This week, Intelligent Life magazine posted an article on their blog refuting the benefits of spas. Spas often take a bad rap as being a superficial luxury indulgence (“dedicated to narcissism” the Intelligent Life article says.)
The article describes spas as “a mish-mash of promises” using a hodge-podge of modern technologies alongside ancient healing remedies to promise everything from better health and beauty to psychological wellbeing.
On one level, spas deserve some of this criticism. Many spas do overpromise in their marketing materials, promising unproven or untested benefits. “Anti-aging” for example, which is much easier said than done, is a common theme in the industry.
The spa industry also suffers from the problem that the word “spa” has been used ubiquitously and imprecisely, and often describes facilities that are not really offering wellness, but focus more on superficial beauty treatments.
Many people, for example, are not aware of the truly healing and life enriching experiences that are available at destination spas. And people do not realize that the name “medical spa”, which is now more commonly used to label beauty spas where botox injections and laser hair removal services are performed, was once used to describe wellness spas, where a physician supervised true medicinal treatments and healing programs.
The good news is, these healing spas do still exist, and the spa industry is filled with passionate individuals who are committed to improving their clients’ well-being across mind, body and spirit. So the question is . . . how do we go from the common perceptions of spa (sometimes accurate and sometimes not) to the promise of what a spa experience can really be? How can spas change the way we think about modern healing?
I look to spas with an incredible sense of reverence. Spas are different from other healing institutions in our society, and fill in some important gaps in the way we look at human wellness. I think the following principles describe a promise of spa that could change the way we look at healing in our society:
1. Healing is holistic. Unlike modern physical medicine which seems to view the body as a machine, spas understand that true wellness is achieved by treating people holistically across mind, body and spirit.
2. Prevention is the cure. While modern medical systems seem to be content to wait for people to become ill and then figure out what drug, surgery or procedure can be used to fix them, spas promote a healthy lifestyle encouraging healthy eating, exercise and mind-body practices that prevent illness in the first place.
3. We can heal ourselves. Most of medicine for most of human history could be boiled down to the placebo effect, a.k.a. self-healing. Indigenous or shamanic rituals were used (effectively in many cases) to aid people in healing themselves without the aid of scientifically proven, technologically advanced or pharmaceutically induced interventions. Spas still pay homage to the importance of ritual, alternative healing methods, and encouraging self-healing.
4. Healing should feel good. I find it interesting that we dread going to most of the healing institutions in our society. Doctors, hospitals and clinics are all designed to make us feel better and yet we detest going to them. The spa may be the only healing institution in modern society that we actually look forward to visiting. I believe the way a healing intervention is delivered has an effect on the outcome, and spas have figured out how to deliver their treatments in an enjoyable way.
5. Healing is not only high tech, it’s high touch. It’s not only about the next piece of new technology or pharmaceutical innovation. Sometimes people just need to be heard and sometimes people just need to be touched.
Given the diversity and fragmentation of the spa industry, it is natural for consumers to be somewhat confused. Do spas today offer healing and transformation or pampering and beauty? They offer both. But the promise of spa is a new way of looking at healing that considers the whole person, focuses on prevention and taps into our own abilities to heal ourselves.
References and recommended reading:
Browse research on the science behind spa offerings at http://www.spaevidence.com.
by Jeremy McCarthy
I will be donating 100% of the revenues from pdf e-book purchases this month to recovery efforts for victims of Hurricane Sandy. See The Psychology of Spas and Wellbeing.