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Massage Today
November, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 11

The 10th Element: Time, Space and Rhythms

By Robin Zill, LMT

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 11th article in a 12-part series and focuses on the 10th of the 10 elements: Time, Space and Rhythms.

To view a graphic representation of the 10 elements, click here.

"To everything, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven..."

-- Pete Seger

There is a unique time to sleep, eat, wake and rejoice for each of us. The 10th element weaves together three elusive concepts: time, space and rhythms. It is defined as the perception of space and time and its relationship to natural cycles and rhythms. The study of the wholeness of the human experience within the context of our environment, and our relationship to space and time, is not a new one. Ancient cultures and great religions have studied the patterns of wo(man)kind for thousands of years. The circular aspect of time has survived through the Aruyvedic teachings, the Chinese Five-Element theory, and the Native American MedicineWheel. All of these circles convey a sense of seasonality, ofrhythm as people move through the brief time they have here on earth. They also emphasize the importance of the environment, the space in which that individual resides. The 10th element represents our effort to capture this dynamic and relate it to the spa experience.

This element makes up the circumference of the 10 Element Circle. I like to think of it as a vessel that holds all of the elements together, giving form to our discussion. The relationship between time, space and rhythms highlights the dynamic interplay between the physical life and the spiritual life; the visible and the invisible. Time and space are "invisible" and relative, yet how we think about them reflects the elusive, existential quality of who we are. It is crucially linked with the fifth element, Integration, located in the center of the circle. A greater understanding of time, space and rhythms helps us integrate the elements of the spa experience. Essentially, the 10th element is about transcendence of self.

Before we leap to how this element has practical applications for our industry, it is helpful to approach it philosophically. Frijtof Capra is one of America's most innovative thinkers; his work as a philosopher, scientist and author has inspired my vision for the spa journey over many years. Since the Tenth Element interacts with all of the other elements, it is the container that gives structure to the spa experience. Capra's description of a living system directly relates to this concept of time, space and rhythms. A living system, he says, has three characteristics:

  • Structure (space): all the elements of a system and their relationship to each other;
  • Pattern (rhythm): the rhythm of the system, its structure in motion, its habits; and
  • Development (time): of a system, and how it changes over time.

Capra goes on to say:

"Rhythm is a pattern in time - the regular daily, weekly, monthly, annual activities that mark the tempo of a system's functioning. Circadian, hormonal, sleep, digestive and other biological rhythms play an important role in the healthy regulation of our bodies and minds. Living systems and their various elements are connected in time through rhythms that enable coordination and continuity, a keeping in time or in step with one another. Understanding rhythms can help us to manage the energies we have, mental, emotional and physical.

"This is true also of an organization's rhythms, its regular activities or processes which provide a structure-in-time, through which it can direct, mobilize and regulate its energies or efforts. Often when we are asked to help an organization to re-structure itself, the organization's real need is to re-pattern itself, to rethink the nature and qualities of its rhythms and habits and what lies behind these. Without appropriate rhythm, an organization becomes chaotic, the staff insecure, tired and stressed."

Although this element may seem abstract, the 10th element is woven into almost every aspect of the spa experience. It affects how the client perceives space, how much time the client gives to the experience, and the rhythm and flow of the treatment sequence. This intangible "flow" often affects the client's perceived value of the spa experience. It also is a critical factor in determining the quality of the experience and whether the client will come back.

As with life, the spa experience involves many complex interactions and rhythms. Take scheduling for example. What are the busiest days, hours and high seasons of the spa? What is the ideal treatment time for a massage, signature treatment or spa package? Do you change the treatment menu to adjust to the changes in the season? How much transition time do you need for the spa guest to maximize their experience, and keep them moving to the next treatment to keep your schedule, yet not rush them? Do you have a rest period built into your treatment program to maximize results? What is your turnaround time between treatments to maximize profits, yet keep your technical staff energized and motivated? How long should a shift be for a massage therapist? What about for the other workers? What is the optimal work week for a massage therapist, receptionist, or spa director? I believe this element will come quickly to the forefront as professionals and consumers begin to create language and meaning as to its importance to the healing process.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the importance of dreams to the 10th element. Dr. Elson Hass, author of Staying Healthy with the Seasons, finds that "regular dreaming awareness suggests that you are close to balance between your inner and outer worlds." For example, "busy/type A" personalities are often unable to relax and often do not sleep well or dream. This causes them to get sick and be forced to rest to recharge their batteries-sound familiar? Conversely, the visionary whose primary focus is the immaterial world can also be out of balance with too much dreaming. They may experience greater physical-mental stress, age faster, and appear confused.

I believe this exploration of balance and integration between the inner and outer world, the physical and nonphysical worlds, is fundamental. Practically speaking, that is why the rest period after a spa treatment is so important. This is where true healing occurs; it occurs from within. For example, the most common problem with hydrotherapy treatments is the lack of a rest period after the body's core temperature has been elevated. Even 5-15 minutes can give your client the chance to achieve homeostasis, and solidify an inner intention. I have often reflected on how important the surrender of one's own personal time is to the ritual of the spa experience. Giving control of one's time over to another with the intention of personal healing is about trust. In a time-impoverished culture that is struggling for balance, this first step is analogous to the first step of the spa journey, ousia insight. Only the client as journeyer can begin on his or her own, by opening the doors to trust, or to truth. It is heartening to note that the essence behind the massage industry is creating the space for this deep unspoken interchange.

There is something magical about a great massage or spa treatment. It is not just the touch, the products or the decor. It is the interchange between client and therapist that creates the quality of space. The elusive rhythm of touch, eyes and smiles, time surrendered, time honored -- this is what makes a memorable experience. Time, space and rhythms are the key to transformation, not just for the individual, but for the therapist and society at large. The immortal chant of nature's rhythm is calling us to dance. Let's listen.

Click here for previous articles by Robin Zill, LMT.


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