From Ayurveda to Thalassotherapy, many of the treatments performed in UK spas originate from destinations around the world. Stylish Spy hops across the pond to discover some ancient spa traditions
Head to… France
Developed from the Greek word for the sea, ‘thalassa’, and healing, ‘therapeia’, thalassotherapy is a French treatment using the healing properties of sea water. Created in the mid 1800s by a Professor of Medicine at the University of Montpellier, thalassotherapy uses a combination of aerated baths and high-pressure hose showers to blast the body with clean, fresh seawater, rich in magnesium, potassium, calcium sulphates and sodium. Used primarily as a detox, thalassotherapy is also beneficial for the skin, improving skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Head to… Thailand
For… Thai massage
Developed by Dr Jivaka Kumar Bhacca more than 2,500 years ago, Thai massage is based on the belief that good health and freedom from pain is the result of unhindered flow of vital energies through the body. Therapists pummel, press and – sometimes – clamber across your back in an effort to release blockages. Some will crack fingers, toes and even your neck if deemed necessary – be sure to speak up if it’s too much. Unlike most massages, the Thai version doesn’t rely on oils or lotions, with the spa-goer remaining clothed throughout – a good option if you feel uncomfortable stripping off.
Head to… Turkey
A hammam is a dedicated, and often ornate, building containing a series of pools and rooms heated to varying degrees of warmth. Décor is typically Mediterranean with mosaic-tiled walls and marble floors. Men and women are led to different sections and invited lie on raised warm slabs of marble for the experience. The hammam involves being vigorously washed all over, including your hair, before being doused in hot water from head to toe - this is by no means a gentle treatment but your skin will feel super soft afterwards. A hammam often ends with a glass of tea.
Head to… Hawaii
For… Lomi Lomi massage
Embracing the spirit of ‘aloha’, the Hawaiian word for love, a lomi lomi massage is a family ritual passed down from generation to generation. Each treatment begins with a prayer and leads into a massage that’s both free form and instinctive, the therapist paying particular attention to areas of the body perceived to be out of kilter. In Hawaii, the treatment is used to treat children with an upset stomach, as well as soothe women in labour. Don’t be alarmed if you hear a low humming sound or witness your therapist dancing – both acts are believed to release energy.
Head to… China
Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, originated in China thousands of years ago and is based on the belief that the body’s vital energy circulates through channels called meridians. These meridians have branches throughout the body which must be aligned for good health to prevail. Acupuncture and cupping – where warm glass or bamboo cups are sucked onto the skin to open up stagnant points in the body – are often used depending on the condition, and can be combined with herbal remedies used in teas. TCM is often used to treat persistent injuries, common aches and infertility.
Head to… India
Meaning ‘the science of life’ Ayurveda is an ancient Indian healing tradition that originated over 3,000 years ago. It’s based on the belief that all life forms have a specific body type (or dosha) in the former of either vata (slim and athletic), pitta (medium-built and driven) and kapha (heavier build and grounded). Most of us are a blend with a dominant type which often needs re-balancing (this Spa Spa is vata with hint of kapha). Massages using heating poultices, breathing exercises and changes in diet are used to find balance after a period of bad habits, fear or grief. Head to… Japan
Adopting a similar approach to TCM, Kampo was first introduced to Japan during the 6th century and combines acupuncture, cupping and moxibustion (the burning of mugwort leaves (pictured above) over an area of concern) with herbal remedies to treat irregularities in the body. Unlike TCM, Kampo studies the herbs more rigorously, continually coming up with new ways to ease pain and promote good health. Kampo is considered to be so effective that it has become part of Japan’s national healthcare system.
Head to… Africa
For… Rungu massage
Relax to the beat of a drum… A rungu is a small African baton said to be an important emblem of warrior status in young Maasai men. While the instrument used in a rungu massage may not be from Maasai, the structure is the same: a long, narrow handle with two rounded ends, one large and one small, to perform different massage techniques. The long handle is generally used like a rolling pin on larger areas of the body (like the back), while the rounded ends are used to work out knots or areas of tension.
Head to… Sweden
For… Swedish massage
The most common massage performed in Western Europe, the Swedish version forms the basis of other varieties such as deep tissue and aromatherapy. It is based on the concept of ‘medical gymnastics’ and regularly used on footballers, tennis players and runners to ease tension and improve flexibility. Therapists cover the skin with oil before using slow pressure to massage in the direction of the heart, and warm up the back. Kneading, bending, stretching and tapping can then be adopted to work on knots – it can be eye-watering but is effective.
This article has been udpated from Good Spa Guide's Wellness magazine Autumn/Winter 2017