Holiday Gift Guide 2021: Take care of yourself this season

Holiday Gift Guide 2021: Take care of yourself this season

By Olivia Anderson |

Although the month of December is often hailed as the season to unplug and spend time with family and friends, it’s also filled with frenzied trips to the mall and extra hours in the kitchen. In other words: a lot of stress. Plus, with the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting our lives, it’s safe to say that self-care for many has fallen by the wayside.

That’s why for this week’s gift guide, we’ve gathered some local picks for all things wellness, from traditional takes on self-care to more unconventional interpretations of what it means to treat yourself.

Celebrate your loved ones – or yourself – with gifts certain to soothe anxieties, or at least keep them at bay this holiday season. And be sure to check back next week for our gift guide that is all about splurging.

Salon Monte

Most people have heard of the popular show, “Say Yes to the Dress” on TLC. But not everyone is aware that one of the stars of the show’s Atlanta offshoot, Monte Durham, also owns an Alexandria-based shop called Salon Monte, located at 210 Union St.

With the massive success of the show, Durham said that in 2018 he began entertaining the idea of taking on another project. Salon Monte officially opened on Sept. 12, 2020 – the day that Jackie and John F. Kennedy married, which, for the self-proclaimed Jackie O. mega-fan, was not a coincidence.

The MONTE Product, available at Salon Monte, includes a moisturizing shampoo, one-step conditioner, natural lift, taming balm and ever-hold hairspray.

Salon Monte offers a variety of products and services to encourage self-care, including the MONTE Product, created initially as a way to simplify Durham’s busy schedule.

“I was traveling all the time and I was in front of cameras, mic’d and on stages and making public appearances. I’m taking all this stuff with me and I thought, ‘There has got to be a simpler way to do this,’ so I started researching,” Durham said.

The result was a kit that combines many products into just the essentials. The MONTE Product features a light, gentle, sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner that doesn’t damage hair or color. It also includes a root lift you can use to style wet or dry hair, taming balm that smooths hair and takes away frizz and a light mist hairspray.

The MONTE Product is an acronym for the names of the items in the kit: M for moisturizing shampoo; O for one-step conditioner; N for natural root lift; T for taming bomb and E for ever-hold hairspray.

Salon Monte also offers custom candles, called Wicked Games and London Calling, $65 each, jewelry that starts at $65 and goes up to $500 and a four-hour smoothing treatment starting at $350.

Of course, Salon Monte also offers in-person hair appointments, from haircut and styling starting at $60 to shampoo and styling starting at $65.

“What we really do is we’re concentrating on and speaking to the wellness and the beauty of your hair,” Durham said. “ … We’re there to make sure that the health of your hair is our first priority.”

Visit Salon Monte in-person or online at

Sport & Health

Most can agree that a great way to prioritize self-care and personal health is through physical activity.

Darline Bucchannon, fitness director for Old Town Sport & Health, which has been located at 209 Madison St. for about 30 years, knows the value of a good workout more than most.

“[We] really try to instill a sense of community,” Bucchannon said. “Before the pandemic, we would have what I called fitness festivals that would also coincide with a barbecue in the spring and summer, and we would have a holiday party in the fall, and in February we would have a chocolate party.”

In addition to a communal feel, Sport & Health offers memberships, starting at $79 and $99 for multi-club monthly fee, that come with a variety of benefits.

“I always say we’re not like the telephone company. Let’s say you want to upgrade or reduce your membership. We’re not going to tell you [that] you have to have a whole new two-year contract. You do something like that with the phone company and you’ve landed into a whole new contract; we don’t do that,” Bucchannon said, adding that after clients have completed their first oneyear contract, everything is month to month.

All group classes, such as Zumba, body combat, turbo kick, barre and yoga, are free with a membership.

Sport & Health offers a variety of additional services, such as personal training lessons. The rates vary based on the trainer’s level of training, but all are certified expert instructors.

The gym also offers an Inbody 570 body composition scan, priced at $70, which includes a true breakdown of total fat and muscle and Bucchannon said is 99% as accurate as water immersion through a clinic.

For more information, visit

Four Directions

When people think of self-care, they often think of physical health, but Four Directions Wellness owner Mara Benner encourages a more holistic view.

