The Evolution of the Spa Experience
Every culture in history has the shared knowledge of the healing properties of water. Natural springs are the focal point of many ancient world communities, supporting the custom of curative baths. Massage and water therapy have been linked from the beginning of history. The Greek and Roman baths, the Native American sweat lodges, the Turkish baths, as well as centers built around healing springs represent the rich history of the use of massage in a spa setting.
The use of water in healing work has been documented throughout history. The gymnasiums of Greece treated both men and women with water therapy and massage to promote health, heal disease, and ease sore muscles.
Natural springs, which can be either hot or cold, generally contain minerals with healing properties for many physical and emotional conditions. Traditionally spas were built near such natural springs or salt water where the healing properties of the water could be combined with supporting therapies such as massage.
Soldiers Bring Massage to Europe
The connection between water and healing crossed all institutions, from hospitals to the military. French soldiers returning from Turkey introduced the use of massage and healing baths to Napoleon in the 1800s. Soon this concept spread throughout Europe.
Napoleon stayed battle-ready with healing baths and massage. The French use of aromatherapy is seen with his choice of oils both in his bath and for his massage. Napoleon would infuse the bathwater with citrus and follow his bath with a lemon-oil massage.
Water therapy and massage were used to help soldiers wounded in battle, either physically or through shock. Spa treatments were provided in hospitals for them and others suffering from different kinds of physical and mental illness.
Sanitariums and Spas
From the 1800s on, the use of water and massage continued to grow in popularity as a means to treat illness throughout Europe and the United States. One important use for sanitariums and spas, though somewhat misguided, was for the treatment of “female feebleness.” Nervousness and weakness were considered to be the illnesses of women, curable only with rest and relaxation, so sanitariums and spas were established strictly for this purpose. Often these facilities treated women whose behaviors were not acceptable to society at that time-women who refused to be submissive or who wanted to be educated. Staying at a sanitarium or a spa was often the only way a woman could find respite from the tensions of her normal environment.
Fortunately, not all spas were established as asylums for insubordinate women. Spas began to surface for the benefit of many different classes and types of people, from the affluent to the ordinary folk. Today there are many such resorts and spas that offer water treatments and massage for the health and well-being of anyone looking for relief from physical or emotional stress.