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Massage Today
January, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 01

Welcome to the Great Spa Conversation

By Robin Zill, LMT

As we begin The Great Spa Conversation, I'd like to introduce you to the 10 Elements of the Spa Experience. This is an evolving paradigm, developed to give some structure to the philosophy of spa and to facilitate communication among industry professionals.

Given the social and spiritual climate since September 11, 2001, it is all the more poignant that we find new ways to connect using new tools. We hope that this column will be a place where we can explore our roots and traditions, and brainstorm new ways to connect with clients and better serve the world in which we live.

Part I: The Genesis of the 10 Elements

The history of the 10 Elements helps to tell the story of the contemporary spa movement. The 10-elements construct has two broad goals. The first was to help define the elusive and ever changing nature of the spa experience. The second was to create a foundation, a common language and career path for the emerging spa professional.

Embarking on this task was difficult, as you can imagine. More often than not, it seemed impossible to wrap our arms around this quickly evolving, growing and diverse industry. However, the ISPA Education Committee members believed we had the opportunity to help give definition to this 21st century profession. The diversity and experience of the committee allowed us to examine the evolution and growth of related professional organizations such as fitness, massage/bodywork, and aesthetics, and to compare that growth to the spa industry. We wanted the spa industry to embrace the new need of professionals to have their lifework and career path be more integrated with their personal life. We also wanted a career path that acknowledged the rich life experience people bring to their work, as this was so critical in creating a memorable spa experience, which in turn creates client retention.

Key words and ideas that framed the dialogue and inspired the 10-Element Circle:

  • foundation vs. fad;
  • integrative vs. specializing;
  • crosstraining for professionals;
  • an umbrella for diverse yet like-minded professionals;
  • evolutionary in nature;
  • cross-generational;
  • constantly changing;
  • social and cultural movement;
  • rediscovering our roots; and
  • stewards of the earth.

Part II: Understanding the 10-Element Circle

image - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark My belief is that spas have the potential to be the sacred spaces for understanding and nurturing the contemporary human spirit. What creates excellence in "the spa experience" is difficult to capture and articulate. There are many levels to the dialogue and they are interrelated in nature. On the surface, a spa treatment is about feeling good. But to achieve a memorable experience and not just a great massage, facial or wrap, we need to encourage each client's connection to a deeper sense of self. What we really want to do is create a space for self-discovery and growth. The 10-element circle can give form and structure to this search, both for the professional and the consumer. After all, the healing dynamic of giving and receiving is at the heart of this exchange.

First, take a moment to understand the circle pattern. You will notice that there are eight pieces of the pie, but 10 elements. The center and the circumference of the circle make up the final two elements: Integration (element five) and Time, Space, Rhythms (element 10). Elements one, two, three, four, six, seven, eight and nine sequentially fill in the pie. Within the circle, all 10 elements are related and interact dynamically with one another. Each is dependent upon the other.

Part III: The 10 Elements

1. Waters: the internal and external use of water in its many forms.

Key words: The transforming power of water.

Water is the heart of the spa experience. Fundamentally transforming, it is used for cleansing, purifying and basic survival. Both the external use of water through compresses, showers, bathing, and swimming, and the internal uses of water through drinking and other internal cleansing procedures, are included.

2. Nourishment: what we feed ourselves: food, herbals, supplements and medicine.

Key words: Nature as nourishment.

How do we feed ourselves to maximize our experience of life? Yes, a healthy, well-balanced diet is necessary, but how we combine it with our nutritional supplements, medicine if we are ill, and the nine other elements give us the tools to expand our experience of optimal health.

3. Movement: vitality and energy through movement, exercise, stretching and fitness.

Key words: Our body as a vessel for growth.

The third element envelops movement of all forms: aerobic and cardiovascular exercise, yoga, walking meditation and dance. Movement is within the spa space, or transition from one treatment to another consideration.

4. Touch: connectivity and communication embraced through touch, massage and bodywork.

Key words: Experience of other. The fourth element involves embracing touch through massage and bodywork modalities to connect with the client on a deep level and enhance vitality and growth from within. As professionals in our industry you know this just hints at the depth of what we do and why we do it. Touch is not only one of the most profitable services in the spa, it is at the heart of helping people move to new and deeper levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Visit the Great Spa Conversation at or the International Spa Association (ISPA) at and see the recent profile we developed regarding what qualities are most valuable for a massage therapist working in the spa environment. See if you agree. We want to hear from you.

5. Integration: the personal and social relationship between mind, body, spirit and environment.

Key words: Experience of self.

Located in the center of the circle, this element is the "ousia" or essence of the 10 elements. Ousia (oo SEE ahh; Greek in origin) is a concept that describes when mind, body, spirit all merge into one to make a memorable and meaningful experience. The definition of ousia is: essence; being; that which makes us who we are (but not a material substance) as well as our search for something greater than ourselves.

6. Aesthetics: our concept of beauty and how botanical and natural agents relate to the biochemical components of the body.

Key words: Earth as healer.

The appreciation of beauty, both inside and out is paramount to element six. Practically, it means feeling beautiful and embraces our current concepts of beauty, which include the outward manifestations of fashion, skin, hair, nails etc. Understanding this and enhancing this service in the context of total health bridges the chasm between feeling and looking beautiful.

7. Environment: location, placement, weather patterns, water constitution natural agents and social responsibility.

Key words: Earth as home.

Environment is our place on the planet. Are we in the city, the coast or the desert? The treatments we choose are related to the season, the time, the weather. How we change and react to and with our environment as well as our commitment to be stewards of the earth are all contained in this element.

8. Cultural Expression: the spiritual belief systems, the value of art and the scientific and political views of the time.

Key words: Sense of place in community.

Broad, yet basic in scope, the eighth element embraces the science, politics, belief systems and cultural appreciation of the arts in healing.

9. Social Contribution: commerce, volunteer efforts, and intention as they relate to well being; giving and receiving.

Key words: Integration of daily work as purpose.

What is our life's work? What is our heart's passion? There are at least two ways we are rewarded or satisfied by our work. One is monetary; the other is giving of oneself. This element explores the exchange or energy (including commerce) between service provider, client, spa and community.

10. Time, Space, Rhythms: the perception of space and time and its relationship to natural cycles.

Key words: Vehicle for transcending self.

The 10th element encircling all the others is actually metaphorical in nature as is the fifth element in the middle. It holds all the others, as a vessel from which the other domains interrelate and reflex into each other. This element embraces the seasons and rhythms of the human experience, incorporating the life cycle; biorhythms; chronobiology; the therapist's role as timekeeper; and more.

PART IV: A Call to Participate in the Great Spa Conversation

In summary, the Great Spa Conversation is about evaluating, expressing, and embracing our values; it is about our shared purpose. It is up to us to address and define professional competency, standards of practice and levels of excellence.

After all, spa is a peoples' movement. It is up to us to come together: to heal, to encourage, to challenge, to dialogue, and to question. It is great to connect with my roots in the massage and touch industry. I look forward to writing this series of articles featuring the 10 elements, but look forward to your feedback even more.

I can't believe how far we have come as an industry in the last 20 years. Have we made mistakes? Yes. Are we wiser? Sure. Can we do better? Absolutely. It is time for our collective professional voice to have more political and social influence. In the words of Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Imagine what we can do as an integrated industry. Please join me on line at The Great Spa Conversation. Your voice makes a difference.

Click here for previous articles by Robin Zill, LMT.


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