Dissecting the Spirit in Body, Mind, Spirit

Inner Sanctum by Trey Ratcliff

In a previous article, I wrote about “Science and Spirituality in the Spa.”  I recognized the trend in the spa industry to become more scientific and evidence-based, but I cautioned that spas should perhaps move towards spirituality and not towards science.  After all, we already have a massive health care industry that is looking at health care scientifically, but we have very few entities in our society that look at wellness holistically, across body, mind and spirit.

The article generated some excellent discussion in the comments, including a thoughtful post from Susie Ellis, one of the leaders in the spa industry and a founding board member for the Global Spa Summit, which has been developing an online database to help the spa industry become more evidence-based.

She asked the following question, which I will strive to answer in this post:

I would love to know your thoughts on the difference between mind and spirit in the spa context (as in body, mind, spirit) as it seems to me that the distinctions are somewhat blurred.

For most of us, it is easy to make the distinction between body and mind, as we seem to have an almost intuitive appreciation for the differences between the tangible body and the ethereal mind.  In the last century, most philosophers and scientists have adopted a duality mindset, hypothesizing that humans are made up of more than their physical components.   There is some ethereal component of mind or soul that exists beyond the physical realm.

It is more challenging to make the distinction between mind and soul.  These two ethereal concepts seem hard to differentiate, and we might even question if there is a soul that exists independently of the mind.  For the spa industry, which defines itself around offering wellbeing across “body, mind and spirit,” we have to be able to intelligently think about how spas can impact each of these three distinct domains.  What is the difference between mental and spiritual wellbeing?

The “mind” or “mental” component is, of course, easier to define.  The mind represents our cognitive functioning and capacities.  Sometimes, our thinking styles contribute to a life of wellbeing, and sometimes they detract from it.  When I think about this in the context of a spa experience, I think about people who come to the spa because they want to calm their mind, relieve stress, and develop greater mindfulness skills.

“Spirituality” is most often defined in a religious context.  But if we want a more secular or scientific approach to wellness, we have to go beyond religious definitions and think about what lies at peoples’ core beyond their physical and mental capabilities.  One area that might give us a clue to spiritual wellbeing is our emotional health.  Emotions can be tied to deep and powerful feelings, sometimes expressing aspects of ourselves that we aren’t even aware of on a cognitive level.  It is a common phenomenon in spas to have a client burst into tears on a massage table, in a sudden release of pent up emotion, and then leave the spa feeling spiritually unburdened.     

Another possibility is that spirituality is about “a connection to something greater than ourselves.”  And people coming to a spa may be doing so in a social context, allowing them to deepen a relationship with others, or to take time to think deeply about their personal values and their contribution to the planet.

But my favorite definition of spirituality is from psychologist Kenneth Pargament, author of a book on the psychology of religion, who calls spirituality the “search for the sacred.”  What motivates the quest for the things we cherish most deeply?  This definition is not defined by emotion, but it accommodates the emotional experience of spirituality.  It is not defined by something greater than ourselves, but it accommodates people who deeply value relationships and contribution. 

In the context of this definition, there is much that the spa industry can do for spiritual wellbeing.  Health, peace, time, silence, touch and relationships are all things that people may hold sacred that they can experience in a visit to a thoughtfully programmed holistic spa.

We also have to remember that body, mind and spirit are really just human labels that we use to try and make sense of the complexity of human wellbeing.  The growing body of work in neuroscience is finding that ethereal things such as thoughts and feelings are indeed manifested (or generated) physically.  Emotions actually tie all three of these domains together as our thoughts stimulate deep beliefs and are expressed viscerally in the body. 

Scientific medicine goes wrong by trying to compartmentalize and address the physical aspects of health while completely ignoring the other domains.  All are parts of the whole, but none of the parts can be completely separated from the others.  To quote Susie’s question above, “the distinctions are somewhat blurred.”  While we like to figure out where to draw clear lines so we can box things into neat compartments that are easy to express independently, the key to success in holistic wellness is in getting comfortable with blurred lines.

