there were pulsating lights and sounds. Similar to the strobe light headset, I would never have thought such a thing could be relaxing, because it seems so overly stimulating.
But a lot of people feel the same way about ASMR, and think it's too creepy or unnatural to fall asleep to, which I do pretty frequently. On Luxury Escapism's website, the waterbed is described as "an adjustable strobe light, with bioacoustic harmonics and audible frequencies, both binaural and isochronic, to put users into a deeply meditative state."
I think I was a little too overwhelmed (in a good way) by the sensations to feel meditative, but I definitely felt a bit of zen once I adjusted to my new environment. Had I been in it longer, I could see finding a more meditative state.
Once my waterbed time was up, I had free range to explore the other "treatments."
The map next to the refreshments was helpful for figuring out what treatments I had yet to test out.
As I waited for my turn to use the other small group activity, the "Sonic Sauna," I used the very helpful map to figure out what I had left to do. I think the experience could be somewhat improved by a little more guidance, but I also enjoyed the childlike spirit of letting my intuition guide me from one experience to the next.
There was also a refreshment station that intrigued my tastebuds.
I sampled chilled green tea, cucumber-infused water, and sour candies at the refreshment station.
I also sampled some cucumber-infused water and some chilled green tea. There wasn't any food but there were some mints and sour candies. I could tell that each element of the spa was designed to interest each of the five senses, for a totally immersive experience – and that was definitely something Luxury Escapism pulled off.
And the "Cloud Bathroom" added another fun twist to what could have just been a regular bathroom.
The "Cloud Bathroom" was the only room at Luxury Escapism that I took pictures of with flash.
I didn't really expect anything unique from the bathroom, so imagine my surprise when I walked in and there was a huge, glowing cloud. It lit up when the bathroom light was on – proving that there was a lot of thought put into every aspect of the spa's design.
The spa was open concept, but the interior design made each station feel like a separate room. The spa was more physical than I expected.
The different treatment experiences were housed in rooms and sections that felt like the trippy adult version of a kid's museum or McDonald's play place.
I hadn't expected much emphasis on interior design at all, but that was a crucial element. Not only were there rooms for the time-sensitive treatments, but little gates, tents, archways, and pathways made up the rest of the spa.
As I tried out a different VR headset in the "Fuzzidarium," an unseen staffer came over and triggered a vibrating floor panel.
All of the surfaces inside the "Fuzzidarium" were covered in fluffy white fabric, and some surfaces vibrated.
The "Fuzzidarium" was another place to hang out and try out one of the VR headsets – more on those later. Every surface was, fittingly, covered in fluffy white fabric, and there were equally soft blankets to cuddle up with while sampling an immersive technology environment.
When I sat down in the "Fuzzidarium" and put a headset on, I was enjoying the scene, which involved flower-esque shapes zooming around the screen and collapsing in on each other infinitely, for just a few moments before a staffer crept in and activated some sort of hidden switch that made the entire panel I was sitting on vibrate. I liked how we were each being observed to make sure we were experiencing as many aspects of the "treatments" as possible.
Both my friend and I agreed that the "Sonic Sauna" was the highlight of the experience, and provided the most ASMR triggers.
The "sonic session" in the "Sonic Sauna" incorporated sounds similar to classic ASMR triggers.
Without a doubt, the "Sonic Sauna" was the coolest part of the experience, and the closest I got to the "brain tingling" treatment I was hoping for. Personally, I prefer ASMR videos that involve people and not just sounds and triggers, which this lacked, so it wasn't a complete ASMR experience for me. But for others, I'm sure it would have done the trick.
Marianne didn't experience ASMR in it either, but she liked this experience the best, too. It was very similar to a guided meditation. The two of us, along with two other participants, were taken into a soundproof room with huge, comfy beanbags on the floor.
We settled back, and the lights were shut off, plunging us into total, serene darkness. The only thing we were accompanied by was an audio, that by my estimate seemed to last about 15 minutes. There wasn't any talking, but sounds associated with the four elements – earth, wind, fire, and water – careened around us at a pretty high volume.
