Beginner’s guide to spa

Read on for tips on what to do and what not to do on your spa visit to make the most of it

woman relaxing in a jacuziA good spa offers a sanctuary of peace and serenity, where you can leave behind the hassle of everyday life and begin to synchronise the subtle energies of your being. But not knowing your way around a spa, can lead to unnecessary stress, when you should simply be having a wonderful time. Following some guidelines can avoid this inconvenience and enhance your spa experience, leaving you that much more rejuvenated and revitalised.

For starters

A glimpse at the spa menu can be overwhelming. Should you get a massage or a body polish? Hydrate or detoxify? Knowing this simple rule of thumb will make things easy for you: most massages are like facials. Just that instead of restricting the treatment to your face, they cover your entire body.

So by that principle all treatments cleanse, exfoliate, and hydrate your skin. And most treatments also have a detoxifying effect on your system.

Now, back to the menu. Begin with basic treatments. A Swedish massage is a good place to start. And once you've tried these, you can then move on to try slightly advanced ones like a Thai or Ayurvedic massage, or hot stone therapy.

On arrival

Reach at least 15 minutes before your treatment, the more the better. This will give you time to get into a robe [generally during a massage, you don't wear anything but your underwear underneath a towel or a sheet. Worry not, the therapist uncovers only the part of the body s/he is working on. This technique is called, draping] and talk to your therapist about what facial services or body treatments and products would be most suitable for your skin type.

Most spas require you to fill a form detailing your medical history. You also need to specify the body parts to work on or to avoid.

Most good spas usually also have a doctor, if you have specific medical questions regarding the treatment in relation to you.

Pre-treatment

After consultation and choosing an appropriate treatment, it's now time to relax. Most spas offer a cold herbal drink before treatments to keep you hydrated, as well as complimentary whirlpool or jacuzzi services, including a sauna and steam bath.

Pre-treatment showers are optional. But it is preferable to wash off dirt from the skin and open up the pores for the treatment oil to can seep in.

If you do decide to take a dip in the jacuzzi before, take a shower to wash off the chlorine.

Post-treatment

Most people prefer to take a sauna and steam after a massage, as it helps absorb the oil. Always remember to end a sauna/steam with a cold shower to avoid feeling dizzy and to close the pores. It is again up to you whether you want to soap off the treatment oil at the spa immediately after a massage, or relax for a couple of hours and bathe at home. Most spa treatments end with a warm drink to further relax and calm you.

Popular treatments

The most popular treatments in a majority of spas are the Swedish and aromatherapy full-body massages.

Swedish massage: Therapists use massage oils to knead, stretch and tap the muscles, using firm but gentle pressure to promote relaxation, ease muscle tension and create other health benefits. Swedish massage usually comprises deeper work on areas of particular muscle tension and is the foundation for other types of Western massage, including aromatherapy and deep tissue.

Aromatherapy massage: This uses smooth gentle strokes and essential oils obtained from plants to change your mood and assuage muscle pain. The massage therapist uses up to five oils in a mixture, and chooses the oils best suited to an individual's need. A restful aromatherapy massage, for instance, might have lavender or bergamot, while a massage for sore muscles might include peppermint and eucalyptus.

A massage has numerous benefits as it relaxes the nervous system and promotes a sense of tranquillity and wellbeing. It diminishes stress, promotes blood circulation, thereby increasing oxygen and nutrients in the body. It also stimulates the lymphatic system, alleviates muscle cramps and can help with pain management in conditions such as arthritis and sciatica.

So, remind yourself of these health benefits if you start to feel guilty about getting a treatment!

Maximising your massage

  • Get there early, as being late will eat into your treatment time
  • Don't eat an hour before a massage
  • Discuss it with the therapist if you don't feel comfortable removing all your clothing
  • Give accurate health information before the session
  • Speak up during the massage if you have any problem with the amount of pressure, speed of movement, room temperature, music volume or lighting
  • Don't forget to breathe properly, as it enhances relaxation
  • Still the mind by mentally following the hands of the therapist, focusing on the tactile sensations
  • If you feel light-headed after a massage, take your time to sit up
  • Drink plenty of water after a massage to re-hydrate
  • Allow for half an hour of quiet time after your session to unwind.

Spa manners

  • Arrive at least 15 minutes before a treatment to complete the spa assessment form, relax, shower or use the jacuzzi.
  • Don't bring children along; a spa is unsuitable for babies and children below 12 years.
  • Leave valuables at home, even though your spa offers lockers
  • Cancel well ahead in time, [depending on the spa regulations, different spas have different rules] or you might be charged for the treatment.
  • Do not sunbathe after an aromatherapy treatment as the skin becomes sensitive.
  • Shave before facials if you are a man to achieve maximum results.
  • Be quiet and switch off your mobile phone.
  • Consult your doctor before undergoing any spa treatment, even a medical one, if you suffer from a medical condition or are pregnant.

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Natalie Pedder-Bajaj
Natalie Pedder-Bajaj is in her element writing and researching about spas, travel, fitness and alternative therapies. A self confessed ‘spa addict’, she has been a devotee of the healing arts since her Editor days at Wellness magazine. She writes periodically and is the Creative Director of an interior design publication. She has graduated in Visual Communication from London.

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