Thursday, 27 June 2013

Welcome to a world of well being …physical … mental … spiritual!

 It’s happened! Cried an elderly person in anguish as he sat playing bridge with some charming women, in a club on a fine evening.
“What’s happened?” asked the young woman next to him.  “A stroke: My left side is paralyzed.”
“Are you sure?” asked the young lady.
“Yes, yes,” groaned the elderly person. “I’ve been pinching my left leg for the past few minutes and feel no sensation whatsoever.”
“Relax!” said the young lady.  Further, she continued with a deep exhale as if she were in a yoga pose. “That was my leg you were pinching.”  It could be written off as a cartoonist portrayal of a bizarre and confused status of a mind, body and spirit.
Irrespective of the age factor a need for deep rest and recuperation that is often lacking in our over stimulated lives. Many lead overly busy lives where even time off is scheduled and dictated by what is trendy.  But quick fixes don't have lasting effects. We know that it's good to connect with nature and to simplify our material lives.  But exactly what does that take in practice? In the near future, a complete well being of mental, physical and spiritual status is not and will not be a choice for the tourists or international traveler alone. If only someone or something could take our pains and problems away; if only pampering or prescriptions were the answers. A spa for every home and wellness centre for every flat or community will become a necessity more than a luxury. Our ancestors very well realized and practiced it, well designed natural bathing ponds near to temples and houses were a classic example of this quest for wellness. The Romans, in the early centuries of BC have realized the same and their legions built their military camps at hot springs, where healing waters “poured forth.”      
In the recent past, tourism industry in general, particularly in Kerala has been giving a lot of emphasis to wellness. You cannot imagine an advertisement or feature on Kerala tourism without a depiction of the rich old traditions of ayurveda. In fact, a picture or a photograph of a ‘shirodhara’ or an abhyangam performed by a charming Saree clad Keralite woman has become a second symbol of Kerala tourism or the wellness tourism. Our rich traditional systems of healing practiced and perfected by the great sages and seers, show cases a gold mine of cultural heritage and proven system of knowledge on health and life style. As a matter of fact, at a Spa or wellness centre in Kerala, the West and East meets in unison, through a harmonious fusion in wellness – as a life style.   
As the health tourism in general and wellness industry in particular is enfolding us a very large canvas, a broader horizon of opportunities; it would be ideal to have a conceptual understanding of the same. Ayurvedic traditions do not treat a patient in parts rather it treats him/her as a person, from a holistic wellness point. However our common knowledge or notion about a spa or wellness centre quickly associates to the words reflection, rejuvenation, relaxation, revive etc, some of these adjectives are names of wellness centers in resorts and hotels as well. And very often they focus everything to one angle that is the therapy, treatment or the massage performed inside the four walls of a treatment room. This narrow notion is often misleading too; as it is sometimes attributed as cross gender massage etc. Hence it is imperative to understand a wider perspective about a wellness centre or SPA and the concept of holistic wellness.
According to Jonathan Paul De Vierville, Ph.D., director of Alamo Plaza Spa in San Antonio, Texas and the secretary of the ISPA Foundation and a member of the Medical Spa Advisory Committee: “Regardless of the spa type, the true purpose of spa is to provide, through some form of the waters, helpful health services and treatments that are relaxing, restful, regenerative and socially re-creative. To suggest or claim otherwise is missing the main meaning of spa. Spa is not a pampering escape or self-indulgent avoidance. It is a necessary way of life that consists of services, activities and therapies best done within the wholeness, harmony, balance and rhythms of nature’s blood and water. Unfortunately, the original intentions of spa are often lost in the immediate rush to retail and quota sales.”
The domains and dimensions of a SPA
The conventional school of thought focuses SPA as Solus per Aqua or Healing through water. In the recent past there is another school of thought that is treating or defining SPA from a Solus Per Art or healing through art concept which is becoming popular and it opens us a mine of opportunities as well.
Solus per Aqua – Healing through water