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16 Responses to Dissecting the Spirit in Body, Mind, Spirit

  1. Marie-Josee Shaar June 21, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    A very common, highly-recognized but poorly addressed problem in business is how each activity is compartmentalized and assessed in relations to the bottom line. In that context, initiatives that foster customer loyalty, employee engagement, employee health or community respect but that can’t be directly traced to a clear profit are often ignored, dismissed, discontinued. It’s clearly a sad, even shameful model I’d dare to say. So why are we tempted to use that very same approach and repeat those same mistakes when it comes to human well-being is beyond my understanding.
    Great post, Jeremy. Thank you.

  2. Stacy (@TheZenGirl) June 21, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    Great article, Jeremy.

    MarieJ, you have such great points in your comment. Grey areas are crucial to consider because they DO affect the bottom line, just not in a direct, overt way. But without getting comfortable and acknowledging these blurred areas, it will be a tangible loss. It’s so important to remain open-minded, in “learning mode” and consider all aspects to what all adds up to an integrated, holistic mind/body/spirit experience. And spas are just the platform to integrate this.

    John Travis, MD, MPH, a leading figure in the wellness movement, created a whole-person assessment tool called the Wellness Inventory. It reflects a model that includes 12 dimensions of wellness. According to Travis, the 11th dimension is Finding Meaning. At its core are basic questions, such as: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” “What do I want?” “What is real?” “What is true?” Unfortunately, in our modern, materialistic, media-saturated society, few people take the time to ponder these questions, yet doing so is crucial to create a balanced and rewarding life. Though we may never be completely sure of our purpose here, and may find very few answers to our questions, we must nevertheless be willing to ask these probing questions of ourselves. Then we must be willing to live in the gaps between how we would like our life to be and the reality of how our life presently appears. Learning to live in the gap is probably more important than coming up with any definitive answers, for there may be none.

    A spa experience has the potential to be an impetus to help a client find meaning in their lives, which in turn will lead to enhanced state of well-being. After all, that’s what many spas ultimately want their clients to feel, right? Intangible, yet a crucial piece to the ideal spa experience.

    Thanks again for the post, and thank you Susie for generating such a great conversation.

    Source: The Wellness Inventory http://www.wellpeople.com/

  3. Anna Bjurstam June 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Spirituality might be to connect with the universal frequency, the Schumann Resonance. This frequency has been associated with high levels of hypnotizability, meditation, increased HGH levels and cerebral blood flow levels seem to be much higher while this frequency is being stimulated.

    Meditation is essentially about willingly being able to alter one’s brain frequency to a desired state, and is one way of “connecting”. Yoga, healing etc. are other ways. All these are offered on the spa arena.

    I believe that connecting means disconnecting the mind, and here we in the spa business can be drivers, as well. I am not sure about emotional health, as emotional health, means being aware of ones emotions and be able to observe them (and not always live them), and this is mastered through spirituality (my take).

    When researching what makes people happy, one part is to have a life purpose and be grateful, which connects with Travis 11th principle above. It all comes together, and spirituality is potentially the glue. Not only should we offer this to our guests, but moreover to our staff. We use an HCM (Human Capital Management) plan principle to offer among other, spirituality in an transparent and interactive way. This is what affects the bottom line more than anything and is a strategic and measurable way to inspire and engage staff.

    I don’t see that more scientific and evidence based should contradict spirituality, I believe the greatness with the spa business is that we can potentially be both. And that this is how we obtain enhanced health.

    Thanks for great article and interaction.

  4. Charlie Wills June 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    Thanks Jeremy for touching on this subject. I love those blurred lines.

    Anna, I love using the Schumann Resonance also for those exact reasons, increased blood flow, producing more HGH naturally, deep meditation, plus many other things with our guests.

    Everyone here tweaked my interest one way or another.

    Dr. Bruce Lipton talks about the new biology of the Belief, meaning that are mind and spirt control our DNA (body). But the root problem is that most people are stuck in a state of fear not love…which causes dis-ease..

