Spas, What Are They All About?

Gellért Baths


A body, spa or cosmetic treatment, is a “non-medical” process to help improve the overall health of the body. Locations for these procedures can often be in a health resort (or spa); a day spa, a natural healing spa, and others.

The term spa is associated with healing water treatment which is also sometimes known as Balneotherapy. “Spa Towns”, or resorts, including hot springs resorts (ahhh!) typically offer various health treatments. The idea of the curative abilities of mineral waters goes back to prehistoric times.

In 2007, in the United States alone, there were an estimated 15,500 spas, with visits in the range of 150 million times per year! That’s more than just “hot water”! An interesting statistic is that about a third of the spa visits were from men.

Spas have always been popular, world wide, and the belief in the benefits of soaking in mineral waters is well known. Europe and Japan have been the world leaders in the support of spas and soaking. A spa will generally go beyond just having a hot pool where someone can “soak their bones”. Most serious spas include not just the benefits of the hot mineral water, but massage and other health enhancing techniques as well. Really, how would you feel if you just soaked in a hot mineral bath at 104 degrees, and got on a massage table to have a qualified massage therapist work on your relaxed muscles…….As I am writing this, I feel like I need to get in my car and head to the nearest hot springs!

Typical Spa Treatments

You can expect some of the following treatments at spas:

• Massage;

• Aromatherapy;

• Bathing (of course!);

• Hot Springs or hot tubs;

• Mud baths;

• Peat pulp bath;

• Sauna;

• Steam bath;

• Body wraps;

• Facials;

• Nail care such as manicures and pedicures;

• Nutrition guidance;

• Weight management;

• Physical therapy;

• Personal training;

• Skin exfoliation;

• Body waxing;

• Yoga;

• Meditation.

If you said: “I’ll take one of each, you are on the right page!

Just your average bath...


Some History

The name, “Spa” comes from the name of the town, Spa, Belgium, a place that was known as far back as ancient Roman times.

In 16th century England, the old Roman ideas of medicinal bathing were revived at towns like Bath, and in 1596, the first resort for drinking medicinal waters was called The English Spaw, which began the use of the word Spa as a general description.

Archaeological investigations near hot springs in France and Czech Republic, revealed Bronze Age weapons and offerings. In Great Britian, ancient legend credited early Celtic kings with the discovery of the hot springs at Bath. Many people around the world believed that bathing in a particular spring, well, or river resulted in physical and spiritual purification. Forms of ritual purification existed among the native Americans, Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

Today, ritual purification through water can be found in the religious ceremonies of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus. These ceremonies reflect the ancient belief in the healing and purifying properties of water.

Ancient Greece and Romans in Hot Water

Some of the earliest descriptions of western bathing practices came from Greece, where the population utilized small bathtubs, basins and foot baths for personal cleanliness. The earliest evidence of this practice dates from the mid-2nd millennium BC. It was standard practice to have public baths and showers within gymnasium complexes for relaxation and personal hygiene. There are myths and stories throughout Greek history of the healing attributes of certain pools that were said to be blessed by the Gods.

The Romans copied many of the Greek bathing practices, and surpassed them in the size and complexity of their bathing facilities. Aqueducts, and the invention of cement made this possible, easier and cheaper. As the Roman Empire expanded, the idea of public baths spread to all parts of the Mediterranean, and into regions of Europe and North Africa.

As a focal point for social and recreational activities, public baths also were close to libraries, lecture halls, gymnasiums, and formal gardens.

The healing properties of the hot springs was widely known, and the Romans elevated the simple act of soaking to a refined process. You would start with bathing, sweating, receiving a massage, and resting.

Bathing (or Not) in Medieval Times

As time moved forward, people continued to seek out a few select hot and cold springs, believed to be holy wells, to cure various ailments. The general belief at the time was that frequent bathing promoted disease and sickness. Medieval church authorities encouraged this belief and made every effort to close down public baths.

Overall, this time period represented a decline in public bathing. Can you imagine how BAD it smelled? Most of the people had livestock living either below their living quarters, or inside, for the body heat they would generate. Combine that “aroma” with humans who hadn’t taken a bath for months……. By the 16th century, some physicians were prescribing taking mineral water internally as well as externally. Patients periodically bathed in warm water for up to 11 hours while drinking glasses of mineral water.

Roman baths


Bathing in the 18th Century

In the 1700s most upper class Europeans washed their clothes with water more often than they washed their faces, and felt that bathing the entire body was a lower-class activity, but as the century progressed, the upper-class slowly began changing their attitudes toward bathing, and seeing it as a way to restore health.

Today, it’s really hard to imagine that people would actually believe that bathing was unhealthy, especially the supposedly “educated” upper class.

"Progress" in the 19th and 20th Centuries!

In the 19th century, bathing become a more accepted practice as some physicians finally realized that there were "some benefits" that cleanliness could provide.

These were the same guys that used leeches and bled patients. It took a cholera epidemic in Liverpool, England in 1842 for a sanitation “renaissance” to take place. This epidemic started a series of activities, and implementation of statutes known collectively as “The Baths and Wash-houses Acts of 1846 to 1896. These acts resulted in increased public awareness of the health benefits of bathing and actually helped to bring spa use into a more prominent position, as more and more individuals enjoyed them.

