Spa 101 – A Short History of Spas

Spas are as old and as common as bottled water – lliterally. Today’s modern health and beauty spas exist nearly everywhere in the world. They grew out of simple, ancient traditions and practices. The basic treatments available at spas are centered around natural resources that are therapeutic and relaxing and are virtually the same ones used by the Greek and Roman empires 2,500 years ago and the ancient Egyptian and Persian royalty before that. Our modern spas have evolved from the ancient practice of bathing in hot springs and mineral waters, receiving face and body massage therapies using mud, herbs, steam, and scrubs, and from drinking hard to find mountain spring water for its medicinal effects.

The Romans built spas as they conquered Europe and identified natural hot springs and moving waters. Some of these famous places still function such as in Spa, Belgium; Bath, England; and Baden-Baden, Germany. In the Middle Ages, natural spring water was bottled and sold to the wealthy as medicine. Actually the water, untainted by the germs and poisons of polluted city wells and nearby rivers, did prevent sickness and restore to health those who drank it. In the 19th century, Europe’s great spas were destinations for the wealthy, who went there to “take the waters.” Europeans and world tourists still go to these spa areas for vacation and recovery from stress.

What a heritage! Today’s spas still help us cope with life, stress, and tension and still nourish our minds, bodies, and spirits. Spas offer assistance with fitness, stress management, peace of mind, pampering and pleasure, and health and wellness. Spas provide a wide variety of techniques and services. Most are built upon ancient spa concepts. For instance, according to spa historian De Vierville, the very simple, proper sequence of the typical spa treatment still involves cleaning, heating, treatment, and rest.

Julie Register, a spa guru (, identifies a few basic areas or types of services and treatments that spas offer. Most spas combine a few of these to create their unique trademark retreat and services. Here is a description of the basic types she names:

1.) The Waters. This is the use of water therapy, such as steam baths, soaks in hot springs or hot tubs, mud body wraps, sea salt or other body scrubs under different types of showers, and physical therapy or massage movements in pools and tubs.

2.) Food, Nourishment, Diet and Nutrition. Some spas concentrate on eating disciplines, special diets, and programs to lose or gain weight in a healthy way.

3.) Movement, Exercise and Fitness. Body movement might be physical exercise programs such as aerobics, spin, weight training, running and walking clubs, and other programs to get you and your body moving and improving.

4.)Touch, Massage, and Bodywork. These treatments are performed by licensed massage therapists and target muscle areas of the body that are tense, injured, or hurting or that may influence internal organs and tissues that are susceptible to illness.

5.) Mind/Body/Spirit. These spas use holistic approaches to integrate all of you in healthy activity such as yoga, meditation, prayer, balance, and control of motor skills and mental focus.

6.) Aesthetics, Skin Care, Natural Beauty Agents. Treatments and procedures are used to clean and clarify skin from the top down and regenerate healthier layers for overall skin health. It may also involve resurfacing and removing age spots, acne scars and other imperfections, diminishing wrinkles and scars, and plumping up lips and other areas of the face and neck.

7 ) Social/Cultural Arts and Values, Spa Culture. Vacation destinations and hotel spas often offer attractive and indulgent variations on the basic day spa. These types of spas generate special communities where people love to meet and enjoy others like them. These could be spas for honeymoon couples, gays, senior citizens, or handicapped people. They often are built around a spa personality, guru, or special treatment featured.

If you have never been inside a spa or enjoyed therapeutic treatments at a spa, you should consider what you are missing and try it. Start by selecting the spa that appeals to you. It could be a local spa in a charming, restored Victorian house that will transport you from the mundane into a fairytale world of luxury. It could be a straightforward and utilitarian spa connected to your health club that can offer you practical solutions to skin care or relieve achy muscles after a workout. It could be an exotic vacation destination spa on a cruise ship or in a romantic hotel. Wherever you find the spa, it will be operated with licensed care and credentials and will offer you the respite and attention you want and need. Try it; you’ll like it!

Copyright (c) 2007 Barry Lycka