Spa time is essential to our wellbeing and accomplishing all that we want from life.
You heard me right! Read me right? Whichever it is, you get the point!
I know you’re thinking, “How can indulging in such frivolity possibly make me more productive?” I also know you definitely used the word “frivolity” in your internal monologue. I’m that good.
Taking some spa time for yourself can and will make you more effective and present in your life.
In fact, it’s a necessary step for you to achieve your next goal. It’s probably what’s been holding you back.
And it’s crucial to improving and maintaining your health.
Now before you rush out and book yourself a manicure, let’s take a look at what I mean by spa.
In America, we look at the spa as a place to fritter away time and money while gaining only a small, superficial benefit.
We think of spa treatments as expensive stuff you do for your hair, nails, and skin. Maybe your muscles if you get a massage.
The word spa in our culture seems like a dirty word.
It conjures up the image of luxury and opulence; something reserved for the rich who can afford to be self-indulgent.
Because normal hard-working folks don’t have the time or money for such nonsense in their lives, right?
When I say “spa”, I'm not only talking about the extravagant or lavish services you find here in the US (but those are great, too).
I’m speaking mainly to the way Europeans define of spa therapy.
For Europeans, the spa starts with water.
Hot pools, cold pools, pleasantly warm high mineral swimming pools they spend the day in, and morning walks through cold water up to your knees (this is called water treading and it’s fabulous), just to name a few.
This is especially true in Germany, the birthplace of naturopathic medicine.
Naturopathic medicine started out as spa medicine and relied almost entirely on these water therapies, also known as hydrotherapy.
And in fact, these water therapies were not reserved for the rich, but most often utilized by the very poor.
Father Kneipp, one of the forefathers of naturopathic medicine, was sought out across Germany by destitute folk who had often run through the gamut of other therapies available at the time in an attempt to heal themselves.
Father Kneipp treated everyone who journeyed to see him, and his spa treatments were so successful that thousands of people visited him over his lifetime.
His spa medicine also included advice on diet, sleep, rest, taking walks through nature, and drinking plenty of water. Truly the roots of naturopathic medicine.
You can get a little taste of traditional hydrotherapy in your own shower every morning. And I’ll be adding more to the blog in the future.
Thanks to this fabulous healing tradition that started in the 1800s, it is still common practice for German physicians to prescribe their patients a couple weeks of spa time.
It’s true! This is a perfectly normal prescription.
And there are spas built all over Germany in adorable little towns just for this purpose. The mineral content in the water varies by region, so people travel to different spa towns for different therapeutic benefits.
A spa tour. Now that sounds like a vacation!
We used to have places like this in the US until about 1930 when the face of medicine in this country changed.
They were called sanitariums; people would take weeks at a time to rest, sunbathe, eat light food, enjoy nature, and heal. They were particularly popular for those with consumption, or tuberculosis.
The one pictured above was the sanitarium of Dr. Henry Lindlahr, one of the fathers of naturopathic medicine in the United States who built off of Father Kneipp's work.
Modern American spas sometimes have these highly beneficial water therapies included in their facilities, but they are underused and not well understood compared to the more standard skincare treatments.
It’s common for Germans to take trips to their version of a sanitarium and spend time rejuvenating themselves.
The spa isn’t looked at as an unnecessary extravagance, but as one of the most basic forms of healthcare.
The spa isn’t for listless layabout loafers.
It isn’t for frivolous or one time uses like birthday parties or Mother’s day gifts.
It isn’t for “pampering”, though it does a good job of it.
It’s a lifestyle. A mentality. And one that needs to be integrated into our culture.
It’s essential for our health.
And it’s essential to achieve the life we want. Yup, it’s that big.
Spending time at the spa is an assertion of self.
You’re saying, “it’s ok to be me and it’s ok to take care of myself.”
This is something that we’re highly discouraged from in our society.
We’re supposed to constantly sacrifice ourselves in the name of family, work, or whatever else is a high priority in your life.
Because, surely, you aren’t your own highest priority. That would be selfish and thoughtless.
But what kind of life is that?
It’s not long before your reserves run dry and you’ve got nothing left to give. Then the bitterness and resentment sets in.
We’re often confused as to the origin of these emotions within ourselves, but I’d wager a guess that it stems from our constant disregard for ourselves and our needs as human beings.
Check out my article on how to reclaim this space and make yourself a priority in your own life to delve deeper into this emotional response and some practical steps to take to help you redefine what taking care of yourself means.
Why is spa therapy essential to our health?
So many reasons! Let’s start with some basics in the physical realm. I’m talking about both European style and American style spa therapies here.
All bodywork treatments, like a massage or a facial, are going to stimulate circulation. Even manicures and pedicures usually come with a short massage.
Water therapies will help as well, when used properly. At it’s core, hydrotherapy is meant to move the blood and improve circulation. The key is not being afraid of the cold water. It is extremely therapeutic when used appropriately.
Dr. Liz Tip: Next time you go to a spa that has hot and cold pools, try a few short dips in the cold in the middle of your hot soak. It really amps up your relaxation and greatly improves your circulation. Take one last short dip in the cold before you head out.
Enhanced lymphatic flow
If you’re improving circulation, you’re probably improving the movement in your lymphatic system as well. Lymph vessels collect all the extra fluid left behind by the blood vessels and return it to normal circulation near the heart.
They can’t pump on their own, so they are coupled next to veins. When blood move through the veins, it pushes the lymph, too. You can see them pictured here in green.