“For me it’s all about connecting the whole of an individual, so mind, body, emotions and spirit,” Benner said.

This is achieved through a variety of different services, such as nutrition and energy work like chakra healing or reiki, a relaxation technique from Japan.

Through various healing techniques and individual sessions, Four Directions Wellness aims to strengthen the connection between mind, body and spirit.

Four Directions, located at 2001 Mt. Vernon Ave., also offers a mind-body-spirit executive coaching technique, a six-month partnership where Benner works one on one with clients to “align with the messaging of the body.”

“We’ve kind of disconnected from knowing our own body and what’s taking place, so I love individuals to be able to feel and sense that, and then to really help them launch any insights they are getting into the world around them,” Benner said of the coaching program.

Affiliated with the George Washington University Center for Integrative Medicine, Four Directions is greatly influenced by Benner’s own personal journey. She has travelled around the world learning ancient spirituality practices and healing techniques, gone on a two-year seminary program focused on interfaith and interspirituality and completed a Duke University meditation and mindfulness training.

Four Directions is currently offering two holiday specials. The first is $50 off reiki training, currently $215. The second is 20% off any services for the first session with the code BALANCE.

For more information or a complimentary consultation, visit

Opal Music Studio

For those looking for something a little bit different when it comes to self-care, consider the gift of music lessons.

At around 250 students and 17 teachers, Opal Music Studio has earned its spot as a community staple.

Although founder and co-owner Hannah Williams said the goal was initially to find somewhere to teach piano lessons, the studio steadily expanded over the years. Now, it offers private lessons of varying lengths and instruments, including piano, violin, viola, cello, guitar, ukulele, voice, flute and clarinet.

For a different spin on self-care, Opal Music Studio offers private music lessons for a wide range of instruments.

“[We] basically have everything except for drums because, you know, it’s Old Town and the neighbors don’t love it when you’re teaching drums,” Williams said.

But Opal Music doesn’t just offer lessons. There are also game nights, traditional recitals twice a year and community events with local businesses. For example, Opal Music partnered with Wayfair Books to present a “Story Recital” where staff read books to kids with the intention of connecting music and story.

“We try to get them to see music in everyday life,” Williams said. “We want to create a musical community for the music students of Old Town. We want to give them a foundation of music and hopefully a lifelong love of learning music and learning to make music and play music, and a place to do that.”

The prices vary based on the length of the lesson – there are 30-minute, 45-minute and 60-minute options – what instrument the student wants to learn and whether the student is an adult or child.

Stop by 607 Prince St. to visit Opal Music in person, or learn more at

Old Town Music School

Old Town Music School was founded after owner Julie Zupan was, as she puts it, “evicted” from teaching music lessons in her home.

“I left kicking and screaming,” Zupan said, before coming across the 120 S. Royal St. location where she currently teaches music. Although she initially set out to just offer piano lessons, the fact that the space had multiple rooms led Zupan to the idea of creating a full school.

Today, Old Town Music School offers traditional private music lessons, including piano, guitar, ukulele, violin, viola and voice. With three large studios, the school puts on various recitals throughout the year, including a Halloween and spring recital.

Additionally, students attend performance classes where they are not only learning to play their instrument and everything that goes along with it, but they’re also learning how to perform.

“Just because you can play an instrument doesn’t mean you know how to perform. That’s a whole different skill,” Zupan said.

The performance classes at Old Town Music School provide an opportunity for students to hone their presentation skills.

Tuition for all instruments is $195 per month and doesn’t include any contracts or commitments, Zupan said. Prospective students are just asked to come in for an initial interview lesson where they get a feel for the school and how it operates to see if it’s a good fit.

“It’s kind of like a coffee shop with music – you know how you go and hang out at the coffee shop? I find that the parents of the students hang out. The parents stay and listen to lessons and can hear other lessons going on in the background,” Zupan said.

All ages are welcome to take lessons; in fact, the school has a chalkboard outside that reads, “from ages 3 to 93.”

“If somebody gifts someone music lessons, it’s not going to be an in and out. If you start taking music lessons it’s something you’re going to remember,” Zupan said. “It enhances your whole life, 100%.”

For more information, visit