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Massage Today
November, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 11

Spa Letters

By Steve Capellini, LMT

Author's Note: The Spa Letters column features news, personality profiles, trends, and plenty of professional possibilities for LMTs in the spa industry. The style is epistolary, meaning the articles are letters to a fictional massage therapist friend of the author.

Dear Lou,

I'm glad to hear you're staying on at the spa and learning in-depth about each of the treatments offered - you'll become an increasingly invaluable employee (not to mention a better therapist) as a result. There will be plenty of opportunities for adventure in other locations as you follow your spa dreams into the future, but for now, you should build a strong foundation in the fundamentals, e.g., spa therapies.

As I travel around the country teaching basic spa therapy course, as I have for years, I'm continually amazed to rediscover just how powerful the generic, no-frills treatments really are. I show people a simplified version of several of the most common modalities: herbal wraps; mini-facials; seaweed wraps; mud and clay packs; aromatherapy applications; hydrotherapy; and body scrubs. In hopes that it will help you better understand these powerful therapies and be able to explain them clearly to your clients, maybe I can give you a little primer, starting with my favorite: the herbal wrap.

Herbal Wrap Basics

Why do we wrap people up in spas in the first place? There are several reasons. First of all, when we apply therapeutic ingredients to the skin, at whatever temperature they're applied, people tend to get chilled really fast. This includes a hot application of products, such as in the case of the herbal wrap. Within minutes, your client will be shivering if not wrapped or otherwise kept warm. Some spas use infrared heating lamps to keep clients warm, which works fine but can be awkward if the lamps are placed around the table on stands, instead of attached to the ceiling. Another reason we wrap is to create a self-contained system in which the products we apply interact with the client's body over and over again, instead of escaping into the surrounding atmosphere. Lastly, many people like the sense of security and privacy that being wrapped creates.

The mere act of being wrapped can have a bit of a therapeutic effect because wrapped people sweat, and sweating is good. Too many people (probably including many of your clients at the spa) spend too much couch-potato time, and the sweating produced by simple wrapping is a way to get their largest eliminatory system working again. But the most powerful benefits to any wrap come, of course, from the ingredients applied to the client's skin.

The Herbs

When I visited the Golden Door Spa in California, I discovered that they grew their own herbs right on the property for use in the herbal wrap. Many spas worldwide do the same, but it is not necessary to have locally grown herbs to make an herbal wrap work, as I'll explain in a second. The herbs can be fresh or dried, and of course organic is best. A large handful immersed in a muslin bag can last all day. Most spas change the herbal solution each night.

Each herb has a specific effect: some increase circulation, others soothe the skin, others are diaphoretic, and so on. These herbs are steeped in nearly boiling water, then special canvas-grade muslin sheets are soaked in the solution. It is these herb-infused sheets, along with outer insulating layers, that wrap around the client.

The Wrap

You've learned the basics of wrapping there at the spa, and from what you've told me, I can tell that the technique used there is sound. There are several variations on the basic wrapping technique, with different equipment used for each. Many spas heat their sheets in hydrocollators which, as you know, were not originally intended for this purpose. They do work well, even though they don't get the sheets as hot as the original industrial-kitchen style boilers. Of course, rubber gloves are important to protect the therapists' hands. I've found in my workshops that simple wood clamps help when wringing the heavy muslin sheets out over the steaming herbal solution.

What makes a wrap work is the way the combination of heat and the properties of the herbs "trick" your body into thinking it has a fever. And we all know what happens when you have a fever - you perspire and try to throw of toxins and invading microorganisms. As you naturally begin to release these, the herbs stimulate the process even further. The result is a detoxification effect that can range from mild to extremely intense. I remember performing a series of herbal wraps on a gentleman who was at the spa to give up smoking. At the end as I unwrapped him, a powerful order of nicotine filled the room. The sheets smelled like a used ashtray.

I'm glad to hear that your spa promotes the massage therapists as wrap practitioners. That's the law here in Florida, but in other areas, wraps are performed by unlicensed technicians. It's always best to have a qualified professional working with the clients, someone who can explain the treatment and be ready in case of any emergency.

Wrapper Beware

The herbal wrap is not a treatment to be taken lightly. It has profound effects on the body, and there are contraindications for wraps, just as there are for massage. Primarily, you must remember that the herbal wrap is a heat treatment; as such, it is contraindicated for anyone who is pregnant, hypertensive, or suffering from heart conditions or diabetes.

Also, a surprisingly large number of people feel claustrophobic when wrapped in heavy sheets and blankets. Fortunately, there is a simple solution that works for over 90% of the people with this problem. Instruct your clients to leave their arms out of the wrap, and they will feel quite comfortable. The most important thing is that they feel they can get out of the wrap themselves if they so desire. There will always be a few people who still feel trapped, even with their arms out; they're better off taking an herbal bath rather than a wrap.

Well, that's all the time I have now, Lou. I bet you didn't think there was so much to know about herbal wraps alone! Next time I write, I'll fill you in on some of the other spa treatments that I've personally seen help hundreds of people in spas over the years.

Talk to you later,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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