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Spa Treatment Terms & Discriptions

Learn what some of the common spa treatments are about...

Spa treatment terminology can be confusing. So we haved compiled the following  comprehensive list of the most common spa treatment terms for your information. We hope it gives you a better understanding of what spas have to offer and inspires you to maybe try some of these treatments.

acupressure An ancient Chinese technique based on the theory that there are meridians (pressure points) on the body that correspond to different organs in the body. When pressure is exerted on a particular meridian, energy pathways are stimulated for those particular organs to which the meridian corresponds and contracted muscles are encouraged to relax.

acupuncture An ancient Asian healing technique, which targets energy meridians through the use of fine needles or low-voltage electric current (electro-acupuncture). Its purpose is to relieve arthritic, neurological and muscular tensions.

adaptogen A substance that stimulates the body's immune mechanism and helps it adapt to a new stress.

Alexander Technique A bodywork system created in the 1890s by an Australian by the name of F.M. Alexander. Its purpose is to help improve posture and to correct bad physical habits that cause stress on the body.

alterative Restores the normal functions of a body organ or system; promotes healing.

antifungal A substance that clears and counters fungal infections.

antioxidant A substance that prevents other substances (like fats) from binding with oxygen, thereby slowing their deterioration process.

aromatherapy The art of using aromatic essences (essential oils) derived from flowers, leaves, roots, woods and fruits. These essences can be used for various treatments including total body massage, inhalation therapy and baths. During the time of the plague in Europe, people who worked closely with essential oils (pharmacists or priests, for example) seemed to be spared from contracting the disease. The word 'aromatherapy' was first coined by the French in the 1930s.

astringent Constricts tissue to cut off the flow of fluids or blood, thus giving skin a smoother and firmer texture and appearance.

ayurveda An ancient Indian system of traditional folk medicine that incorporates nutrition, essential oils, massage and meditation to restore the body to its perfect balance.

Bach cures The art of healing with floral essences and oils.

balneotherapy Water-based treatments (such as those using thermal hot springs, mineral water or seaweed which helps digestion and relieves gastric discomfort.

carrier oils Oils such as jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, or apricot kernel oil used as a base in which aromatherapy oils are mixed. Aromatherapy oils are so concentrated that they should rarely be used more than a few drops at a time and should be diluted in a base.

Cathiodermie A rejuvenating treatment for the skin using electric stimulation in minimal doses.

Caldarium The caldarium was one of the rooms used in Roman Baths. Historically, it was a hot room where Romans would bathe in a bath of hot water. It also contained a basin of cold water so that they could cool off after bathing. The floor and walls in the caldarium would have been too hot to touch and Romans would have had to wear thick-soled sandals to stop feet from burning. Having had an oil massage in the tepidarium, Romans would move to the caldarium to sweat out the dirt from their skin before returning to the tepidarium and then the frigidarium to close their pores and freshen up. Nowadays, a caldarium is usually just a hot room (without a bath) and often uses moist heat to differentiate it from the laconium which is a dry heat room.

Chi Kung A Chinese exercise focusing on breathing and body movements to recharge and energise the body.

cold plunge A deep pool of water in which the water temperature is kept to 15.5 degrees C (60 degrees F) or below, usually used after time spent in a steam or sauna room. A quick plunge in the water will invigorate instantly.

colonic irrigation A water enema that cleanses high into the colon.

compress A cloth soaked in a hot herbal infusion which, when applied to the affected area, relieves irritation and fatigue. Compresses may also be cold to help reduce inflammation.

cranial massage A soothing manipulation of the pressure points of the spine, shoulders, neck and head. Its purpose is to improve the flow of cerebral spinal fluid throughout the nervous system to relieve headaches, back problems and teeth grinding.

crystal healing A healing energy generated by quartz and other minerals.

Dead Sea mud treatment A mineral-rich mud imported from the Dead Sea applied to the body to cleanse pores and relax muscles. The mud, especially high in magnesium chloride, potassium chloride and calcium, will ease arthritic pain and rheumatic pain.

decoction A solution made by simmering roots, barks, or woody parts of plants in water for a period of time to extract active ingredients and then straining the infusion.

demulcent Substance that soothes and heals mucous membranes (inside of mouth, throat, nose).

detoxification A process that speeds up or facilitates the elimination of toxins from the body and increases circulation. Often heat, water and herbs are used. Detoxification therapies include steam, sauna, inhalation therapy, and whirlpool baths.

diaphoretic A substance that induces perspiration.

diuretic A substance that increases the release and elimination of toxins, generally through urinations.