Bathing In the United States

Meanwhile, in the United States, there were bathing issues as well. As a population, we like to think of our society being progressive, and "civilized". Yet,it wasn't until 1842, that a house in Cincinnati, Ohio had the first bathtub installed in the United States!

Bathing though, was not an accepted activity with the general population. Only a year later, in 1843, in Philadelphia, it was actually against the law to bath between November 1 and March 15. I think that’s amazing! This activity was with the full blessing and support of the medical community.

In other, supposedly "primitive" countries, such as Japan, and other parts of Asia, bodily cleanliness was an important part of everyday life, and non-adherence to those policies was punishable by law. Yet, these same cultures were looked on with distrust and misunderstanding by most of the “civilized” world.

So, back to the United States and the water phobia. In 1845, in Boston, Massachusetts, bathing was banned, unless under the direct orders of a physician. As time progressed, things improved. By 1867, most of the houses of the wealthy had bath tubs and indoor plumbing. Eventually, the laws against bathing, and public fear of bathing, disappeared with advancements in medical science, and a medical community that actually promoted bathing and cleanliness.

I think that each one of us had, and, has the ability and intelligence to make the decision as to whether we should take a bath or not!

Moving On to Better Health

By the mid-19th century everything had changed dramatically. In European spas, visitors began to stress bathing as well as soaking and drinking medicinal waters. Bathhouses , fountains, and soaking pools were revived and enjoyed a popularity unknown since Roman times.

Of the many improvements to the spas, most of them followed the guidelines of ancient Roman and Greek styles: lots of tile floors, marble walls, counters, and massage therapy rooms adjoining the soaking areas.

The European method of bathing at a spa was an involved, and complete body experience. A person would start with a soak in the hot water, drinking the water, then steaming in the “vapor room”, and finally relaxing in a cool room. I imagine massage therapy was fitted in those activities as well. Doctors were taking a more active role in this “new” health process, ordering patients to undergo digestive cleansing activities at the spas, and given a select diet to promote a cure. Guidebooks began to appear throughout the world, and the commercial spa industry was born!

Glenwood Springs 15F Degrees Outside


Into The 20th Century and Beyond

At the beginning of the 20th century, European spas established programs of strict diet, an exercise program, and a bathing process to achieve the maximum benefits for their clients. Some spas even had a full time doctor on hand to advise clients using the spas.

An example of one of these procedures is called the “Baden-Baden Bathing Procedure”. This process begins with a warm shower, then you enter a sauna like room with hot (140degree) circulating air for around 20 minutes, then another room with even hotter (150 degrees) air, then into a 154 degree vapor bath. You take another shower, and receive a soap massage. Next, you head off to a body temperature pool to swim, which helps to stretch your relaxed muscles. After your relaxing swim, you rest for 15 minutes or so in a warm pool called the “Sprudel” pool.

The Sprudel Pool is a shallow pool with an 8 inch layer of fine sand on the bottom. Naturally carbonated water bubbles up through the sand and gives your skin a cleansing.

Are you done? No, not yet!

Now, you go through a series of showers and pools, each one cooler than the one before. Then, attendants rub you down with warm towels, wrap you in sheets, cover you with blankets, and let you rest for 20 minutes.

That is just the bathing part of the therapy! The rest of the cure involves a prescribed diet, exercise, and a water drinking program.

Is A Spa Expensive?

You’ve probably heard the term, “it’s all relative”, it’s true: it IS all relative.

I think the question each one of us needs to ask is: "what do I feel that my health and wellness is worth?

To me, good health is your true life insurance policy. So, it really is a question of budgeting what you feel you can pull away from other “un-necessities”, like lattes, snacks, sweets, etc., and putting that money into your “feel good” account or envelope.

If you are insured through your job, or have your own health insurance, you may find that you actually have coverage for a spa program. This program would have to be recommended by your doctor, as a way to improve your health by staying at a health spa for a week. I think that would be a great prescription, don’t you?

What Actions Can You Take for Your Health Now?

In spite of anything we do, or do not do, life passes us by before we know it, and the usual result for most people is a shock and disappointment in their quality of health once they reach their 50’s onward.

No matter what your age, or the condition of your health now, you can begin the process to change it. Even taking small actions add up over time. It's kind of like taking an extra 20 steps a day, at the end of a year, you have taken an extra 7300 steps.

The important point is that YOU have to do it, no one else can do it for you.

• Decide what type of spa/massage program you want to start;

• Do some research on the different types of programs available in your area;

(Link types of massage)

• Go to: Mind/Body to research the facilities and the professionals available at the different spas to heal you and help you to reach your goals;

• Start an exercise program, right now, even if it’s very basic;

• Decide what you will cut out or change in your daily money activities to fund your “new you”;

• Allow yourself a good month of regular visits to see what kind of differences you see and feel;

• Set the appointment!

I hope you have enjoyed this section on spas! Travel around to our other pages for more information designed to help you attain better health! You WILL find great, researched information. You will NOT find pop-ups, flashy ads, or hype sales stuff---I feel like you do, I don’t like it!

There are some spas and hot springs that may be a little "risky" to soak in, so just use good sense!:

Snow Monkeys, Japan


Go To What is Massage?