Spa: A Comprehensive Introduction | Chapter 1.1 | Philosophy of Spa

Philosophy of Spa

Philosophy is often considered a foundation upon which people build their knowledge and belief structures. The Greek word for philosophy translates to “love of wisdom.” It is appropriate then, that this text begins its exploration of spa by delving beyond the business models and types of treatments to take a close look at the wisdom and “why” of spa. Spa philosophy encompasses the deeper meaning and sacred significance of spa.

Spa is ancient in its origin; the ideas behind spa reach back through the ages. This historic tradition, based on the health and wellness of the total person, has stimulated and catalyzed the modern spa world. Spa has experienced rapid growth over the past three decades as spa philosophy has permeated modern culture.

Devoted spa professionals have embraced the wisdom at the very core of spa. It is a wisdom that is committed to the wellness of all humanity. Spa wisdom believes that spas can create places in which people can renew their heart and spirit, rejuvenate their minds, refresh their bodies, and regenerate their souls. Spa is a place where people find physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing.

Spa creates a safe time and place to observe and listen to the creative spirit. It is a place where ideas can be inspired and revealed.

She watched as the guest slowly opened her eyes and the corners of her lips rose into an easy grin. As Elena, the spa manager, quietly placed a glass of cucumber water on the table next to where the guest was resting in one of the Winter Garden’s chaise lounges, the guest reached her hand out and touched Elena’s arm. “Have I been lying here long?” she asked softly. “I feel so sublime, like time has stopped.”

Elena smiled at Mrs. Markovitch, who earlier that day had complained about how hectic her life was and how she felt enslaved by her cell phone and e-mail. She wished her calls and e-mails would stop for a few days so that she could get more work done. She regretted signing her children up for so many extra-curricular activities. She was not able to get more housework done because when she wasn’t at work, she was constantly running from one place to another.

“The last time I was sick,” Mrs. Markovitch had told Elena upon arriving at the spa for a three-day visit, “I was lying in bed, miserable, and wishing the world would stop while I was sick. There was so much to do and it was piling up while I lay in bed doing nothing. It was then that I realized I was wishing for time to stand still for the wrong reasons. I wanted it to stand still so that I could do more, not less.”

Elena was pleased that Mrs. Markovitch seemed to have escaped that guilt, at least for the moment. “You’re welcome to lie here as long as you wish. Everyone needs to stop and take time not just to get things done on your to-do list but to truly take care of yourself. To breathe.”

“It feels so indulgent to just take care of myself,” Mrs. Markovitch said.

“Yet, if you don’t take care of yourself, how will you be able to help others? It’s like in an airplane. The flight attendants tell you that in case of a loss of cabin pressure to put your oxygen mask on first and then help your children. You won’t be there to take care of your children unless you take care of yourself. And taking care of yourself is just what you’re doing now.”

Mrs. Markovitch nodded and took a sip of the cold, refreshing water. “How can I hold onto this—this feeling of deep contentment and peace as well as this philosophy of taking care of myself? How can I take this home with me?”

With that she motioned to her surroundings in the lush winter garden of the spa. Her husband was taking a fitness walk along the sea and she had the winter garden to herself. She’d been lying in a white robe on the softly cushioned reclining chair. With her hair still oily from her last treatment, she breathed in the exotic aromas used on her skin.

Before Elena could answer, Mrs. Markovitch continued. “Look at this,” she said, stretching down over her knees and rubbing her feet. “Normally, my feet are aching all the time. Now they’re relaxed. No aches. No pains. They’re like velvet to the touch. I’m actually thinking about myself physically in a positive way rather than thinking about how much I hurt or how ugly I feel. This morning in yoga, I was so self-conscious about my body. By the end, the consciousness had turned to its power, its grace, its possibilities. My tension melted away into a new flexibility. The movements were so graceful and powerful. I can’t remember the last time I thought of myself so positively. It feels so much better than being obsessed with my aching body or the extra ten pounds I’ve gained. Instead, while I’m here, I can focus on how soft my skin is, my inner strength, balance, and grace. It opens up new possibilities to what I can achieve.”