draping The use of sheets or towels to cover a patient during a massage.

dulse scrub To remove dead skin and to enrich the skin with vitamins and minerals, the body is scrubbed with a mixture of powdered dulse seaweed and oil or water.

effleurage Massage term used to describe a long stroking motion intended to calm the nervous system.

electro-acupuncture Acupuncture-type treatment that utilises low-voltage electric current instead of fine needles.

electrotherapy Treatments that use ultra-sound, short waves, infrared rays or various forms of electricity for results.

emollient A substance that soothes and softens.

energy balancing A technique that involves clearing and charging of the seven major chakras and auric levels. A powerful current of healing energy comes through the therapist's hands to heal areas of injury and illness.

Esalen Massage A modern variation of the Swedish massage, developed at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Its focus is not so much on relieving muscle tension or increasing circulation as it is on creating deeper states of relaxation, beneficial states of consciousness and general wellbeing. Whereas Swedish is brisk and focuses on the body, Esalen is slower, rhythmic and hypnotic, and focuses on the mind/body as a whole.

essential oils Oils, such as peppermint, sandalwood or tea tree, that are used in aromatherapy.

European facial A massage technique that cleanses and steams the face, shoulders and chest area. Its purpose is to nourish and refine skin.

exfoliation A treatment whose primary purpose is to scour dead skin cells from the body; from the Latin word exfoliate, which means 'to remove leaves'.

facial A deep-cleansing treatment of the face, neck and shoulders.

fango therapy A combination of hot paraffin wax and natural volcanic ash spread over the entire body (or parts of it) to promote joint and muscle mobility and relaxation and alleviate aches and pains due to illness or injury. Fango is Italian for 'mud'.

Feldenkrais Method Created by Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian-born Israeli educator, this 'movement therapy' uses gentle manipulation of the muscles to help reprogram them to work more efficiently. Subtle changes are introduced to the person through touch, which will help to break up old patterning.

flotation tank A tank filled with mineral-enriched water. Floating in darkness in this tank promotes relaxation.

foot (or hand) reflexology A technique that maintains that the body is divided into 10 zones, all of which have a corresponding reflex area on the foot (or hand). Applying pressure to a particular massage point on the foot (or hand) helps circulation, promotes relaxation and relieves pain in one of the 10 body zones.

gommage A cleansing and rehydrating treatment through the use of creams which are applied in long, massage-type movements.

guided imagery Visualisation to stimulate the body's immune system.

Hakomi Method A body-based psychotherapy using special states of consciousness to help probe non-verbal levels. Body-mind awareness and touch are used to explore the body as a deep source of information.

haysack wrap Body detoxification treatment through the use of steamed hay.

Hellerwork A system of deep-tissue body work, stress reduction and movement re-education developed by Joseph Heller.

herbal wrap The body is wrapped in sheets soaked in a heated herbal solution, then covered in plastic blankets or sheets. The heat eliminates impurities from the skin and enhances muscle relaxation.

holistic health A philosophy which seeks to achieve balance and harmony and to promote wellbeing by attending to elements of life such as emotional, spiritual and physical health as well as lifestyle.

homeopathy Form of medicine in which patients are treated with small quantities of natural substances that trigger symptoms much like those that are in need of being cured. The body is thus encouraged to heal itself.

humectant A substance that promotes the retention of moisture.

Hydroculator A pre-made clay-filled compress.

hydrotherapy Water treatments (underwater massages, hot and cold showers, mineral baths and jet sprays, for example) which assist in the healing process of almost any ailment. This therapy, which is one of the oldest methods known to man, provides both stimulation and relaxation at the same time.

hypnotherapy Engendering a state of physical and mental relaxation which is applied to psychological issues.

infused oil An aromatic infusion of herbs in oil applied externally or used in creams or salves.

inhalation room A room in which steam is mixed with eucalyptus. Inhalation of the steam is meant to decongest the respiratory system.

iodine-brine therapy A treatment that uses bathing in water rich in iodine and salt as a method of facilitating the recuperation and convalescence process.

iridology A method of detecting the condition of body organs by reading markings in the iris of the eye.

Jin Shin Jyutsu A gentle Japanese massage technique which is based on synchronising the pulses in two parts of the body, or two meridians, thus releasing natural pain relievers and rejuvenating the immune system.

Kneipp System Named after Father Sebastian Kneipp, these treatments combine hydrotherapy with herbal preparations and a diet of natural foods.

Laciol manicure Hands are soaked in a dish of milk or in a warm moisturising cream to soothe and smooth skin.