The artistic vision of the audio was impressive. Each element was discernible, with seemingly more than 100 different sounds total. They flowed into each other, becoming pretty intense at times, but soothing nonetheless. If I had been in there any longer, I might have fallen asleep.
Several aspects of the spa seemed influenced by psychedelic visuals.
The glowing plastic candles and lights in the "Infinity Chamber" exhibit reflected off the mirrored walls.
When Vice sent one of its reporters to the Oddly Satisfying Spa, it was still a pop-up experience – and back then, it involved an actual massage element, which I think could have elevated the spa in its current form to something worth revisiting.
In that article, the experience was described as "a non-toxic and healthy environment" to experience the same feeling of psychedelic drugs. Several elements definitely seemed psychedelic in nature and made me feel like I was at a relaxing version of a rave.
The "Infinity Chamber" definitely had those vibes. The room was completely mirrored, and I put on light-distorting glasses and waved around sticks with neon glowing bulbs attached to them. My favorite part of that room was that it was a great place to take a selfie.
Apart from the couch, there were a few seating areas intended for a horizontal experience.
Beds and floor pillows encouraged visitors to the Oddly Satisfying Spa to experience visuals horizontally.
I sampled more than one of the VR headsets, but I didn't get to all eight. One thing my group's guide noted in the beginning was that you needed to watch each scene for a few minutes to get the full effect, which I tried to do while laying on one of the massage-esque tables.
This was another point where I thought it would be cool to have a human being to physically interact with, as opposed to another VR vignette. They were beautiful, and I definitely enjoyed watching the different shapes and patterns float across the screen, but it wasn't the height of relaxation for me, personally.
According to Luxury Escapism's website, the vignettes were originally designed "to be experienced by individuals undergoing ketamine infusion treatment for depression." For me, I was reminded of old desktop computers that would show animated graphics of repetitive shapes and patterns while the screens napped.
For example, there's an old screensaver I used to have of 3-D pipes that just repeated various patterns on a loop. That was kind of similar to what I saw in one of the vignettes, except there were way more details. As the minutes tick by, you're supposed to start to notice changes in the repeating patterns – which I felt like I did, and by the time I'd had them on for several minutes, I felt more relaxed.
Trying out kinetic sand became an experiment in depth perception when I put on the goggles inside the geodesic tent.
In a geodesic dome, I wore depth perception-altering glasses and played with kinetic sand.
This was one part of the Luxury Escapism experience that made me feel the most like a kid again. First off, I had to crouch down to make my way into the geodesic dome tent, or "Kinetic Sand Dome," and crawl around to find a position.
When I put the goggles inside on, my vision was directed upward, like I was looking down from the ceiling at my own hands – another out-of-body experience. That made navigating the tools in front of me trickier, but it also made me focus more on my movements, instilling a sense of slow, deliberate motion.
Kinetic sand molds itself together under pressure, but falls apart slowly once you release it. In addition to silver plates full of sand, there were also tools to shape the colorful, grainy substance, like a potato masher and a pizza cutter.
I don't like the texture of sand very much, so this exhibit didn't calm me down too much, but it was one of two "treatments" that really reminded me of a children's museum.
In the "Sound Stones" station, I truly found my zen.
One of my favorite exhibits was the "Sound Stones" activity, which felt like it could trigger ASMR for some people.
One of my favorite things about ASMR is experimenting with different sounds and textures at the same time. The "Sound Stones" activity didn't produce any "brain tingles" for me, but it was my favorite station by far, and I surprised myself by the number of times I was drawn back to it.
Unlike the fake wooden mats in the lobby, the stones in this gated exhibit were real, and crunched underfoot as I made my way over to the floor mat and sat down. There were two sets of headphones, and while I experienced this station solo at first, having Marianne join me made it even more fun.
The headphones were attached to an iPhone that displayed several different sound adjustments that reminded me of Adobe presets: there was an option for volume, but also sliding levels for things like "space" and different types of intensity.