    The Spa is a world to embrace all those that choose Love and Educate all those that think in a state of fear…so we can bring them into the Spa World as well.

    I personally beleive that as Spa’s embrace the above comments from all of us the % of hotel guests that visit the spa will increase greatly as well as those that return, again, and again, and again…Because it is a Spa Lifestlye

    It’s great to be connected to others that look at wellness holistically, across body, mind and spirit, and I thank you all for that!

  5. Jeremy McCarthy June 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Sara Firman wrote about this on her blog this week as well. Check it out at http://www.visionsparetreat.com/2011/06/sacred-service.html

  6. Sara Firman June 27, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    Hi Jeremy, I’ve been thinking about this quote from your thought-provoking post:

    ‘One area that might give us a clue to spiritual wellbeing is our EMOTIONAL health. Emotions can be tied to deep and powerful feelings, sometimes expressing aspects of ourselves that we aren’t even aware of on a cognitive level.’

    Today I was preparing for a training I’m about to take in aquatic therapy that reflects the perinatal period of our lives. When I read this in a paper on ‘The Neurobiology of Attachment and Early Personality Organization’ by Allan N. Schore, Ph.D. I was reminded of your statement:

    ‘A summary overview of the current rapid advances in developmental psychology and brain research offers the following perspective of the early development of the self. It is now clear that psychological and physical health are inextricably intertwined, and that EMOTIONAL development is the integrating link between mind and body.’

    The author goes on to describe in detail what is now known about the interaction between a baby and its mother, and how that radically affects our relational development before and during the first 2 years after birth.

    When we reflect on how unspiritual the birth experience often is, we might think about the ways in which spa can (or does not) reflect safe sanctuary and a nurturative setting. The Red Tent Wellness Centers for Women would be a good example of such a creative approach.

  7. Camille Hoheb June 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    Hi Jeremy:
    Thanks for raising the topic on spas and spirituality and the opportunity for exchange and engagement.

    It’s an interesting topic that I’d like to add to. I had suggested to Susie Ellis that prayer (and I should have said other forms of spirituality & faith) be included in the new www. spaevidence.com platform. There are many important, credible studies on the role of prayer in healing (some available on the National Institute of Health website).

    With regards to spirituality, what I have observed is that while spas are incorporating spiritual services (mindful meditation, yoga, shamanism, walking labyrinth) – for the most part, spas shy away from terms like spiritual, faith, prayer etc. Maybe because it has to do with the selling aspect of spiritualism? or maybe has to do with political correctness? Or maybe there is a concern it would limit appeal? What do you think?

    It’s also interesting to note that with health tourism – the tourism product, “faith tourism” is left out of the picture as well (yet look at the number of faith based hospitals as one indicator ) ….wellness tourism certainly has an opportunity for integration among many stakeholders….

    Thoughts and opinions would be great.

  8. Sara Firman June 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    Camille’s question about selling spirituality is one that is worth a great deal of consideration. It would be hard to give monetary value to the sense of spirit that infuses a place naturally because of the way in which it is entered and the healing offered there. Likewise, to the aura around a practitioner through whom spirit flows.

    And yet sacred spaces created by humans, and the humans who are seen as spiritual guides, do receive support from the community they serve. How that happens varies from culture to culture and religion to religion. Globalization has broken many of the boundaries that often preserved the sacred quality of these things.

    To what extent has spa preserved or corrupted some of these sacred practices?

    It would be interesting to survey spas that offer adaptations of sacred ceremonies (like sweat lodge for example) and see if/ how they are charged for and who conducts or guides the ceremonies offered. Some provide sacred spaces for guest use – such as a labyrinth or meditation room – that are included in a stay so not explicitly charged for.

    At my own private spa-retreat (now closed) the labyrinth was open to the community (by appointment) and there for guests at no charge. In one spa-retreat center I know, daily yoga and meditation are offered at no charge, though donation is accepted by the guide. Workshops in yoga or meditation are, however, charged for.