Lomi-Lomi A healing massage derived from the ancient Polynesians and more specifically the master healers of Hawaii. The massage is given in fluid, rocking motion using the forearms as well as the hands. Some people have described this as feeling like gentle waves moving over the body.

loofah scrub A full body scrub with a loofah sponge and sea salt usually mixed with a warm oil (avocado or almond). Its purpose is to exfoliate the skin and to stimulate circulation.

lymph drainage A gentle and pulsating pressure or massage of specific areas of the body located around the lymph nodes and toward the heart. The purpose of this massage - used extensively for neck, head, and shoulders during facial massage - is to increase the lymphatic flow to promote the body's internal cleansing (toxin drainage).

massage Muscle manipulation (that includes acupressure, polarity, reflexology, effleurage, stroking, kneading, friction or rocking) intended to stimulate circulation, increase suppleness and reduce stress.

moor mudpack A healing treatment prepared with nutrient-rich muds from the bottom of inland spa lakes. Its purpose is to improve cell regeneration, stimulate lymph glands and balance hormones.

mud bath The body is coated with organic thermal mud to release tension and nourish the skin with minerals.

Myofacial Release A gentle release, through soft tissue manipulation, of the body's facial system to restore proper function and bio-mechanics.

naturopathy Natural healing prescriptions that use plants and flowers.

neuromuscular therapy A technique that concerns itself with bringing relief from soft tissue pain and dysfunction. The focus of the work is to find the origin of the pain and address it. NMT renews structural homeostasis by restoring normal physiological functioning among muscles, nerves and the musculoskeletal system, and is very effective for breaking chronic pain cycles.

Ortho-Bionomy Method A technique developed in the 1970s by the body worker Arthur Lincoln Pauls. This approach uses gentle, relaxing movements and postures to help the body release tensions and muscular holding patterns, without use of force or pressure. Its goal is a restoration of structural alignment and balance.

Panchakarma A system or way of life which focuses on meditation, diet and cleansing and purifying treatments to achieve an internal balance as well as a balance with one's surroundings.

Parafango A combination of mud and paraffin wax. (See fango).

paraffin treatments Hands, feet or the entire body are dipped in warm paraffin wax, a complex mixture of hydrocarbons and then covered in plastic wrap. Wax is peeled off after it hardens, about 15 minutes later. Besides leaving the skin smooth, ingredients in the wax moisturise and increase joint and muscle mobility.

peliotherapy The therapeutic use of muds.

peloids A generic term for muds.

percussion A massage term for gentle and rhythmical taps on the body, akin to a light karate chop, the purpose of which is to awaken the body and increase its vitality.

petrissage Massage term for a deep circular movement of the fingertips or thumbs on a particular muscle.

Pfrimmer Therapy Developed by Therese Pfrimmer, this technique works across the muscles, manipulating deep tissues, and is aimed at stimulating circulation and regenerating lymphatic flow in order to promote detoxification and oxygenation of stagnant tissues.

phytotherapy A generic term used for treatments through mudpacks, baths, massages, or inhalation using natural herbs, plant oils or extracts.

Pilates Method A body conditioning system which focuses on improving flexibility and overall body strength without building bulk. Developed in Germany by Dr.Joseph Pilates during the 1920s.

Polarity Therapy Founded by osteopath Dr. Randolph Stone, a massage technique combining deep pressure massage with gentle rocking and stretching. The purpose of the method is to achieve correct body alignment.

poultice Plant or herb compress aimed at relieving pain, swelling or irritation. The plant or herb itself is applied directly to the affected area, then a cloth is wrapped over and around the plant or herb.

There are no entries under Q.

reflexology A system of massaging specific to the hand or the foot that promotes healing, improves circulation, and relieves stress in other parts of the body.

regenerative Reviving or producing tissue growth.

Reiki This is an energetic approach to the body, where the therapist places his or her hands on, or just above, 12 prescribed areas of the body. In each position the hands are rested gently on the body and remain still for 3 to 5 minutes without manipulation of any sort. The purpose of this therapy is to promote deep relaxation by creating a calming and nurturing effect.

repêchage Facial or full body cleansing and moisturising treatment using clay or mud, herbs and/or seaweed.

rocking A massage technique in which the hands gently rock or shake the body back and forth.

Rolfing Created by Ida Rolf, this intensive, deep and sometimes painful massage technique is used to realign the skeletal structure, improve energy flow and relieve stress caused by emotional trauma.

Roman Bath A heated seawater Jacuzzi with jets and benches for seated bathing.

Roman Chair Exercise machine specifically intended for strengthening the back.