So, what really is “spa”? The origin of the word gives us a clue. Etymologically, spa is traced from the Latin verb “spargere,” to pour forth. Roman legions built their military camps at hot springs, where healing waters “poured forth.” Also, the acronym S.P.A., referring to salus per aqua (health through water), was scrawled on the brick walls of many Roman thermal establishments.
The origins and true definition of spa recognize and include an important cultural dimension and a social institution that provide for a place and time for not only healthcare services and therapeutic treatments, but also cultural activities, shared events, societal leisure, relaxation and renewal. All of these features in combination eventually spawned the emergence of the contemporary spa industry with its related professions and culture.
Fundamentally, a spa is an eco-socio-cultural learning community and civil institution that attempts to bring together and truthfully integrate all the dynamic dimensions of time and space, temperatures, touch and therapeutic treatments within a supporting context of goodness, beauty, harmony and wholeness of nature.
The 10 domains of Spa defined by ISPA (International Spa Professionals Association) is worth knowing for anyone, and especially for the professionals in the tourism industry.
1.    Waters: The internal and external use of water in its many forms. 'Water is nature's sense organ'. Let's extend our perception of water as a utility for drinking and washing to water as a vital medium for life, transformation, creativity, and healing.  Not only can it enhance our sense of wellbeing, it can also expand our inner and outer awareness, and inspire life-affirming action.
  1. Nourishment: What we feed ourselves: food, herbals, supplements and medicines.
  2. Movement: Vitality and energy through movement, exercise, stretching and fitness.
  3. Touch: Connectivity and communication embraced through touch, massage and bodywork.
  4. Integration: The personal and social relationship between mind, body, spirit and environment.
  5. Aesthetics: Our concept of beauty and how botanical agents relate to the biochemical components of the body.
  6. Environment: Location, placement, weather patterns, water constitution, natural agents and social responsibility.
  7. Cultural Expression: The spiritual belief systems, the value of art and the scientific and political view of the time.
  8. Social Contribution: Commerce, volunteer efforts, and intention as they relate to well-being.
  9. Time, Space Rhythms: The perception of space and time and its relationship to natural cycles and rhythms.
Our bodies generate heat through a variety of metabolic mechanisms from the food we digest and liquids we drink. We dissipate approximately 85 percent of body heat through the skin. The skin serves as the principal area of entry and exit for heat and cold within the body; the skin provides the primary link between the body’s temperatures and the brain’s hypothalamus. The two linking pathways between the skin and the hypothalamus are through the peripheral nervous system and the circulation system’s capillaries, the small lacework of blood vessels that reach from our fingertips to our toes.
Spa involves not only the role of the skin but also the rhythm of daily activities and nighttime sleep. Spa time and temperature touches the whole person in full time/space and energy. Spa is more than skin deep; spa is also deep dreaming sleep.

For a spa or wellness centre or destination spa resort to get qualified – it should be less technology based, simple and inviting; set at the backdrop of a natural ambience, because technology degenerates where as nature regenerates and there is a very big difference'.  'A spa is a place with the purpose of facilitating whole human health care, wellness and social well-being.’ Fundamentally, a spa is an eco-socio-cultural learning community and civil institution that attempts to bring together and truthfully integrate all the dynamic dimensions of time and space, temperatures, touch and therapeutic treatments within a supporting context of goodness, beauty, harmony and wholeness of nature.'

A Spa culture is a blending of four areas, and, for Jonathan, spa as culture encompasses all these:
  • Art - in terms of beauty and esthetics
  • Science and technology - what is repeatable and provable
  • Politics (including economics and law) - relationships and values
  • Spirituality - the mystical, invisible
It is saddening to note that the emphasis has shifted from spa culture to spa industry, slowly consuming and diluting the other three areas through commoditization, and the marketing of that which was previously sacred. Wellness loses its soul in retails and sustains when focused in service. The mushrooming massage parlors along with some of the well designed and run branded Spas in the resorts, hotels and day spas in different destinations across Kerala.

If Kerala is the God’s own country, with its age old cultural heritage in art, knowledge, wellness, naturally blessed landscapes with fresh water bodies, pristine costal lines, inviting mountains; and above all as a spiritual hub of cohesive living could very well be qualified as the ‘The World Spa”. This could be achieved with minimum investments, coupled with a commitment for the genuine wellness of people and our fragile environment, a passion for wellness education, a societal acceptance of the wellness industry without ambiguities, as a respectable and value added profession worth cherishing. Welcome to a world of wellbeing in Kerala; physically … mentally and spiritually; encompassing its magnificent mountains, sensual backwaters, pristine beaches and its vibrant culture and heritage.

Johnson Joseph
Founder Director – Sisal Wellness & Hospitality Pvt Ltd, Kochi, Kerala, India

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