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Massage Today
April, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 04

The Third Element of the Great Spa Conversation: Movement

By Robin Zill, LMT

ISPA (the International Spa Association) recognized the importance of exercise and fitness from the beginning: it was originally named the International Spa and Fitness Association.

In fact, many of the harbinger consultants and creators of the spa industry have a strong fitness background. This third element is defined as vitality and energy through movement, exercise, stretching and fitness. It includes movement of all forms: aerobic and cardiovascular exercise; dance; yoga; walking meditation; and client movement within the spa space.

The health and fitness boom of the '90s dominated the lifestyles of many in the U.S. and abroad. The desire to live a happier and healthier life wove itself into the American dream. The rise in the popularity of aerobics and other relatively high-impact exercise programs mirrored this passion. Many destination spas adapted their philosophies in kind, changing from spas with an emphasis on weight management to lifestyle spas with a strong emphasis on fitness. It became obvious that the problem with overweight America was not just a matter of counting calories. The real culprit was stress. This became the motivating drive and market niche that would give the spa industry its explosive growth.

Deby Harper of Fitness Company, a pioneer in the fitness movement, articulates this concept well. She says it is not necessarily how much we eat or even exercise that allows us to keep our desired body weight. After all, why do some of us retain weight while others stay slim, regardless of our diet or exercise? According to Harper, our brain prescribes a powerful chemical called cortisol when stressed. In response to cortisol, the body takes action:

  • Metabolism drops and gastric acid increases, maximizing the calories you get from your food.
  • The body retains vital chemicals, such as sodium, causing a bloating feeling.
  • High-energy fats and blood-clotting agents are released into your bloodstream.
  • Energy is diverted from your immune system.
  • Sex hormones are dramatically suppressed.
  • Cholesterol may increase.
  • Stressed individuals may experience feelings of depression, anxiety, frustration and fatigue, leading to lowered self-esteem and self-confidence.

These responses to stress are rooted deep in our genes, according to Dr. Robert Eliot, co-founder of the Institute of Stress Medicine in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Our bodies are designed to react to stress as a survival strategy. Our daily stress triggers are sometimes rooted in emotional and mental challenges - conflicts that can be abstract. Paying the bills, professional competition, relationship issues, and raising children all add to our stress. Although it may seem like a good idea to wrestle your boss down to the ground if you disagree with him/her, it is no longer socially acceptable. Exercise is a better outlet for this physical expression. Not only does it give us a release, it gives us the added benefits of increased endorphins, a natural mood elevator.

Many of us in the massage industry (at least the "older/wiser" generation) would not be considered fanatics about our weight and looks. But as we age, the desire to age gracefully with less pain becomes more and more appealing. We recognize the need to stay healthy, fit, and productive as well as be role models for our clients. A 2001 ISPA study by Cox Consulting points out that 88% of spa goers get a massage, and 56% participate in some type of fitness or sports activity.

From bungi jumping to wall climbing, water yoga, kickboxing, hiking and even tap dancing, spas are leading the way in bringing exercise and movement to their customers. Spas are on the cutting edge of new trends for exercise and movement. ISPA embraced this new trend by identifying a new type of spa membership: the club spa. A club spa is defined as a company that operates a facility whose primary purpose is fitness, but that offers a variety of professionally administered spa services on a day-use basis. This category is rising quickly: according to the ISPA Spa Industry Study (August 2000), there are 423 club spas in the United States. Together, club spas average 12.1 million visits per year, which places club spas between day spas and resort/hotel spas in ranking of total visitors.

The club spa has some unique characteristics. Like the day spa, clients come in on a regular basis and are community-based. Multi-use rooms that provide a variety of massage, spa body and facial services have proven to be very effective and profitable. With a built-in consumer base to draw from, spa services can be test marketed and catered directly to the needs of the membership. ISPA Executive Director Lynne McNees comments:

"Consumers are driving the demand for spas... when someone goes to a health or fitness center, they want to do more than work out - they want a one-stop shop... they have less time and they want to spend their time wisely. Health and Fitness centers adding a spa component is a perfect fit for busy people."

Usually, salon services are not a requirement, but can be found in the larger club spa. Just as the day spa industry boomed, I believe we can expect the same to happen for the club spa.

Our market is changing at a fast pace. New terminology and new concepts are needed to meet the needs of our market and new integrated health paradigm. Futurists now project that 50% of the population will be over the age of 50 by the year 2005. Debra Smith, from Smith Club and Spa Specialists, predicts that more than ever, fitness and new movement therapies that emphasize balance and integration will be woven into the spa experience. People do not want to risk injury; they want to build stability and strength. Consequently, the next wave of fitness activities will feature systems like Pilates, yoga and tai chi, which are considered core therapies. These programs emphasize the mind, body, spirit and emotional needs of the client.

The new PFS (Personal Fitness Assessment) is just such a tool. New behavioral research indicates that the most effective exercisers are those who understand themselves, both their strengths and weaknesses, so they can develop strategies to meet the demands of their fitness program. If you have a hard time getting motivated to exercise or determining what exercise program is right for you (or a client), you may want to try the new PFS personality assessment program. It is designed to give you insight into what motivates, frustrates, and helps you get the most out of a workout. Another professional consideration for today's massage therapist would be to consider becoming a yoga or Pilates instructor. It would be an excellent synthesis of two languages that help to re-educate and re-align the body though a mind-body-spirit connection -- helping make you that much more employable.

The last important quality about movement in the context of the third domain is the actual process of how a client moves from one space to another in your spa. The layout of the spa should be simple and easy to navigate. From reception, to locker room, to waiting areas, to the actual treatment room(s), gentle and easy client movement is critical to a good spa experience. It is all about flow. The third element dovetails here with environment, climate and touch. People get nervous and stressed if they do not know where to go. If possible, it is still best to escort a client to the next treatment.

Good signage, repeated directions, and clear instructions regarding how clients get on and off the table, especially on wet tables where the client is more vulnerable, are all essential to creating a great spa experience. From the minute they walk through the door, you are taking your clients on a journey. Make each step count and be memorable. Please feel free to contact me! Your voice is important.

Click here for previous articles by Robin Zill, LMT.


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