Elena nodded, “It’s powerful, isn’t it?”

They both looked at the horizon as the sun began to set. Together, they took a deep breath, taking in the oxygen from the green, luscious plants around them.

“I’m almost nervous to leave the sanctuary of this winter garden. If I leave, will I lose this newfound wisdom and peace? How can I take it with me? Or can I stay here in this magical place forever?”

Elena nodded wisely. “Spa is a place to meet yourself. The meaning of spa is within you and it will always be with you, to seek out and find anywhere. But if you do find yourself back in a place where you don’t want to be, you can always take time and pause at any spa—to reconnect. We are here to help you in your journey. We are your sanctuary to meet yourself.”

Evolution and Culture of Spa

Spa existed in all cultures of the world long before the word “spa” was applied to its current day uses. Today’s spas encompass many types of healing and philosophies that can be traced back through time. These include:

  • Wellness focused on the total person—physical, mental, social, and spiritual
  • Bathing and water rituals
  • Herbal remedies
  • Massage therapy
  • Thalassotherapy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Exercise
  • Diet

Spa began with the search for healthy living using water and herbal remedies. Then came the development of bathing rituals and the use of mud and other natural substances from the earth and sea. From there, various spa treatments were developed including massage, fitness movements, and skin treatments. The history and evolution are key in understanding today’s philosophies of spa.

A quick look at the evolution of spa culture includes these highlights:

  • Around 3100 B.C.E., two rituals and therapies began to be practiced that have survived to the modern era: the Egyptian civilization began to practice water therapies and herbal remedies. The nearby civilization of Babylonians also established bathing in rivers and applying hot and cold compresses.
  • Water rituals played a role in many cultures from the Greek practice of cold water bathing to Persian steam and mud baths to the Hebrew ritual purification and bathing in the Dead Sea.
  • Ayurvedic medicine began thousands of years ago, though the exact dates are disputed. It is a philosophy that provides the foundation for many therapies in spas today. The word Ayurveda is a combination of two words meaning “long life” and “knowledge,” together translating as “knowledge of a long life” or “knowledge of life.” One of the ancient Indian Ayurvedic texts, the Charaka Samhita, defines life as the “combination of the body, sense organs, mind, and soul, the factor responsible for preventing decay and death, which sustains the body over time, and guides the process of rebirth.” It is a system of medicine that is designed to promote healthy living and offer therapies related to physical, mental, social, and spiritual harmony.
  • When the Greeks introduced water treatments to the Romans in 300 B.C.E., this concept led to the building of spas throughout Roman territory.
  • Thailand’s (then Siam) massage therapy tradition began around 100 B.C.E., when Buddhism first arrived there.
  • Modern thalassotherapy is traced to Dr. Richard Russell of Brighton who, in 1750 C.E., published “De Tabe Glanduri” in which he wrote, “The sea washes away all the evils of mankind.”
  • Swedish physiologist Per Henrick Ling developed modern massage techniques known as Swedish massage in 1806.
  • The first modern hydrotherapy spa was founded in 1829 in Grafenberg, Germany.
  • In 1934, Elizabeth Arden, born Florence Nightingale Graham, founded the first day spa in Maine, United States. She brought in high quality skin care and esthetics.
  • Six years later, Rancho La Puerta, the first of the American destination spas in the modern era, was established.
  • Dr. Kenneth Cooper coined the word “aerobics” in 1968 and published a book about the system of exercise that helps prevent coronary heart disease.
  • A year later, Judi Sheppard Missett developed Jazzercise, a series of dance routines to improve cardiovascular health.
  • In the years that followed, several diets were introduced, including the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet; the Pritikin program, which advocated whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fats; and the Scarsdale diet, a high-protein, low-carb diet.

More recently, the importance of proper nutrition and regular exercise has entered the mainstream as an important life consideration.

All of these historical events contribute to the spa philosophy, a philosophy that draws upon many great traditions to nurture and rejuvenate people’s bodies, souls, and minds today.

Today’s Philosophy of Spa

A spa is the epitome of the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In a world where many people spend more time and money on preventive maintenance for their cars than on themselves, spas offer a balance and the chance to recalculate the equation to focus on personal well-being.

