From downtown Miami to the great spaces of southern Africa, from tiny atolls in the Maldives to the foothills of the Himalayas and from the jungles of northern Thailand to the middle of the Pacific Ocean there is a spa waiting to envelop, pamper and caress the careworn, the stressed and the seriously tired.
You can get a lomi lomi massage thousands of miles from its native Polynesia, acupuncture and tui’na from Chinese medicine can be enjoyed from Africa to Italy, while shiatsu from Japan, shirodara from India and lulur from Java can be found in any spa worth the name between Florida and France. And it continues with new therapies deriving from the ancient lore of the aboriginals, the plants and stones from Native Americans, and the traditions of Indonesian royals as well as state of the art treatments from the laboratories of the major American and European beauty houses.
Into this great melting pot of spa ingredients come the practitioners – the masseurs, the facialists, the manicurists, the crystal healers, the doctors and the chiropractors, the yoga gurus and the dance masters, the life coaches and the acupuncturists – all, every single one of these people, these traditions, ingredients and therapies, geared to helping some of the most over-indulged people ever, to feel better about themselves, about their bodies and about their lives. For this more than anything accounts for the great growth of spas – the real need people have to escape the strains of modern life to chill-out and relax.
In an over-stretched, over-stressed world the greatest luxury of all is time. Time for yourself. Choosing an island, an hotel, an escape with a spa is literally giving yourself permission to use that time. Spas provide refuge and offer repair.
In a world where more and more people live alone either through choice or circumstance, spas provide a safe haven where they can relax and not feel out of place, where they can surrender to the healing power of touch. People who live alone do not have the same opportunities of touch as those who live with partners and families – witness how the elderly who are on their own constantly stroke their hands or arms, remember that new born babies can die if they are not held or touched.
Touch is powerful, it soothes, heals and comforts. A pedicure can put a smile on someone’s face not just because the callouses have been removed, but because that person has been massaged and touched. The divorced and the widowed, the vulnerable and the lonely can find solace in a place which is devoted to serenity and wellbeing, and this helps the healing process.
But most important, spas are fun – they are also legal, sexy and don’t make you fat.
They are a sybarite’s paradise. The thought, time and money spent on them is nothing if not lavish – silk walls, satin cushions, soft lights, scented candles incense, cashmere wraps, slippers, sarongs, organic foods and juices. How can anyone not feel better under such a plethora of pleasure inducers. (If only they could learn to can the music – unless of course the guest has a penchant for panpipes, humpback whales or seagulls. Silence, they might well remember, is the best sound of all).
Spas are often in the forefront of hotel excellence in design and service and mostly they are situated in some of the most beautiful places on earth. They pamper and spoil, they soothe and smooth – they indulge our every whim.
Jo Foley is the author of Great Spa Escapes