The lymphatic system, even though you may have never heard of it until now, is exceptionally important in our immune system.
Lymph gets filtered through many groups of nodes on its way back to the heart. In these nodes live millions of immune cells that are watching out for foreign invaders.
Greater relaxation of the nervous system
Of course bodywork is wonderful for decreasing anxiety, increasing relaxation, and stimulating healing.
It has a relaxing effect on our nervous system in that it stimulates the parasympathetic half — or rest and digest. Being in or around water can make you calmer and more creative.
If you are improving circulation and lymphatic flow, you are definitely enhancing detoxification.
More circulation = more nutrients to the tissues and more waste products whisked away.
Our skin is our largest organ of detoxification.
Treatments that are exfoliating, soothing, or nourishing can be helpful in maintaining skin health and stimulating detoxification, assuming high quality, organic, and low chemical products are used.
When you feel better physically, you work harder, smarter, and stronger. Limitations like low energy and aches and pains fade as your body becomes healthier and more capable of processing day to day life.
How can spa therapy make me more effective and present in my life?
Now let’s look at the more mental and emotional side of things.
Rest and recovery time
Spa time provides us with that ever-elusive downtime that we crave in our overly busy world.
When you make time for spa therapies, you’re giving yourself permission to relax and untangle yourself from cell phones, email, and whatever else might constantly vie for your attention.
If you’re driving at something so hard that you don’t check in with yourself, oftentimes you end up at your intended destination, but with the realization that it's no longer where you want to be.
As you take your journey, your goals evolve.
The journey is the target, not the destination. You sell yourself short when you neglect to stop.
You pigeonhole yourself into an outcome that you may not even want.
Goals should evolve and change as you grow and learn, and the downtime spa therapies offer are the perfect way to create this special insight time for yourself.
You know how many people say they get their best ideas in the shower? It’s because they’re not thinking about anything else! They’ve created space to process and allow great ideas to bubble to the surface.
To be taken care of
This is a tough one for many people.
Again, our cultural attitude interferes with our better judgment and tells us, “We don’t need this! We can take care of ourselves!”
There’s a lot to be said for self sufficiency, but we cannot survive without support from others.
Letting someone else care for you is a great mental hurdle to vault over.
It doesn’t mean you’re weak or any less capable; it means you are human, and we humans thrive in supportive, nurturing, cooperative environments where you don’t have to be the leader or expert in everything.
Allowing someone else to take care of you for an hour loosens the reigns on the control we feel we need to have in order to survive. We can learn that letting go is it’s own form of strength and is necessary for health and happiness.
Taking care of yourself
Ah, the other side of the coin!
Spa time is you time, and we’re all short on you time.
Whether you’re just hanging out in the pools and sauna or if you’re getting a massage or manicure, you’re still taking care of yourself. And too few people do this.
Taking care of yourself sends a strong message. It says “I’m worth some of my own precious time and I find myself valuable.”
So few people do this openly nowadays. If we do, it’s often not something we speak about in front of friends or family because it’s seen as indulgent and even self-righteous.
You can hear the words forming on a critical person’s lips, “Don’t you have something better to do with your time?” That question might even form in your own mind.
We have to shift this expectation.
People are often critical of things they themselves desire.
They don’t process their own feelings and reflect internally, but instead vomit these emotions up onto you.
It’s not your responsibility to process other people’s junk. Do what works for you and what you need.
And what do we all need? To give back to ourselves. Whether that be though cooking healthy food, taking a nap, playing music, or finally going on a hike you've wanted to do.
Have you ever heard the saying “you can’t pour from any empty cup”?
Well, most of us live our lives with a nearly empty cup.
We’ve come to expect that this is how life goes and how we must feel.
Break down that expectation within yourself!
Self-care refills your cup, so to speak. It replenishes your reserves so you’re able to give freely without feeling constantly drained and depleted. It’s essential for a balanced life.
No more shame or guilt. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself.
You’ll find a little goes a long way in terms of restoring your reserves. The more you fill the cup, the more you'll feel like yourself.
And the more you’ll want to make a habit of keeping it full because you’ll feel so much better.
Things that were murky before clarify, boundaries are formed or renewed, and junk that’s accumulated in your life gets purged.
Self-care helps you to reestablish your priorities and stay present and effective in your own life.
Boost to your self esteem
I think this is a big reason why people love the spa! Feeling good about yourself can’t be undervalued.
Water therapies leave you feeling fresh, invigorated, and relaxed.
Aesthetic treatments can help you feel more comfortable in your own skin.
The spa experience is a win-win! Feeling good in our bodies translates directly to how we feel about ourselves overall.
Spa therapies are a fantastic way to take care of yourself.
Spending time on self-improvement is deeply satisfying and healing.
The spa is much more than the vain or superficial experience our culture leads us to believe.
You’re showing yourself and others that you care about yourself enough to acknowledge that YOU are important part of your own life.
And that’s inspiring.
Making spa time a habit is a great step into the world of self-care.
Sometimes it’s easier if someone else is providing a service for you, like a massage or facial. It’s a baby step toward taking on this responsibility yourself.
Once you’ve got the time carved out, you’ll crave more of it.
You’ll explore and start finding things you love to do, be it the spa or another activity. They'll nourish and rebuild you and you’ll be amazed at how differently you feel and what you can accomplish.
The spa can be an integral part of your self-care routine, or it can be a jumping off point.
Either way, it’s not a dirty word!
And by looking beyond this limited mindset we can see just how much more effective we can be in our lives when we realize no one else is going to take care of us except for us.