The 10 Elements of the Spa Experience

By Robin Zill, LMT
May 29, 2009

The 10 Elements of the Spa Experience

By Robin Zill, LMT
May 29, 2009

The 10 Elements of the Spa Experience were designed to teach the consumer and professional about the integrated nature of the spa experience. This is the final article in a 12-part series.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

- William Blake

The spa industry, with its tremendous scope and worldwide reach, is poised, perhaps more than any other industry, to lead our culture into the next century, and into the next paradigm of living. Giving definition to the macrocosm of the spa experience, using the microcosm of the 10 Elements, was a little like holding infinity in the palm of your hand. I can't help but feel we've only scratched the surface. I have taken the liberty of showing how the spa experience can provide a lifelong career track for the therapist, and how it can be life-changing for the individual.

Since this is the final article in the series, let's review the 10 elements, and begin to explore the relationship between them. The first goal is to help define the elusive, ever-changing nature of the spa experience. The second is to create a foundation; a common language and career path for the emerging spa professional. As the number 10 is rich in symbol, representing both the beginning and end of a cycle, this concluding article is the perfect time to set the stage for the next avenue of growth.

Take a moment to review the Ten Elements of the Spa Experience. Within the circle, all 10 elements are related and interact dynamically with one another. Each element is reviewed below; I challenge you to consider how touch relates to the other nine elements. Currently the elements can be defined as:

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 and purifying: externally through compresses, showers, bathing, and swimming; and internally, through drinking.

2. Nourishment: what we feed ourselves.

Key words: nature as nourishment.

How do we feed ourselves to maximize our vitality? It begins with an understanding of food, nutritional supplements, medicine, and herbs in relation to our body type, body rhythms, environment, season, age and culture.

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

Key words: the body as a vessel for growth.

How might a spa embrace different kinds of movement, from aerobic and cardiovascular exercise to yoga, walking meditation, and dance? This element also refers to a client's posture and intrinsic demeanor, transitioning from one spa treatment to another.

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

Key words: experience of other.

Touch is not only one of the most profitable services in the spa, it is at the heart of helping people to enhance vitality and growth from within: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

5. Integration: the 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 the search for true self, the pure connection of mind, body, spirit and environment. Process-oriented in nature, ousia is the search for self in connection to something greater than self.

6. Aesthetics: the appreciation of and active search for beauty.

Key words: earth as healer, art as healer.

Spa aesthetics involves our concept of beauty, and how natural agents relate to the biochemical components of the body. The goal is to connect and understand the relationship between physical health, external beauty, and healthy culture.

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

Key words: earth as home.

Environment is our place on the planet. A healthy environment is critical to healthy living. This element explores the interrelationship between the spa experience and the local and global environment.

8. Cultural Expression: the scientific, political, and spiritual belief systems of the time; the healing power of the arts.

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 the spa exerience.

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

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 and volunteerism) 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 reflect each other. This element embraces the seasons and rhythms of the human experience incorporating everything from the life cycle and biorhythms, to chrono-biology.

Integrating the Ten Elements

The essence of the 10 elements is in how they relate to one another; this will require more dialogue and thought. The triangle symbol represents the integration of three elements working together, and I have listed a few examples below to stimulate your thinking. The goal is actually a process: how can we actively create integrated spa experiences for ourselves and for our clients

Touch, Nourishment, Movement

How can diet, exercise, body type and season affect when and what kind of massage is given?

Touch, Time/Space/Rhythms, Integration

What is the role of the massage therapist as timekeeper? How does this one facet of creating space for personal growth separate us from other professions?

Touch, Cultural Expression, Aesthetics

What tools do massage therapists use to select products and modalities -- ancient philosophical systems, current scientific data, a combination of both? What role should belief systems or intuition play in their selections?

Touch, Environment, Social Contribution

How can we support the environment in the massage experience? How can members of the massage and spa industries unite to encourage better stewardship of the earth?

Touch, Water, Aesthetics

Will cross-training in massage, hydrotherapy and aesthetics be a natural career track for the massage therapist?

It was amazing for me to reflect back and try to articulate ideas that seemed vague and difficult, only to find that they have been articulated and explored by many before. I am learning how people, even if only for the briefest of moments, weave into our lives as teachers and mentors. I've learned that a true teacher often goes unacknowledged in her or his own time. Yet, as part of the human family, we are connected and this knowledge lives on in the collective unconscious. Like roots, to flowers, to seeds... the story is one of interconnected humanity, not the individual.

It is the giving and receiving that keep us connected. Writing this series for Massage Today brought home to me how many people and industries have gone into building our culture and making us who we are today. This has connected me to great minds and great friends. Alex Szekely, from the Golden Door, who has recently passed on, was one of these people for me - he gave me the confidence to express my voice. Although it is impossible for me to acknowledge everyone who has inspired me, I would especially like to thank my colleagues on the ISPA Educational Committee, past and present; Dr. Jonathan DeVierville for his visionary thinking; and many colleagues who have given of their time. Thanks to Dr. Fritof Capra, Michael Schneider, Dr. Elton Haas, and Dr. LawrenceVan Der Post for authoring books that inspired me to think differently. I would especially like to thank my contributing editor, Kelly Colbert Baynham, whose thoughtful insights (and ability to listen) helped to articulate and evolve the 10 elements.

How we internalize the impressions and lessons from the people we love and respect is critical. Why? Because the impressions of our community often become our own. Like a river, the story of our times flows forward through individuals. This is not a passive happening; people who carry forward the story possess a special characteristic -- they are open to change. They share the like-minded qualities of being willing to risk, grow, explore and evolve. And they are willing to share what they've learned with others.

It is this interrelated nature of The Great Spa Conversation that has so intrigued me. I hope this is just the beginning. Your voice is important.