People go to spas to rest, relax, and become spiritually or physically replenished. It’s a chance to get away from work, obligations, telephones, e-mails, doorbells, and everyday stress, giving guests time for themselves. Spas provide stress-free, noncompetitive experiences in settings that promote rest and relaxation.

Spa is the love or deeper appreciation of one’s self through education, knowledge, and/or wisdom about oneself and one’s potential. It is about beauty, health, wellness, fitness, mental health, and spiritual journeys—a time and space for guests to be the best they can be. It’s a time to heal—and learn how to continue to heal.

Spa is everywhere now. It is in the grocery aisle with spa cuisine offerings that are healthy, wholesome, and free of additives and chemicals. It is in the medical community where massage therapies are now being offered at hospitals to reduce the effects of chemotherapy, improve cardiovascular health, and help injured muscles heal. It is in people’s homes as they begin to bring elements of the spa into their interior design for a more peaceful escape from the stresses of daily life. It has even expanded to residential communities built around spas where people can experience the benefits of the spa lifestyle daily.

What is the spa lifestyle? It is a way of living that is focused on the whole person and on balance. What spas have to offer to everyone goes deeper than a simple massage or a pedicure. It goes beyond any given treatment. Rather, the spa lifestyle springs from the reasons these treatments are offered. The spa lifestyle is about living fully, with harmony of the body, mind, heart, and spirit.

Top athletes understand the positive effects of spa treatments on exerted muscles. Cancer patients are finding a much-needed place for reprieve at spas. Families are enjoying spas together as quality time to bond and relax. Teens are going in groups and learning lifestyle lessons on skin care and proper nutrition. Man’s best friends have even clawed their way into spas with the creation of pet spas focused on grooming and pampering dogs and cats.

“Spas are absolutely mainstream. Everyone is busier than ever before and they’re realizing they must take time out to recharge their batteries and de-stress,” said International Spa Association (ISPA) President Lynne Walker McNees. “People no longer see spas as pampering, but instead as a requisite to stay healthy. The two main reasons that people go to spas are to relieve stress and feel relaxed.”

Spas have become places of learning. They offer services and programs to align the body and mind, so that the guest can leave with a new commitment to healthy living. The spa philosophy is about teaching life lessons. Guests can enrich their lives with each visit. They can learn how to live healthier lives, experience encouragement about their minds and bodies, and have their spirit lifted.

Defining Mind, Body and Spirit

The spa world often talks about attending to the needs of mind, body, and spirit. What do these key words mean in the spa world?

Mind. Intellectual growth and an understanding of the world about oneself are key components of healthy living. The brain has powers far beyond what people are able to understand and it directs the health and well-being of the body. Spas often offer education and awareness training that can lead people toward healthier lives.

Body. The body refers to the physical vessel that each person is granted during this lifetime. Spas have long worked at helping people develop healthy habits that nurture and strengthen the body, along with enhancing physical appearance.

Spirit. Spirit can be defined in many ways, though at its essence, it is about integration and connection. Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer of integrative medicine, defines spirit by writing, “The essence of spirituality is connectedness, an inner sense that we are not random, isolated creatures, but part of something sacred and infinitely larger than ourselves.” He also writes, “As humans, we are not intended to achieve full health as isolated, separate beings. Health is wholeness, and wholeness implies connectedness—to family, friends, tribe, nation, humanity, the Earth, and whatever higher power you conceive of as the creator of the universe.” Spas help people to make those connections—whether to other people, to nature, to waters, to the community, or to themselves. They provide a place for reflection and for inspiration.

While spa looks at the whole person and serves the needs of the whole person, individual spas are not designed to be all things to all people. Not all spas cater to mind, body, and spirit. Some spas specialize in a particular area, focusing on fitness or in spiritual reflection. Others might have an educational focus.

At their core, though, spas and the professionals who work in them look at a person as a whole—mind, body, and spirit—even if their direct treatments may appear to cater to only one component. Many in the spa industry believe the three are uniquely tied together as a unified tri-force, with one affecting the other.


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