    Research supporting the healing value of prayer might can serve to validate something that would not otherwise be afforded any value by some. But those who practice prayer and find it helpful probably don’t need the science to tell them that. Would scientific evidence lead someone to spiritual practice they were not otherwise drawn or called to?

    Those who devote themselves over a lifetime to certain spiritual practices may find the spiritual offerings of spas generally superficial and sometimes even insulting or spiritually ill-advised. Making (free) space for peaceful reflection, prayer and other personal spiritual practices at no charge might be a respectful way to go.

    Much to reflect on – thanks Camille and Jeremy!

  9. Jeremy McCarthy (@jeremcc) June 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    Thanks Sara,

    Regarding emotion being the link between mind and body: Jonathan Haidt in his book “The Happiness Hypothesis” describes three different domains (physical , mental, and sociocultural) that we all seek “coherence” across.) I wrote a paper about this proposing that people have strengths across these domains (for example bravery can be expressed physically by bungee jumping, mentally by expressing a bold new idea, or socio culturally by getting a mohawk and painting it pink and green.) I also hypothesized that an emotional domain exists in the overlap between mental and physical (since emotions are physical manifestations inspired by thoughts and beliefs) and the spiritual domain exists in the overlap between mental and socio-cultural (how we relate to others, community, our identity, etc.) So I think you are right to look in these “in between” spaces (as I said, it’s all about “blurred lines.”)

  10. Jeremy McCarthy (@jeremcc) June 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    Hi Camille,

    Very interesting comments. I think you are right that “religion” “faith” and “prayer” are highly charged words that people shy away from in this context. I think the problem is that “religion” is divided up into different camps based on the churge or school of thought that someone belongs to whereas “spirituality” is more of a universal concept that is available to all. Steering away from religious services could simply be a function of wanting to appeal to a much broader market but also it is easier to communicate. If you say you offering spiritual retreats with meditation and time for reflection it implies that all are welcome and anyone can practice regardless of your beliefs. If you are offering a relgiious retreat with prayer and faith it begs the questions, “what religion? prayer to whom? faith in what?”

  11. Jeremy McCarthy (@jeremcc) June 29, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Sara and Camille,

    Great discussion, thanks so much for your comments! I have a different take than most on the idea of selling spirituality. There is an interesting double standard in our society that we don’t approve of our spiritual healers or even those offering wellbeing making money off of those services. We assume that if someone is making money by offering spiritual services that it must be a sham or a hoax. I think this is a real problem.

    The whole point of a capitalist system is that those who contribute to society should be rewarded for bringing benefit back to the society. We seem to feel this is OK if you are selling automobiles or Ipads but when it comes to something really meaningful like wellbeing or health we start to question their motives. I’m not a huge fan of our capitalist system but it seems to me we either have to change the system or you have to allow healers to play within the rules of the system.

    That being said, most people don’t really see it that way so I think Sara is right in her “soft” approach to giving spirituality away for free.

    Camille, I also forgot to mention that I suggested to Susie that they include the PsychInfo database to the medical databases that are searchable on spaevidence.com. A lot of the research on prayer, spirituality, meaning, purpose, religion etc. would be found on that database. I think she was very open to the idea.


  12. Marie-Josee Shaar June 29, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    You bring up a good point, Jeremy! If we expect healers/spiritual leaders to provide their services for free or otherwise classify them as shams, then we should also be willing to lodge, feed, clothe and bathe them for free. I had never sen it that way, but you are right!

  13. Sara Firman June 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    I think a distinction can be made when a spiritual sharing involves a specific ritual with an experienced guide, perhaps in a specially dedicated place. The spiritual sharing is ‘freely available’ but not ‘free’ in the sense of costing nothing. Creating and maintaining the space, support for the guide, and the tools of ritual, all these cost something that can be translated into monetary terms in our system.

    But I do think it can be difficult to determine what is authentic, especially when spiritual practices are adapted to fit spa settings. Holos University is an interesting example of training that brings these things together. It is a Graduate Seminary that ‘prepares students to integrate Universal Principles of Spirituality and Holistic Health through self-development, scholarly exploration and research, and compassionate service.’

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