Rosen Method A technique developed by Marion Rosen that uses gentle, non-intrusive touch and verbal exchange between practitioner and client to help draw the client's attention to areas of stress or tension. This serves to help the client become fully aware of how the patterns of tension are associated with emotional or unconscious material. This awareness itself is the key that allows the tension or holding patterns to be released.

rubefacient Causing redness of the skin.

Russian Massage Massage technique that requires precise angles for the muscles and joints. The deep-tissue massage aims to stretch the muscles out.

salt glow scrub A mixture of coarse salt and aromatic oils rubbed all over the body to help shed flaky and drying skin and improve skin circulation and texture.

salve An herbal ointment that is not water-based and does not blend with the skin but forms a layer over it. It is used to protect, nourish or treat sensitive or injured skin.

sauna Dry heat used to open the pores and encourage the sweating out of impurities.

Scotch Hose A high-powered water spray using hot or cold seawater or freshwater. An excellent invigorating, energising and cleansing treatment.

seaweed face mask or seaweed wrap The face or body is covered in mineral-rich seaweed which is then rinsed off, leaving the skin smooth, revitalised, remineralised and restored.

shirodhara - The soothing continuous flow of herbalised oil poured slowly and gently across the forehead to help settle and balance the nervous system.

shiatsu A Japanese massage technique in which pressure is gently applied along the meridian points of the nervous system's energy paths. The purpose of this massage is to revitalize and balance the endocrine and immune systems and to stabilize energy flow.

sports massage A deep tissue massage - often around the joints - for treating specific muscle groups.

stress management A programme of meditation and deep relaxation intended to reduce the effects of stress on the system.

structural integration A system that relieves the patterns of stress and impaired body functioning due to poor posture, chronic and acute conditions (such as lower back pain, or neck and shoulder injuries) through the manipulation of deep and superficial connection tissue, plus movement education.

sweat lodge A Native American spiritual purification ceremony.

Swedish Massage This European massage technique was developed in the late 18th century by a Swedish fencing master. It combines various techniques including stroking, kneading, manipulation and tapping of muscle tissue. One of the primary goals of Swedish massage is to speed the venous return of unoxygenated and toxic blood from the extremities and to shorten recovery time from muscular strain by flushing the tissues of lactic acid, uric acid and other metabolic wastes. It increases circulation without increasing heart load in order to relax muscles and improve overall circulation.

Swiss shower Powerful water jets aimed at different parts of the body to create an invigorating massage.

T'ai Chi Ch'uan An ancient Chinese martial art form of stylised, meditative exercise characterised by methodically slow circular and stretching movements and positions of bodily balance.

tapotement A massage technique that involves a light, steady tapping that causes a slight vibration of the muscle.

thalassotherapy Water-based treatments using seawater, seaweed, algae and/or mud to rejuvenate, energise, cleanse, nourish and detoxify which improve circulation, detoxify and revitalise the body.

tincture An infusion in which a particular herb or blend of herbs is steeped in alcohol, glycerine, or vinegar and water.

tonic A substance that fortifies the body when taken over a long period of time and balances the 'qi', what the Chinese call 'the vital life force'.

Tragerwork Developed by Milton Trager over 65 years ago, this meditative method entails rhythmic and repetitive movements which trigger tissue change.

There are currently no entries under U.

Vichy shower An energising treatment with water jets of varying temperature and pressures.

Visceral Manipulation A form of manipulation that focuses on the internal organs' environment as well as the organs' influence on many structural and physiological dysfunctions.

Vodder Massage A manual lymph drainage technique developed by Danish-born Emile Vodder in the 1950s.

Watsu Underwater Shiatsu massage.

There are currently no entries under X.

yin/yang theory An ancient Chinese philosophy based on two distinct presences which are apparent in every aspect of life: Yin (the dark side of the mountain) and Yang (the sunny side). On the body, the Yang meridians are on the side that 'faces' the sun (the back) and the Yin meridians are on the 'shadow' side (the front of the body).

yoga A discipline of stretching and toning the body through movements, breathing exercises, postures, relaxation techniques, and diet. A technique practices to achieve control of the body and mind.

Zen Shiatsu A Japanese art that used finger pressure (acupressure) to unblock and release 'energy channels' producing general wellbeing.

Zero Balancing Created by Fritz Smith, MD, this is a system that focuses on guiding the body to find its own equilibrium by balancing body energy and body structure.

The above is taken from Secrets of the Spas by Catherine Bardey, Konemann, 2000.

This guide is purely for educational purposes. It is not meant to cure or diagnose any illnesses or disease.












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