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Massage Today
June, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 06

The Fifth Element: Integration

By Robin Zill, LMT

Author'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 fifth article in a 12-part series and focuses on the fifth of the 10 elements: Integration.

It is no secret that the underlying saga of the modern American is often one of time-impoverished disconnection.

The search for greater understanding of optimal health has taken our culture by storm. We know we have sacrificed our need for an integrated world view for one that emphasizes measurements, quantities, efficiency and money. We are finding out that such a view doesn't always work for us, or for future generations. The fifth element of the spa experience, integration, speaks directly to these issues. We define integration as the personal and social relationship between mind, body, spirit and environment. Located in the center of the circle, the search for personal integration is at the heart of the spa experience.

So, how does the global spa movement address the need for integration? After all, it encourages the need for evolution in industries such as medicine, beauty, resort & hospitality, massage, nutrition, and fitness, to name a few. But even the word integration has lost some of its original intent for the industry. "Mind, body, spirit" often means nothing more to the consumer today than a wellness clinic that has a doctor, massage therapist, nutritionist, and acupuncturist (or a host of other services) renting space under the same roof and sharing a receptionist. The client pays for each of the services separately, and there is no cost-effective way to use the knowledge of this eclectic team in a comprehensive and holistic manner that really meets the needs of the individual in a profitable business forum. We are evolving however, and the desire for the "spa experience" is increasing exponentially in almost every market segment. In order to create the next-century profession, we need to create a synergy between all the various market strands. We need a common language.

The Ousia* (oo SEE ahh) concept, built upon the 10 elements, has begun to define for me the importance of sharing our individual journeys with the goal of creating a new common language. We need to rediscover our roots and update our thoughts, theories, and values. The ousia philosophy consists of four steps designed to facilitate an integrated spa experience: insight, cleanse, nourish, and transform. The steps are based on the Asclepian healing journey of the ancient Greeks.

Asclepius was the god of healing. Those who sought healing began with a simple step: the decision to seek a healthier life. An individual had to walk to the temple on his or her own. During the journey, the seeker saw others returning from the temple. Already the healing journey had begun, because the seeker realized she was not alone. At the temple, she experienced the Greek comedies and tragedies. The arts reflected back the joys and pains of the human experience. (Every healthy culture throughout history embraced the necessity of the arts and beauty in the healing process.) This part of the healing process corresponds to step one: insight.

1. Insight: the understanding of self, place and process at any one point in time. This means determining the needs of your spa guests: their skin type, body type, treatment program, product and touch preferences, exercise regimen, and nutrition program.

The next step in the journey is cleanse: the process of purification through water. The ancient baths and bathing rituals of this time attest to the importance of this. Asclepian guests enjoyed a wide range of bathing experiences that prepared them for the therapeutic and transforming experiences to come.

2. Cleanse: the process of purification through water, getting rid of the old as one prepares for the new. In modern spas this process could begin with a simple cup of tea, a hot towel compress, a tub or shower in a luxurious locker area, or a bathing area featuring various exotic bathing opportunities such as those found at Banff Springs or The Grove Park Inn. For a day spa, this journey is as simple as scheduling a Vichy exfoliation before a massage or facial.

The third step in the ousia journey is nourish: to feed the body, mind, and soul what it uniquely needs. Whether it be food, exercise, massage, medicine, or counseling, experienced staff members find appropriate ways to customize the treatment for the individual.

3. Nourish: feeding the body, mind, soul what it uniquely needs. This element varies widely in the contemporary spa. A destination spa will include a wider array of services than a day spa; a medical spa will be quite different in the services it offers than a club spa. Programs will vary from a week of planning to a 75-minute visit.

In the Asclepian journey, the next part of the path was the most important to achieving personal integration. This was the experience of rest and dreaming, letting the unconscious speak. In ancient Greece, the seeker traveled down an elaborate maze-like corridor, eventually ending up in a dream chamber. Again it was up to the individual to ask for greater guidance through dreaming. If lucky, the seeker received a meaningful dream and in a sense were transformed. In order to complete the journey, the seeker needed to leave something of him or herself behind; a sacrifice for the next traveler on the healing path.

4. Transform: reconnecting to the inner and outer world. In the spa journey, this last step often includes the final application of product in a treatment such as a finishing cream. In sequencing a combination of treatments, it may include hair, nails, or makeup. The goal is to leave the spa feeling inward and outwardly beautiful and renewed.

In The Web of Life, Fritjof Capra says it this way: "When we see a network of relationships among leaves, twigs, branches, and a trunk, we call it a tree. When we draw a picture of a tree most of us will not draw the roots. Yet the roots of a tree are often as expansive as the parts we see."

Integration demands that we not ignore the "roots" or the "leaves." When all the elements of a spa experience are achieved, they add up to an elusive wholeness. That wholeness brings balance to the cultural pendulum and leads to more integrated lives, rich in connectedness.

Remember, spa is a people's movement. Your voice is important. You can e-mail me at .

* Ousia (oo SEE ahh) : essence, nature; that which makes a thing what it is; a person or object seen from within, yet not a material substance. Applied to our search for fulfillment, ousia denotes divine essence.

Click here for previous articles by Robin Zill, LMT.


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