The word ‘spa’ is an internationally recognised term whose meaning is similar in almost every language. Derived from the Latin Salus per aquam or ‘health through water’, spa no longer only denotes a link with water. Its meaning has broadened to include a diverse combination of ancient philosophies and modern techniques, but the common thread-water-remains.
Healing through water is at the heart of the European spa experience. The name was adopted by the small spring-fed Belgian town called Spa that was founded in 1326, after a local ironworker was believed to have uncovered a hot spring that cured his rheumatism. From here the spa concept spread throughout Europe, and became a generic name for any place where the healing benefits of mineral springs were tapped to cure the ill, the over-indulgent and, as was referred to then, the mildly dyspeptic.
During this time, in the Far East, the Japanese took their daily plunge in the natural spring-fed communal bathhouse or sento. The Japanese bathing ritual remains as sacred and vital today as it has been for thousands of years. In certain respects, the omen regions in Japan mirror the European spa towns, but while Westerners tend to regard spas as cures for the excesses of daily life, to the Japanese spas are contemplative retreats, taken very seriously, to cleanse the spirit and ward off diseases.
Over the past two centuries, spas have become a global phenomenon that has matured through the years. Spas or health retreats were originally places where people went to rest and bathe in water believed to possess curative properties. Gradually, other treatments were introduced-osteopathy, nutritional guidance and manual physiotherapy techniques, among others-most of them performed within the strictest of medical guidelines and combined with harsh, unappetising dietary routines that were vigorously prescribed along with plenty of fresh air and rest. Regimented spas such as this still exist, especially in central Europe as well as in parts of Germany, France and Italy, but spas today have taken a different turn-more indulgent, cosseting and appetising, but no less therapeutic. The premise is the same-helping people look and better-but today’s spa perpetrators have captured the time-tested secrets of health and wellness and combined them with scientifically tested Ingredients and techniques.
From the opulence of luxury of Roman baths with their marble and mosaics, and the atmospheric hammam of the Ottoman empire, to the traditions of some of the oldest medical philosophies on earth from ancient Persia, China and India, these time-honoured rituals are usually complemented by lavish surroundings. Add to this treatments originating from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines among others, combined with contemporary techniques, and the result is spa as we know it today.
Spas have something for everybody-those in need of serious exercise, detox, an energy boost or those searching for pure unadulterated pampering. As we begin to appreciate that listening to the voice within may be the answer to many health crises of the day, more and more spas now offer a spiritual dimension too-with yoga in its many guises, meditation, tai chi and a host of other spiritually grounded therapies and activities. This all-inclusive prescription that treats both body and mind is preventive medicine at its best and is at the core of enduring Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic philosophies.
So grounded in the spa experience is the healing touch of massage that many spas only offer a specialised menu of massages. No mystery surrounds the potential of massage, as the simple power of touch through kneading, stroking, pressing, rubbing and gliding hands has proven to unleash countless benefits-from easing stress and tension, to lowering blood pressure and helping to energise under-stimulated children. Besides this, the pure pleasure associated with the soothing effects of massage is therapy in itself, as touch calms and restores body, mind and spirit.
Spas can be fun too. Some are sexy, chic and a sybarite’s paradise of soft lights, scented candles, sarongs and guilt-free cuisine overflowing with nature’s vibrant goodness. Spa cuisine is a hot item in the spa scene now, with deliciously nourishing meals ready to be enjoyed in soothing environments. Some destination spas even have schools that provide lessons on how to recreate healthy dishes to guests who would like to continue this lifestyle in the home.
Today’s spa-goers are more discerning, and their quest for quality spa products is becoming as important as the actual treatment’s available. A freshly blended body scrub of lime, pineapple, mango and coconut with a dash of cinnamon oil, hand-prepared in the spa’s apothecary kitchen, is not uncommon, especially in many of the exotic spas dotting the Indian Ocean. Heightened knowledge and environmental awareness are influencing operators to create their own products using nature’s rich bounty. Organic, bio-friendly, pure, natural, ethical call them what you will-but it boils down to indisputable product integrity. And this mindset has become a growing trend among luxury hotels and resorts that are creating unique, evocative product blends which resonate with their spa philosophy and incorporate tangible wellness benefits.
Those seeking more medically based prescriptions can choose from the growing number of medispas that are popping up in both busy cities and on untouched islands. This model of ‘medical tourism’ where people travel to spas expressly for aesthetic or medical procedures is one of the latest trends in the development of the modern spa. From cutting-edge dermatological surgery and wellness diagnostics to dedicated destination dental clinics, the fusion of spa and all its luxurious trimmings with clinical medicine is big business and is destined for further growth.
In addition, the huge spa melting pot comprising the professionals-namely the masseurs, facial lists, manicurists, crystal healers, yoga guru, naturopaths, doctors, acupuncturists and other specialists-as well as traditions, ingredients and therapies are united in their goal of helping people feel and live better. It is precisely this need for people to improve their Iives and to escape the stresses of their everyday lives that accounts for the immense growth in spas.
Spas across the globe offer a panoply of trusted therapies. From tiny atolls in the Maldives to the foothills of the Himalayas, there are stylish chic retreats ready to indulge and pamper you. Savvy spa-goers can enjoy a lomi lomi massage in the United States or Australia, thousands of kilometres from its PolyneSian origins; Thai poultices are available in London department stores, and traditional Seychellois raspay (or remedies using indigenous plants and herbs) can be experienced in Hong Kong.
Asia is the cradle of some of the world’s oldest civilizations, a collection of deep and varied cultures with probably the richest spa knowledge on the planet Deepen your appreciation of spas, learn about its roots in traditional healing systems and discover the rich offerings and truly unmatched therapies from China. the Indian Ocean, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Spa Chic offers an insight into these ancient healing practices and showcases some of the most indulgent spas that can be found in Asia.