The word spa came from a small town in the 14th century known for curative, thermal mineral springs. From this location the Latin phrase “sanitas per aquas” (health through water) came forth. There is a deep history related to the use of water in its many forms. Treating the body through baths and water traveled from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire to the Renaissance era in the 16th century. By the 20th century doctors in Europe were convinced for each disease, Mother Nature possessed an appropriate medicinal spring that through chemical analysis of the waters could aid the body. At this time Sebastian Kneipp, the “father of hydrotherapy” emerged in Germany. As a young boy, Kneipp contracted pulmonary tuberculosis, which was a fatal disease at that time. While ill he read an 18th century book that discussed the benefits of bathing in the icy Danube River to stimulate the immune system. After taking the suggestion of the book, Kneipp’s tuberculosis went into remission. From then on, as he studied to be ordained as a priest, he touted the benefits of using water in many forms for therapy. Kneipp went on to write a book in 1886 called “My Water Cure” and helped treat many people. Kneipp fostered resentment at that time from physicians and was called into the German courts and was charged with quackery, but was soon acquitted. Kenipp’s suggestions consisted of bathing and drinking cool water, going to bed and rising early, long barefoot walks in wet grass and use of herbalism.
From the history of how spas emerged in Europe, there has grown a culture of taking spa tradition very seriously. It is not an indulgence; yet a necessity, and is woven into government social health policy. In Germany medical doctors have specialized post-medical education that incorporates the study of climatology, balneology (use of spas and mineral baths), and natural therapies. When a patient is not sick enough to go to a hospital, they are many times sent for “the cure” which involves visiting a spa village for up to 4 weeks. Insurance companies have been paying for these cure stays since the 1960’s. They site a 60% drop in sick days and a 66% decrease in prescription drug consumption.
How can we look at the practices in Europe utilizing spas and healing centers we have in the United States to create a tool of empowerment and betterment for our own well being? The word spa leads to a variety of interpretations in the United States where there are approximately 10,000 spas. Many of the messages we receive from the marketing of these establishments has strongly to do with vanity and image. We know we go to a spa to feel good through massage and many other therapies; yet we must remember not to take for granted, or view superficially the rich benefits a spa visit has to offer. Next time you enter your neighborhood spa keep in mind that the steam, sauna and Jacuzzi are healing. Spending time in the spa facility and having a spa service can profoundly benefit ailments such as arthritis, lower back pain and insomnia. Take time to find your “spa village” in your own backyard and build a relationship with a spa of choice to ensure you are using the facility to its optimal benefit. We are far from a time where a neighborhood doctor will prescribe a “spa cure”, so take the healing benefits into your own hands and be empowered with this wonderful gift that is so available in our Coachella Valley.