Shirodhara =  stress relief

September brings excitement, yes, but along with that brave-new-start feeling comes a wallop of stress. It’s easy to feel like there’s just way, way too much to do and not enough time, money, energy, and attention to get it all done.

When you feel you’re about to lose it — or ram someone who’s going 50 in the fast lane — that’s when it’s time to retreat for a few hours to one of San Francisco’s internationally inflected wellness spas. From its earliest days as a Gold Rush boomtown, San Francisco absorbed Asian cultures with ease, with the result that the City today is a place where you can visit Japan, India and Thailand without any more hassle than hunting for a parking place. While the City is chock-a-block with luxe day spas, these three stand out for their atmosphere of retreat and reflection – and the chance to infuse your life with the influence of another culture and perspective. Whether you’re in San Francisco for work or play, a few hours of self-imposed isolation will bring the fall back into focus.
1. Kabuki Springs and Spa, Japantown
Created to follow the strict ritual of Japanese communal baths, Kabuki Springs has the almost austere simplicity of a Zen monastery softened with the luxury for which the Joie de Vivre brand has become known. Chip Conley’s beloved local brand also brought in a bit more color and zing, while preserving the space’s sense of timeless tradition. Best value is to have a massage; my favorite is the Shiatsu. The communal baths are just $15 more and you can stay as long as you like. One thing to keep in mind: Women get the baths Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; Men have their turn Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Tuesdays are co-ed and clothing is required.

Thai massage gets physical

2. Ayus Ayurveda Massage, Divisadero Street
This is a small, simple, and deeply traditional Ayurveda healing center — or as close to it as you’re going to find outside India or a South Asian neighborhood enclave. No fancy pools or steam rooms here, but some of the best stress relief treatments nevertheless. Offerings at Ayus Ayurveda Massage include shirodhara, a two-hour scalp massage in which hot oil is drizzled on your “third eye,” then massaged into the scalp and neck, melting you into a puddle of relaxation. Further choices include Abyanga, a four-handed massage using specialized herbal oils; Ushma Swedena, an herb-infused steam tent; and Pancha karma, an intensive detoxification regimen. To really get your house in order for fall, sign on for an Ayurvedic consultation designed to rebalance energy and revitalize all your body systems.

3. Suchada Traditional Thai Massage, King Street and Bryant Street
If you’ve never had a Thai massage, get ready to develop a new addiction. Like a three-way cross between yoga, chiropractic, and traditional massage, Thai massage incorporates gentle stretches and twists, with the masseuse pulling and bending your limbs in ways that smooth out the kinks you know you have, and those you weren’t even aware of.

However, with the proliferation of southeast Asian “massage parlors” that offer pretty much everything except actual massage, it can feel daunting to try to find the real deal. That’s what makes Suchada such a find; it’s woman-owned and staffed by massage therapists who trained at Wat Po, the premiere massage school in Thailand. Massages are performed in the traditional manner on a floor mat, surrounded by luxurious Thai fabrics, cushions and art.

To preserve the exotic mood, stay at the Campton Place Taj Hotel, one of San Francisco’s quieter and lesser-known boutique hotels. The Taj is actually made up of two adjoining historic buildings renovated with a decidedly Raj-era vibe.