Spas for Your Health

In the earliest times, spa meant either a place where you drank water for your health or a place where you went and bathed yourself, again for your health and relaxation.

Taking the waters in the seventeenth century could either have involved drinking some quite vile tasting stuff as it bubbled out of the ground - once you have tasted the waters at Bath in England, you will never forget it - or wallowing in water in one of many different ways. An early German text book on spas suggests that there are over 300 ways to take a spa, some of them involving some very odd positions and odder practices such as being blasted by a high pressure hose.

An 18th-century advertisement for the waters at Bath in England proclaims that they can cure 'forgetfulness, the pox, lethargies, the scratch, rhumes and weakness of any member'.

Nowadays it is generally agreed that spa means a place where you can bathe and relax and have the best massage and generally indulge yourself. And come out feeling a much better being. The British International Spa Association, in their newsletter of Spring 2002, defines a spa as 'a place where therapeutic treatments are given using healing waters'. Which is a good working definition.

There has always been a lot of anecdotal evidence that spa skin treatments are especially good for musculo-skeletal problems, including arthritis and backache but also for metabolic and digestive disorders.

Plainly, it is understood that a session in a spa and a massage will help relieve stress and anxiety, especially if your mobile phone is in the dressing room, but has anyone proved that it does anything else? Is there evidence that a spa is good for you, does improve your well-being. For a long time it was all anecdotal evidence.

The Greeks and the Romans had a civilization almost built around the bath. In Japan, the hot bath and massage has a great and long tradition. In Europe the spa, probably named after the German town of Spa which, yes, has spa baths, has been popular as a cure for what ails you for centuries.

Even in Britain, where bathing was never considered a social essential, in the 18th century there were 200 mineral springs and healing wells and spas throughout the country. Most closed over the last century, although the habit of bathing in public baths remained in place until about 1950.

Now spas are coming back all over the world. And a spa and a massage is a great and wonderful and relaxing experience.
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