More than just a spa

Building a community of wellness on Martha’s Vineyard with the Nordic Mermaid.


For some folks, getting a massage or hitting the sauna at their local spa or gym is a means of relaxing, unwinding, and maybe doing a little bit of pampering.

But these acts of self-care hold more benefits than just providing necessary psychological solace after a long week of work or getting some “me time” on your day off.

Deborah Wirzburger, co-owner of the Nordic Mermaid Spa and wellness suite, wants to provide people with all the knowledge and tools they need to deeply relax and destress, all informed by hundreds of years of wellness culture stemming from various Scandinavian countries.

Not only is the Nordic Mermaid the only Nordic spa on the Island, but it is trailblazing in its field as the first Nordic spa in Massachusetts, Wirzburger said.

Wirzburger has been in the wellness industry for about 15 years. Her business partner, Tonya Rehder-Zarlengo, has been in the field even longer, and they both have a passion for community wellness that allows people to enjoy healthy practices together in a group setting.

The two physical therapists worked together and were roommates on the Island, and they soon realized that they worked well as a team, and wanted to shift their focus to stress management. “It was during 2019, after COVID hit. Whether you are getting a massage because you are in pain because you worked out too much, or you need something to help you relax or are battling with anxiety or depression — everything actually boils down to the cells of your body feeling stress,” Wirzburger said.

That year, Wirzburger and Rehder-Zarlengo traveled to Helsinki, Finland, to attend a health summit. While in Europe, the two visited health and wellness centers in Iceland, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Finland.

Through all of their research, it was clear to them that one reason people in Scandinavian countries are so happy (and live so long) is because they are serious about their personal wellness, and they often combine it with family and community.

“If this is part of why those folks are so happy, let’s bring that to the Island,” Wirzburger said. “People already come to the Vineyard to relax and to experience something new and different, so let’s bring that same Scandinavian philosophy here so people can incorporate it into their wellness or vacation plan.”

Last year, the two formalized their business plan and found space for their spa suite at Airport Fitness in West Tisbury. This allowed the two to expand their business past concierge massage and toward creating a wellness community.

“One of our taglines is ‘sauna culture reimagined,’” Wirzburger explained. “The beautiful thing about the Scandinavian lifestyle is that they incorporate all sorts of saunas, massages, and cold therapies, not just as an individual treatment, but as social gatherings.”

She described weekends in a Scandinavian household often being spent together as a family taking a cold plunge or relaxing during the evening in a freshly stoked sauna.

The spa’s traditional Finnish barrel sauna can fit four to six people, allowing a group to rent it for the evening and have a fun experience together. 

As folks sit inside the sauna, which can reach extremely high temperatures (depending on the heat setting), ladles of water can be poured onto the hot stones to increase the humidity.

In Finland, this hot steam is called the “loyly” — it opens your pores, increases blood flow throughout the body, and can be combined with essential oils like lavender or tea tree.

“Still, to this day, whenever I sit in a loyly-style sauna, I just feel the stress melt off my body. You can converse with your friends, and even take a little break outside on the bench and have a refreshing drink,” Wirzburger said. Three cycles of in-and-out is typical of a weekend gathering in Finland, she said.

Another element of the Nordic Mermaid which is becoming more popular in personal wellness spheres around the world is the infrared sauna. The sauna uses multi-spectrum light to allegedly improve circulation, detoxify, and clear your skin, and folks can choose a mixture of settings to find the therapeutic benefit that’s right for them. 

According to Wirzburger, there is potential benefit for people afflicted with Lyme disease in regularly using the infrared sauna, as it is said to help the body recover from the toxicity caused by Lyme treatments. 

One of the newest therapies being implemented by Nordic spas in America is the cold bath, or the cold plunge tank. Similarly to exposing your body to intense heat in a sauna and creating heat-shock proteins, submerging your body in extremely cold water creates cold-shock proteins that are said to provide anti-aging properties. 

In the traditional Nordic spa, hot and cold treatments go hand-in-hand, and folks can often be seen hopping back and forth between a steamy sauna and a freezing ice bath.

Wirzburger stressed that the Nordic Mermaid is all about creating a tailored approach to wellness, so folks shouldn’t feel obligated to take on these more extreme wellness methods right off the bat, or at all. “We wanted to provide people with the option to totally immerse themselves in that Nordic ideology, but of course, we want to create an approach to wellness that works for everyone,” Wirzburger said.

She added that going into a cold tank is a good way to meditate and increase control over mind and body. “When you are in cold water, you are thinking about nothing except how not to freeze. This means you are not thinking about the death of your loved one, you are not thinking about the anxiety at work, you aren’t thinking about anything except how to control your mind and body. Learning to be a student of your body is probably one of the most essential aspects to this therapy,” she said.

Apart from the various new therapies available, some of the most beneficial services at the Nordic Mermaid are the massages.

Their classic massage is called the Lagom, and it’s all about reducing stress and creating balance. It hits all the major muscles in your body — a typical Swedish massage. 

They also offer a longer massage called the Niksen, which in the Netherlands means “the art of doing nothing.” 

Wirzburger invented this treatment while she was working as a physical therapist in Boston, on Newbury Street. Built into this massage are breathwork, self-relaxation techniques, and other methods that people can use in their everyday lives.

For Wirzburger, teaching clients about ways to reduce stress for themselves is essential to making progress during the therapy sessions. “Not just wanting to provide these services, but to create a community around personal wellness. Over time, people will actually start talking to us about the specific things that are bothering them, and we can suggest certain practices both in and out of the spa,” Wirzburger explained.

In the future, Wirzburger hopes to offer a mobile spa where they bring the sauna to people’s homes, along with massage tables. They also are looking into wellness classes based on Wim Hof’s mind and body training, and potentially a winter retreat where people can go to learn about stress management in all forms.

Head to the Nordic Mermaid website,, for more information, or call 774-220-9220.