Spas: What Keeps Us Coming Back for More?

By Kate Robertson

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One theory about the origin of the word “spa” is that it comes from the name of the Belgian town Spa, where a therapeutic thermal spa bath was discovered in the 14th century. However, spa baths in natural springs or the sea were also used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Spas became a place for healing, revitalization and pampering. Many spas no longer have a thermal bath (maybe a hot tub or steam room), but water and purification remain a mainstay in the form of a shower before and after treatments.  

Initially, modern Western spas were geared towards the very wealthy, but this is no longer the case. Today, the average woman will generally try some type of spa treatment at least once. And according to Debra Pender, owner of Beyond Wrapture Spas in Kelowna, approximately 30-35 per cent of spa-goers are men, so males are recognizing benefits as well. Double rooms at spas are also commonplace, so couples can receive their treatments together.  

“If you research the No. 1 requested service at any spa,” says Pender, “it is, by far, still massage that people ask for first, followed by facials and pedicures. Touch is one of humanity’s basic needs and that will stay as our core business.”

So, as a long-time massage aficionado, I decided to put on my investigative hat, or should I say spa robe, to learn more about the spa experience and what keeps us coming back for more.

Some spas have location as a large part of the draw, like those conveniently situated in a tropical paradise setting. On a recent trip to Honolulu, I booked a massage at the Moana Lani Spa in the Moana Surfrider Hotel. The hotel is rich in history (first hotel on Waikiki beach in 1901), and situated directly on the beach.  

But Hawaiian cultural touches also enhance the spa experience. For example, to start, I am given a bowl of sand from the beach and asked to symbolically put the thought of something I want to let go of into the sand. At the end of the day, the sand is thrown into the ocean to be washed away.

I have chosen the Na Mele massage, which incorporates traditional Hawaiian lomi lomi – continuous, flowing massage strokes, and Hawaiian salt is rubbed on my spine. Throughout the treatment, I hear the soothing lapping of waves mixed with Hawaiian singing, which I find out later is a CD made especially for this treatment by Natalie Ai Kamauu, a gift with the massage.  

Of course, all spas can’t be located on a tropical beach, so what else can a spa do to give us the ultimate experience? One way is to offer a unique service like Timeless Eternity Vinotherapy, a treatment offered by Beyond Wrapture. It starts with a grape pip scrub, followed by a honey wine wrap (your choice of white or red, of course), and finishes with a vino massage.

But grape therapy is more than just a trendy idea that fits nicely with the Kelowna wine industry. Vinotherapy was first introduced in France in 2000, and Beyond Wrapture is one of the first spas to offer it in Western Canada.

“Research shows that grape seeds, stems and skins contain antioxidants called polyphenols, which are 10,000 times stronger and 50 times more healing than vitamin E,” says Pender. “We use the by-products that the winery (Summerhill, because it is organic) normally disposes of, all of which contain a valuable antioxidant called Resveratrol.”

The grapeseed oil used in the massage is also high in antioxidants, which can reduce damage created by free radicals and repair connective tissues. 
Another way a spa can enhance the experience is to offer a unique theme and setting, like the hammam, or Turkish steam bath, found at Miraj Hammam Spa in Vancouver.

When you walk into this spa, you instantly feel like you are in a different country with the intricately designed Middle Eastern-style lanterns, tea set, furnishings and marble fountain. Surinder Bains, founder and owner, explains, “Miraj is popular with people who find travelling challenging; they are able to enjoy a cultural experience in a spa environment on the corner of 6th and Granville.”
Treatment starts in the hammam with its aura of mysticism — as you catch glimpses of the Moroccan décor of marble and tiled walls, marble columns, and trickling fountains through the thick steam. Next is gommage, an invigorating (and I mean invigorating, although my therapist said in the Middle East they rub much, much harder) exfoliation scrub with black Moroccan soap while you lay on the Jerusalem gold marble slab. Exfoliation unclogs your pores and allows the oil from the massage, which comes next, to easily penetrate your skin.

Despite their unique differences, all of these spas had things in common.  Each incorporated an after lounge, where you can relax or read and have a cup of tea so you don’t feel rushed. The therapist chatted and made a personal connection before any “hands-on” work, in order to ensure a comfortable rapport was established.

Inside, each spa felt like a refuge from the busy outdoor surroundings and made me forget where I was. Each was tastefully decorated and furnished. Most importantly, all made me feel special and pampered, and left me wishing the treatment didn’t have to end – and eager to come back for more.

Wellness and stress relief types of spas have seen steady growth since their beginning in the 1990s.

“The No. 1 reason people come to a spa is for stress relief, to take a time out, and to check out of their world and into our world,” says Pender. “The next most popular reason is celebration. Women, in particular, love to have services together – it’s a special bonding experience.” Men also like to buy gift certificates for a spa service for the women in their lives.

With our increasingly fast-paced lives, and the decline of the Canadian dollar making it more expensive to travel, perhaps a “staycation” with some special treatments at your local spa is just what the doctor ordered.

Make the Most of Your Spa Experience

* Plan your day – book your appointment in advance to get the time you want and also to make the day as stress-free as possible. 
* Before you decide on your spa services, go over treatments with a spa rep to ensure you are going to be comfortable while you are having your services. For example, if you have lower back problems and you book an aromatherapy wrap followed by a facial, you will be lying on your back for at least two hours. 
* Dress in something loose and comfortable, or if you are coming after work, remember to pack some comfy clothes as your body will be very relaxed and you won’t want to put on any restrictive clothing that will hamper the light, free feeling as you float home.
* Come with an open mind. Don’t be worried about taking your clothes off during a massage. Whether you are with a male or female practitioner (and most spas will ask you which you prefer when you call in. If they don’t ask, tell them your preference), they are very professional and they know how to “drape” a body, so a client is comfortable through the entire service.  
* Arrange to have someone pick you up, especially if you are in for more than two services. At Beyond Wrapture, we tell guests who have had a two-hour hot stone treatment that they must have a ride or relax and have lunch at the hotel for a few hours before they can get behind the wheel.

Tips provided by Debra Pender, Spa Expert and Owner of Beyond Wrapture Spas in Kelowna, BC.




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