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Nyübu is nirvana, right in Shawnigan Lake

Shawnigan Lake’s new Nordic spa offers improved health benefits, and a euphoric experience

Editor’s note: This story appeared in the March edition of the South Cowichan Connector, a publication for and about the South Cowichan Valley. Look for our April edition starting April 4.

Nyübu brings nirvana to Shawnigan Lake, and hundreds of spa-goers have jumped at the chance.

Megan Northey, and her partner Simon Vreeswijk opened up Nyübu Nordic Spa on their property at 2795 Meadowview Rd. in Shawnigan Lake this past October — it’s the first West Coast Nordic Spa of its kind in Cowichan Valley.

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“We’ve just been open three months, and it’s been absolutely wild,” said Northey. “We expected it would take about six months to be where we are at now, but we were fully booked within about two weeks.”

Nyübu has already seen 800 guests since their doors first opened on Oct. 14.

Nyübu is a Zen Buddhist term that means ‘to go into the mountains to reconnect oneself to the gods.’ This discipline involves walking steep mountain paths for a few days while visiting sacred sites, and worshiping gods and Buddha.

The spa allows people to escape from the grind and stresses of everyday life in our Western world through the ancient restorative ritual of hot and cold therapy that has been practiced for centuries. The inspiration for bringing a Nordic spa to Shawnigan Lake stems from all the time that Northey spent abroad. Originally from Alberta, Northey moved to the island with her family when she was 10 years old, which was just the start of her worldly travels that included Scandinavia and Northern Europe where traditional Nordic spas were first adopted.

“I travelled a fair bit when I was younger, I was just always curious about the world, and the inequality I would see in it,” said Northey. “I just always thought I was raised in a pretty privileged position to make an impact on some of that.”

The chance to make a difference and help others is what led Northey to working with the United Nations for 10 years doing human migration research, and dealing with forced displacement due to conflict — she lived 20 km from the Syrian border for five years.

“It was an incredible experience, but there is a lot I still can’t shake from it,” said Northey. “I had worked in a lot of countries where these types of modalities are very accessible to everyone not just the wealthier people of society. It is a very valued somatic practice. Turkey was one of the countries where I used a lot of their hammams. I returned home four years ago from the Middle East and I was experiencing PTSD. This type of treatment is something that really helped me, and I wanted to help make it more accessible for other people.”

The claims of physical health benefits from switching between different temperatures of water dates back as far as 4500 BC, and later Roman physicians Galen, and Celsus recorded treating patients with warm and cold baths to boost immunity. The transition between extreme temperatures that are practiced in Nordic spas are believed to provide many wellness benefits for both the mind and body. The effects of the Nordic hot/cold pool cycle may reduce a person’s fight or flight response while lowering high cortisol levels leaving a person calmer, less agitated and better able to sleep soundly.

In addition to cleansing one’s skin, other benefits may include relieving pain and inflammation from conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, osteoarthritis, and degenerative joint disease. A quick full plunge into the cold-water pool causes blood vessels to contract which increases one’s heart rate and blood pressure. The combination of the hot and cold sequence stimulates the body to produce white blood cells which leaves the body feeling relaxed, rejuvenated, and restored hence creating a blissful experience.

“It’s kind of addictive but in a really positive way,” said Northey. “Your body starts to look forward to that stress release. In Turkey, I would go to the hammam once a week, it was just a ritual for me. It was such a big part of my well-being that I don’t think I could have coped with all of the stress I was under without it.”

“The best benefits are reduced stress, and improved mental health,” said Northey. “There is a cascade of hormones that are released through hot and cold therapy, there’s serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, and epinephrine. It just leaves people in sort of a euphoric state. I also think that in modern Western societies we don’t take the time to just be in our bodies and not be distracted by a million different things, and focus on our breath or a sensation like pain, or even something good. A lot comes from taking that time for yourself.”

Northey wanted to bring this type of experience to South Cowichan but had no idea what that would look like. She was house shopping when she met her partner Vreeswijk, who grew up in Lake Cowichan, and has spent most of his career working in the marketing department of a Victoria tech company. After a kismet encounter that occurred from Northey staying too long at the showing, the two started dating, and she bought Vreeswijk’s Shawnigan Lake property in 2020. This led to the couple taking the plunge with their new venture, and she kids that the rest is history.

“Simon had always dreamed about doing something with this property but was just never in the place to do it,” said Northey. “When I said that creating this spa was something that I wanted to do, he was pretty happy to have a partner to do something like that with. Having a supportive partner has been absolutely essential. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to believe in myself without that.”

Northey says the idea of Nyübu had been in the works for nearly two years but just took a while to get the right people in place — it broke ground last May. The couple worked with Wildwood Sauna’s founder Josh Dupuis to make their dream a reality. Dupuis designed the facilities to create the most tranquil, and restorative hydrotherapy experience. This included building a beautiful cedar barrel sauna, two filtered cold plunge tubs as well as an outdoor shower, dunk bucket and fire area. The pair take pride that in the grand scheme of things they were able to be cost-effective with their passion project.

“We were able to keep it extremely low-tech,” said Vreeswijk.

“Josh was totally on board with my vision so that really helped,” said Northey. “I had discussed with Josh that my contribution would be the property and the labor and that he would build everything. It took a while to get insurance and everything in place but it was fully built by the beginning of September. As it turned out Josh didn’t have the time to commit to the partnership so I ended up buying him out in the end.”

Nyübu gives guests a traditional sauna experience that was first developed by, and still practiced in, Nordic countries today. It consists of hot, cold, and rest repeated at least two times per session. Nyübu is open Thursday and Friday evenings from 5 to 9 p.m. and on weekends from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Ninety-minute community spa sessions are $30, while 90-minute private sessions are $270. A three-hour private session can also be booked for $500.

“Lots of time we have people making friends in our community saunas,” said Northey. “People are exchanging numbers after. I think in a post-COVID world that has been incredibly beneficial to people — to just come to a place where they can connect with people.”

One must be 18 to book a session, but children are welcome with adult supervision. For more information email The couple says that the best part since starting this journey has been the love they have received from their community.

“We never expected to be a such successful business in the first few months,” said Northey. “We just knew we wanted to do this, and if it was just going to be a nice little thing to do on the side, then that is what it was going to be and we’d be more than happy with that. We’ve just received so much amazing feedback, and support that it’s hard to not want to be open more for everyone.”

“For me it’s been really rewarding to see that you can do something positive in the world and it doesn’t need to be so extreme,” said Northey. “I think there’s a lot of people who really don’t give themselves credit for how much of an impact that they are making in their community because we like to put on a pedestal what people are doing out there in the world. It’s really rewarding to know that you can make a big difference in your community just by doing something very simple.”

Nyübu has been partnering with local businesses for monthly giveaways since they opened and went all out for Valentine’s Day giving one lucky couple an experience they won’t soon forget.

“A couple was gifted private use of the sauna for an hour and a half,” said Northey. “We worked with a masseuse for this giveaway, so after their time in the sauna the couple was invited into our suite for an hour-long couple’s massage.”

The Lakehouse at Shawnigan contributed a gift certificate for dinner, and Nyübu’s neighbours who run an Airbnb also added an overnight stay.

“I think coming here for many can be very intriguing because when they drive up the long driveway they don’t know what to expect,” said Northey. “Then they turn the corner and start seeing the twinkling lights and all of a sudden everyone is like, wow. You enter into kind of this own little world and because it is not a practice that we have a lot of in Canada, I think it’s very novel, and quite unique for people. I hope when guests visit us, they feel a sense of connection with themselves, and that they have been of service to themselves.”

About the Author: Chadd Cawson

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