I played around with those, but the different settings didn't interest me as much as the instruments in front of me – including the rubber ball that had a textured surface I dragged my fingernails across.
When playing with the instruments in the "Sound Stones" exhibits, the different noises produced echoed in layers in my ears, producing a musical effect.
The "Sound Stones" exhibit warped the noises produced by various musical instruments.
I really enjoyed the way each sound I produced reverberated through my ears. In a lot of ASMR videos, the creator will use different sound triggers like the ones in the basket in front of me – but the sounds don't echo like a magical cave.
This experience was, like so many of the other treatments, weirdly relaxing. I enjoyed the xylophone-esque instruments and a wooden frog with a ridged back I could scrape with a little wooden baton, but the rubber ball with its textured skin and the rainstick were my favorite.
In my opinion, the sound of a rainstick is always relaxing. The "Sound Stones" headphones made it relaxing, but on steroids.
The rain stick in the "Sound Stones" exhibit was one of the most surprisingly soothing treatments at the Oddly Satisfying Spa for me.
I couldn't stop playing with the rainstick. I love the sound of a good rainstick, and this one was each little bead plummeting to the bottom of the stick, only times a hundred. It was awesome. I felt enveloped in comforting sound.
The only downside of the stick was that it had a tiny little hole on one end, so a few stray beads fell out here and there. But I didn't care. Marianne and I exchanged delighted looks as we experimented with different audio triggers before I reluctantly moved on to another station.
The last station I tried was the "Cosmic Steam Room," but there was no steam in sight.
The different hand motions for the "Cosmic Steam Room" were on display at the back of Luxury Escapism.
A thin cloud of vapor seemed to emanate from the room throughout the experience, but that was quite possibly just an effect of the soft, diffused lighting. In the "Cosmic Steam Room," however, the steam was a creation of virtual reality.
The different hand motions associated with this treatment were projected on a curtain in front of two armchairs next to the headsets, but there was also a mattress you could sit on next to the curtained-off room. The same VR display could be interacted with, sans headset.
With the headset on, I felt like a celestial being, capable of moving the stars with the power of my own earthly limbs.
Using hand motions to dramatically affect the virtual environment I was in made me feel like I had superhero abilities.
That's a slight exaggeration, but by this point in the experience, I would say I felt closely entwined with the universe inside Luxury Escapism. That also might just be an effect of having your phone taken away from two hours and thrust into a strange new habitat.
For this treatment, the hand motions you made controlled a virtual collection of lights and sounds. When I closed my fist, for example, all the pinpricks I could see in my VR vicinity gathered together. When I splayed my fingers, they scattered apart with an audible "whoosh" in my ears. It was pretty cool. According to the website, there are over a million particles on the screen for this "sandbox tool."
Marianne also really enjoyed this part of the spa, and got the same displaced sense of power from being able to directly interact with the VR environment, "like an Avenger."
I was glad I experienced Luxury Escapism: The Oddly Satisfying Spa, and would recommend it to others.
Overall, I was impressed with what Luxury Escapism had to offer – but I wouldn't recommend it to someone looking for a traditionally relaxing spa experience.
By the end of the two hours, I was ready to head out. I felt like I had interacted with all the different stations to the best of my ability and had no more untapped relaxation to exert out of myself. There were a few activities I wished could have lasted longer, like the waterbed, but other than that it felt like the right amount of time for this sized group to be in the spa.
On my way out, I also spent a few minutes taking pictures with my phone, so I didn't have as much of a quick readjustment to my personal technology as others may have had. I'll admit I was slightly relieved to get cell service again on my way out of the basement.
Overall, I was more than satisfied with my experience, and enjoyed several minutes of blissful, albeit strange, relaxation inside. Compared to a lot of pop-up museum exhibits and art galleries in New York City, the Oddly Satisfying Spa seems like a reasonably priced, unique entertainment option. I'd recommend it, as long as you're not expecting a traditional spa experience.
As for myself, it felt like a one-and-done excursion. But if Luxury Escapism ever introduces a more traditional in-person ASMR experience with actual human contact, I'd be down to try it.