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Massage Today
August, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 08

The Seventh Element: Environment

By Robin Zill, LMT

Editor's note: The 10 Elements of the Spa Experience are designed to teach the consumer and professional about the integrated nature of the spa experience. This is the eighth article in a 12-part series and focuses on the seventh of the 10 elements: Environment.

The graphic of the 10-Element Circle appears on line at

We are stardust. We are golden. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.

- Joni Mitchell

It has taken me a while to assimilate and integrate all the wisdom from the mysterious old bookstore journeys Dr. Jonathan Paul DeVierville took me on years ago, as we began to develop the 10 Elements of the Spa Experience. Books almost seemed to pop off the shelf, begging to be re-read, voices needing to be re-heard. Man, Weather, Sun, written in 1947 by William Peterson, MD, was one of those books. This book outlines his research on weather patterns and their effects on the human health condition, with a particular emphasis on air. I would like to start our discussion of the seventh element, Environment, with a few of Dr. Peterson's comments.

"My research studies detail an extremely complex integration of the human organism and the inorganic environment in which the organism exists... The conclusions my research studies have drawn are simple. They merely substantiate intuitive folk perception and folk transmitted interpretation of the oneness of the organic and inorganic world. To any naturalist, this integration of man and the universe would seem self-evident. But doctors, and particularly physiologists, are seldom naturalists these days. They are busy technicians, superlative in skills, dashing from office to hospital or laboratory, observing the sick, not the well, reading of the new, never the old; engrossed in today with little thought of what has gone before..."

He goes on to say that a conscious effort was made by the scientific community to eliminate weather and environmental studies, and how they directly affect human well being from the scientific database. This meant that all financial support for the study of "man" in the environment was denied during this critical period of scientific development and technological progress. The good news? Peterson continued his work on his own and continued to nurture these "new or old ideas of interconnectiveness" with the environment. What's the spa connection? This is just about the time you see some of the first American spas developing, in contrast to this scientific and reductionist fervor. Spa pioneers also recognized the importance of environment and climate to optimal human health and well-being. They also saw the significance of working with the environment, rather than trying to conquer it.

It is obvious to the contemporary spa journeyer that we are part of nature. We are not separate from our environment. We play a dynamic role; a healthy environment is critical to living a healthy life. That is why the environment is so critical to the spa experience. Currently, we have defined the seventh element, "environment," to mean location, placement, weather patterns, water use, natural agents and social responsibility. We need to remember that the earth is home, and that we occupy a special place on the planet.

This element is at the very least twofold in meaning. First, it explores creating the spa experience with the intention of relating it to the local environment. The geography, the temperature, the air, the water, the tempo of the city and the culture of the people are all involved. We have seen this trend take the industry by storm. Creative menu development in the industry is a perfect example. Aloe treatments for the desert, detox treatment for the cities, seaweed treatments for the ocean. Look at any of the many professional trade magazines to get fresh ideas.

Second, this element reminds us that we are related to our global environment. As spa professionals, we each have a responsibility to be a caretaker of the small "spa space" we occupy on the planet. This responsibility often goes unspoken, but includes simple things like creating beauty through design, nature and intention. It also includes creating business with goals of minimal impact. We need to be mindful of how the land is cleared, how much and what type of water and water resources we use, how we recycle, the type of products we use, and the integrity of the suppliers we support.

But this element goes deeper. It is at the precipice of the new dimension of spa, or should I say old dimension of spa. In the seventh element, we begin to explore the deeper significance of the spa movement and why this new global community has emerged. As we move into this next paradigm of thought, our connection to the earth for survival and health becomes imperative.

Two thoughts about the interconnectiveness of nature to the human experience come to mind. It is humbling to remember that the same water that was on the planet at the beginning of our time, is the same water that is still here. It is just in a different form. I remember the comfort this thought gave my Mom as she was passing on and contemplating the nature of spirit. We have been so obsessed with measuring and analyzing information to harness the power of nature, that we have forgotten that the things we are measuring are nothing more than transient impressions of our ever changing being in an ever changing environment. There is something magical here on earth that eludes measurement.

The second idea regarding how the environment is connected to spa is a term used and created by Fritof Capras, a great thinker, visionary and author of The Tao of Physics and The Web of Life. It is called a "living system." A living system is a scientific term used to describe an organism or ecosystem in which the parts strive not only to survive, but to renew, regenerate, and evolve.

A living system is an interdependent web in which the components reach out to each other in ever-changing ways, seeking balance and harmony. The cell, a perfect microcosm for this discussion has many individual parts, each with their specific job to do. The magic? Communication within and between these cells is always taking place. The internal cell is constantly responding to the outer environment through a constant interchange of information and fluids. The cell is a perfect metaphor for our individual human existence, the earth, and how we are all related to a greater whole.

To take the metaphor one step further, imagine the concept of a "living spa" as a business model. In a living spa, employees are expected to do their part; management serves as a caretaker for the environment. Their job is to weave all the elements of business together through excellent communication systems, a healthy work environment and an evolutionary vision. A living spa is centered on water, natural elements, and how they affect our senses: light, air, sound, earth-clays, muds, seaweeds, and other plant extracts and essences. It connects people with natural elements and seasonal changes. We need to create next-generation business that embraces the beauty and creativity of the universe, while at the same time developing a strong organizational system centered on serving the client over time. Clearly, we must live in "harmony with nature" if we are to survive and thrive... for ourselves and for future generations. We are forever changing together. We are all stardust.

If you have comments, ideas or other resources regarding this topic, please e-mail me at . To learn more about the environmental aspects of spa, contact Jonathan DeVierville at . Remember, your voice is important.

Click here for previous articles by Robin Zill, LMT.


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