Stephen R. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, followed up his highly successful book in 2004 with The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness.
Spa professionals frequently talk about how leadership in a spa is different than in other operations because of the types of people that look to the spa manager for leadership. Spa professionals must have the heart of a service provider and model how they want employees to treat guests.
Being ethical involves more than just obeying laws and regulations. Being ethical means having moral principles that guide one’s behavior.
Leaders help to cultivate the heart and soul of a spa. They are the humble, determined drivers who can steer a spa to greatness while uplifting the spirit of employees and guests. It is a role that is a sacred trust for the dual tasks of ensuring a spa’s success while creating serenity and renewing the hearts, minds, bodies, and souls of all who enter its doors.
A History of Spa and Spa Cultures
Much of the content of this chapter was provided by spa historian Jonathan Paul de Vierville, Ph.D., LCSW-ACP, LPC, TRMT, professor of history and humanities, St. Philips College, San Antonio, Texas; director of the Alamo Plaza Spa at the Menger Hotel; and founder of the Hot Wells Institute. The authors gratefully acknowledge his expertise and insight.
While many people may think of spas as a modern development of the Western world, the essentials of spa have their roots in human history as far back as the beginning of time. People have always sought out the places where water springs from the earth in order to experience water’s healing properties and restorative qualities. Other aspects of spa, in particular the human touch of massage and the use of natural ingredients like mud, seaweed, herbs, and plant oils, have also been used in many civilizations over the centuries. By studying the roots of spa cultures and traditions throughout history, spa professionals can better understand and appreciate the richness of the modern spa environment in which they live and work.
This chapter explores the origins of spa and spa practices from antiquity through the middle of the twentieth century, which many spa historians identify as the beginning of the modern, or contemporary, spa era.
The First Civilizations
Along with nomadic Stone Age and Bronze Age societies, the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, Crete, and China all used water for religious rituals as well as individual and social healing rites. The earliest written sources of history include accounts of the sick using purification baths in healing waters along with drinking from medicinal fountains. Within ancient springs, wells, and stone bath works, archeologists have found votive tablets and sculptures along with an abundance of artifacts that evidence wide use of the waters for health, regenerative, curative, and therapeutic practices. With all this evidence, scholars have gained an impression of ancient spa cultures and their different types, forms, and methods of purification baths and ritual bathing.
Western Civilizations and Spa Cultures
The spa cultures of Greece and Rome during classical antiquity and the development of hot and cold bathing and water-based therapies throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance form the foundation of many spa practices of today.
New World Spa Cultures
The tradition of European spa cultures is lengthy; so is America’s. Mayan and Aztec archeological sites in Central America and Mexico have unearthed ruins of sweat bath houses called temazcalli, the oldest of which date from 1350 B.C.E. They were used as medical facilities, treating a variety of medical conditions under the guidance of a trained healer called a temazcalera, who selected herbs and determined the levels of heat and humidity needed to treat her patients. When Friar Diego Duran wrote a history of Mexico in 1567, he included a description of the temazcalli, which bear many similarities to Finnish saunas, Turkish hammam, and American Indian sweat lodges.
In the 1600s, in what became the United States, English, Dutch, and French colonists built their stone huts and wooden tubs near wilderness healing springs frequented by Native Americans. During the 1700s, natural philosophers like Drs. John De Normandie (1721 to 1805) and Benjamin Rush (1746 to 1813) traveled to various colonial mineral springs and thermal sources and pools to analyze the waters for their chemical and medicinal virtues. In Virginia, Thomas Jefferson rode his horse to the distant Warm Springs Valley, the farthest West he ever traveled, and wrote descriptions and details on the healing mineral springs and pools in his Notes on the State of Virginia. Jefferson also studied Palladio’s ancient Roman drawings and used them to design the historic Sweet Springs Spa in West Virginia.
The Beginnings of the Contemporary Spa
While the medical view of spa therapy and health resort medicine was on the decline, a new era in the world of spa began to develop in the 1940s, with an emphasis on physical fitness, personal development, self improvement, and wellness—not focused on the eradication of disease, but on the optimization of good health. The contemporary spa began to take shape, but still retained ties to its ancient and global heritage. Modern spas in many forms began to develop into what people today recognize as spa, incorporating and expanding on the practices and traditions of the rich history of the world’s spa cultures.
The modern spa era saw spas shift from their ancient medical and spiritual emphasis to today’s corporate model that primarily focuses on beauty, fitness, and wellness. While wellness and relaxation have always been the cornerstones of a spa’s holistic experience, the historical European model had come to emphasize taking the waters and retreating to pastoral and natural setting for weeks and even months at a time. Food was luxurious and abundant, and doctors routinely recommended spas as a way to cleanse and heal the body away from the rigors of everyday urban life.
In the early part of the twentieth century, medical discoveries started to replace clinical interest in spas and their powers of natural healing. Public hospitals started replacing spas and the medical establishment became guarded about spa treatments as a health response for many years. It wasn’t until the last decade of the twentieth century that the public once again began to recognize the medical, health, and healing values of spas.