As a massage therapist working in a spa environment, I often get the idea (from people that don't visit a spa very often) that they think spa treatments are simply "fluff" treatments or meaningless pampering. If they want to see real results, they insist, they'll get a massage or other bodywork done. They don't need all the unnecessary stuff like the wraps and the scrubs. If you happen to be in this group of people, I respect your opinions because at first glance and without knowing the reasons behind the spa treatments, they really do just look like fluff. They may feel great, but other than that, what is their real benefit, if any? To obtain a little perspective on such things, let's begin with a look at the history of the spa.
Spas have been utilized throughout history in almost every culture on earth, although they have been known by other names. Perhaps the most famous example of an ancient "spa" is the Roman baths. Romans utilized these bathing facilities for more than just baths, however. The services provided at such buildings included massage with perfumed oil (aromatherapy, anyone?), full-body exfoliation with strigils (curved, dull metal blades that were used to scrape the body free of dirt, perspiration, and oil), three different bathing places with three different temperatures (the frigidarium was cold, the tepidarium was warm, and the caldarium was hot), a swimming pool, a gymnasium, and an exercise area. As it is described on the United Kingdom's History Learning Site:
It was very cheap to use a Roman bath. A visitor, after paying his entrance fee, would strip naked and hand his clothes to an attendant. He could then do some exercising to work up a sweat before moving into the tepidarium which would prepare him for the caldarium which was more or less like a modern sauna. The idea, as with a sauna, was for the sweat to get rid of the body’s dirt. After this a slave would rub olive oil into the visitor’s skin and then scrap it off with a strigil. The more luxurious establishments would have professional masseurs to do this. After this, the visitor would return to the tepidarium and then to frigidarium to cool down. Finally, he could use the main pool for a swim or to generally socialise. Bathing was very important to the Ancient Romans as it served many functions.
As one can see from this description, the ancient Roman baths were more or less like a combination of our modern spas and fitness clubs. They were considered essential to good health and grooming and were a part of daily life. One of the most famous of all Roman baths, located in Bath, England, is still an extremely popular destination for those looking to enjoy the traditional bath experience.
In the modern age, a great emphasis has been placed on exercise for overall health; and it is true that exercising our bodies is one of the best ways to keep them healthy. This, of course, is why the Ancient Romans included exercise facilities in their bath houses. However, most people no longer consider spa treatments as part of a routine to keep their bodies in prime condition. So why should the modern person get spa treatments? Perhaps the foremost reason I can provide is that we forget to let ourselves relax. We have to be the ones doing everything for ourselves, from exercising to eating healthfully. Rarely do we give someone else the chance to take care of us, and even more rarely do we just get the chance to let go and give our bodies some truly relaxing sensations. It is infinitely nicer to lay back and relax while someone gives you an invigorating scrub followed by a relaxing massage than to do it all yourself. After all, while it may be relatively easy to scrub in the shower, it's much harder to successfully give oneself a massage.
In addition to the goal of providing relaxation, all spa treatments have some concrete physical goal in mind. For instance, salt and sugar scrubs, as well as the practice of dry brushing, provide full or partial-body exfoliation, which helps maintain and renew the body's best defense mechanism, the skin. They also invigorate the circulatory system, bringing blood, with its much needed nutrients, to the skin surface where it can deliver its benefits to the newly exposed skin cells. Application of muds and wraps assist with detoxifying the body (if you don't believe in the concept of detoxification, stay tuned for a later blog post on the topic) and help deliver an abundance of beneficial nutrients to the skin and underlying tissues. Showers, foot baths, and other water treatments help cleanse the body in a pleasant and low-impact way. Paraffin wax treatments provide soothing warmth to hands and feet – especially beneficial for those with arthritis – as well as giving the skin an abundance of moisture. These are just a few examples of common spa treatments that most people can enjoy. And don't forget the massages and facials that every spa provides!
When viewed in the light of historical tradition, as well as the more modern understanding of what lies behind spa treatments, it is my hope that they are no longer seen as merely "fluff" added on to the more beneficial massage and facial treatments. Rather, spa treatments taken as a whole, provide the body with an overall rejuvenating and healing experience. Those looking for a holistic way to keep their bodies at optimal health should consider them an essential part of their wellness routine, as taken together with exercise, proper diet, and a healthy outlook on life, spa treatments keep one both happy and healthy.