Sans [ceuticals] | Mary Minas and Freya Berwick

Mary Minas and Freya Berwick

20 - 05 - 24

Asking what the term ‘wellness’ really means in today’s climate, founders Mary Minas and Freya Berwick of Melbourne-based contemporary bathhouse and spa Sense Of Self are bringing the centuries-old art of bathing and healing under a modern lens.

Facilitating energy transformation via the practice of soaking, massage, and body acceptance programs, SOS clients are encouraged to strip away any preconceived ideas of beauty and performance-led exercises, and, instead, focus on creating a deep and healthy connection to themselves and to others. In a time when we need communion more than ever, Mary and Freya's main drive is to bring people together again.

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Most operators in the wellness realm seem to have a journey of their own towards healing, that they find can be helpful and beneficial to share with others. Is this the case with you? If so, what does your healing journey look like and how did it prompt the arrival of Sense of Self.

M: I wouldn't say I've had a healing journey as such, unless we're discussing major life milestones like experiencing love, growing up, or losing loved ones, which everyone undergoes at some point in their lives. My journey was altered significantly by the process of grief, which allowed me to question what I wanted for myself, and what a life should be and should include in general. It was important to me to have a life where you don't define yourself by your body (or the lack of health the world perceives in your body’s shape) or your ‘output’. I realised for me it was important to honour leisure and savouring the little moments in time you share with others.

F: While we try to keep ourselves separate to Sense Of Self, there are of course defining personal experiences that have informed how we brought it to life. I guess for me the most significant personal learning that has fed into what we’ve built is the idea of having a healthy relationship with oneself, and guarding that with your life! Building an identity and a set of values that go beyond who you think you should be somehow felt like hard work for me, but once I got a sense of it it felt like the most precious thing ever. At SOS we like to tell people to come as they are and take what they need, which is (in part) a nod to that journey.

We love the idea that bathhouses can be both a place for socialising and taking time for oneself. In what ways are people, nowadays, needing bathhouses for, do you think?

Bathhouses originally served a function of hygiene for civilisations, later they were places of religious ritual, and throughout time they became a place to socialise. The social aspect was kind of a fringe benefit, but actually it became one of the most important parts of keeping people well without them knowing. Studies show that social connection is the number one longevity predictor, so we need communion now more than ever. In terms of taking time for ourselves, well we don’t have to tell you that everyone’s addicted to technology and that this technological revolution is blurring the lines of work-time and rest-time. So a bathhouse is a place where people can physically make that distinction because it’s a space for relaxing, plus it’s watery so phones aren’t allowed ha!

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Can you speak a bit more about the idea of healing, sans beauty and performance.

It is probably clear that we are big on the idea of spaces and activities without expectation, and the reason for that is, sadly, that performance and beauty culture seems to be creeping into most of our wellbeing and relaxation activities/spaces. This is not to say that performance and beauty don’t have a place in the world (they do, and in the right context those cultures are fab!), just that it becomes confusing, and ultimately counterproductive, when those ideals are applied to our wellbeing. What we mean by this is that wellbeing is not about the way you look or how effective you are, but rather connection to yourself and your body's unique cues/needs.

The last few years have created a great deal of exhaustion and trauma among most of us. Can you tell us about what Sense of Self offers in ways of treatment and tools for these kinds of states?

Funnily, while SOS launched after covid, it came to life well before it. The pandemic hit at a really pivotal time for us, right when we were about to start building, so we actually had the choice of proceeding or not. Obviously we chose to go ahead with the original vision, and the reasoning at the time is that with all the things happening in our world (which has felt like one disaster after the other) makes spaces like SOS even more relevant. In terms of treatments we have massage and services and communal bathing, but the space is made special by how it is suggestive, giving people agency and permission to be and feel how they want.

We like your no-bullshit approach. In what ways does this notion extend into your everyday habits and ways of operating?

F: A well tuned BS filter! I rarely buy into a fad these days.

M: Learning and being open to change. Calling out the contradictory wellness industry.

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Can you talk us through the benefits of a cold dip? We see a lot of people getting into this!

Ha! Yes, it has become very popular, and for good reason. We tend to look at the benefits of a cold dip in the context of contrast bathing, which is when you go from one temperature extreme to another, but there is also a lot to be said for just having a cold shower at home.

On a very basic level, when we are hot our capillaries expand and blood flushes our cells, and when we are cold they contract and send the blood back to the vital organs. So, by going from hot to cold you are essentially flushing your cells with blood, bringing in lots of goodies like oxygen and nutrients, and taking away the cellular waste. It is also said to create a feeling of “euphoria” so physiology aside, a cold dip is also a way to get very present and in your body!

Design plays a major role in your offering. Can you tell us about some of your considerations in building and shaping your space/s?

When we think about design we define it as the product of physical design, service design, and brand. Physically, SOS is best summarised as ‘Mediterranean Brutalism’. The Meditteranean element can be seen through colour and material choices (such as terracotta, travertine, microcement and sandstone), while Brutalism is tapped into through monolithic forms, double height volumes and cast concrete. The idea behind this choice of materiality was to create a space where people feel at once held and safe, whilst having their boundaries positively pushed, ultimately creating the opportunity for self expansion.

Of course this is nice in theory, so the hard work was to really understand what that threshold between comfort and challenge actually is, and to understand that across the community, because it is obviously different for everyone. We certainly haven’t nailed it, but we are committed to always being open to new perspectives and enveloping those into our service design and brand.

What is the most rewarding part of your role at Sense of Self?

F: I love observing the difference between when people arrive and when they leave- it feels rare to see strangers relaxed and open and it is a great privilege to be entrusted with the job of making that happen. It is also a great privilege to have people spend parts of their working lives contributing to something you’ve dreamed up. I am really heartened by the care and passion our staff bring to work.

M: For me the most rewarding part of my role at SOS is two-fold: firstly the satisfaction of seeing customers who haven't been served by spa spaces before feel comfortable and enjoy a relaxing spa experience; and also being able to express creativity through design and experience curation to delight and challenge people in a space that is, when you’re stripping down, an act of ultimate resilience.

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