Travel News

Decoding spa speak

Don’t know your ayurveda from your elbow? Think qi gong is a ball game played by Chinese men? Get through the maze with our A to Z of spa terms.

By Elizabeth King
An ancient Indian system of traditional folk medicine. In India, during colonial rule, the practice was so popular it was perceived as a threat to the British and they tried to suppress it. Fortunately, they didn't succeed and global appreciation of its tried and tested techniques, including nutrition, herbal medicine, massage, aromatherapy and meditation to achieve natural balance, is growing because of its organic appeal.
This is a training program that tracks your heart rate, blood pressure and other physiological processes to encourage you to take responsibility for your own health.
Craniosacral therapy
As anyone who works nine to five by the computer knows, constant tension between the head and the base of the spine is almost a given. This therapy focuses on the connection between the two; the therapist applies gentle pressure to release 'blockages', which allegedly allows the spinal fluid to flow more freely throughout the body.
Duo massage
No, not a his and hers treatment, but a luxury massage performed by two therapists at the same time.
The leading spa treatment designed to reduce cellulite - the fat and fibrous tissue that causes dimpling on the thighs and hips of the majority of women. To do this, a therapist runs a small, hand-held module over the body, lifting and rolling the skin to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin.
Fundamental foods
A major trend in spa menus that is also increasingly being reflected in everyday life. Foods are selected not only for their taste but for their disease-fighting properties and health benefits.
Basically an exfoliating treatment but the granular creams are applied with long, massage-like strokes.
Hot stone therapy
Taking the world by storm, this treatment is now found in spas from Phuket to Perth. It has become popular because it is very relaxing. Dark, smooth stones are heated in hot water and are then placed on the back, in the palms of the hands and between the toes. Alternatively, the therapist strokes these areas of the body with the stones.
Inhalation therapy
Not to be confused with respiratory therapy, a medical treatment, these steam vapour treatments are often found in spas with adjacent thermal or mineral springs. Particularly beneficial to smokers, they are also said to improve the breathing of anyone suffering from the effects of pollution and stress.
Ju hua
Also known as chrysanthemum extract, purported to soothe and heal the skin.
Kinesthetic awareness
This technique increases your sensitivity to the way you move. Tai chi is the most well-known kinesthetic awareness technique because it emphasises rhythmic, fluid movement. Very calming.
Lymphatic drainage
Easily one of the most efficacious of spa treatments. A therapist uses a light circular touch around the lymph nodes to increase the flow of lymph - a fluid that contains white blood cells and plasma that infuses the body's tissues. It's very gentle and clears blockages - even a stuffy nose.
One of the fastest growing areas of the spa industry, the most popular medical treatments are weight loss remedies, chemical peels, iridology (eye analysis), and microdermabrasion. Doctors are in attendance and facial and body treatments are also offered.
NIA (Neuromuscular Integrative Action)
A more intellectual form of dancercise, it incorporates the grace of dance movements with the high action of martial arts and the spirituality and calmness of yoga and tai chi.
Oxygen treatment
Usually in the form of a facial which involves oxygen suffused with nutrients being sprayed over the face. Madonna is a fan.
Polarity massage
A balancing treatment where the therapist massages the body along its energy meridians. Following this you stretch and rock yourself for optimal energy flow. Shiatsu is another popular energy-balancing massage technique.
Qi gong
Qi means energy in Chinese and gong means achieving a goal through practise. A self-healing treatment that combines movements, controlled breathing and thinking positively.
Mud treatments are very popular in Italy where it is known as fango and Morocco where it is called rassoul. Mud is full of minerals which are good for the skin and in US and Europe many spas are introducing rassoul chambers where couples apply the mud to each other.
A short ayurvedic treatment, no longer than 10 minutes, in which a stream of oil is poured over the 'third eye' in the middle of your forehead.It helps to relax the mind.
Hydrotherapy, balneotherapy and thalassotherapy all use water to restore and heal the body. Strictly, thalassotherapy should use sea water but many spas use regular water. Seaweed treatments used to detox and moisturise the skin are also part of the therapy.
Commonly used in cellulite reduction, many spas are also including ultrasound in facial treatments because it boosts skin functions below the surface. The Keralytic Ultrasonico facial is very popular at the Terme di Saturnalia resort and spa in Tuscany.
The spa world's attempt to capitalise on the popularity of antioxidants in skincare. Resveratrol, a natural compound found in grapes, is said to be one of the most powerful of antioxidants. The main proponent is the French skincare brand, Caudalie, which runs its own spa in Bordeaux, Les Sources de Caudalie. Many spas in wine regions such as the Napa and Sonoma valleys in California now offer invigorating cabernet scrubs and chardonnay body wraps.
This technique sounds Japanese but it was created by Harold Dull of Harbin Hot Springsin California in the 80s. It involves elements of shiatsu, but it's not for everyone. You swim in water with a therapist who supports and massages your body at the same time. Some people don't like the body contact, others love it.
Practised everywhere from your local church hall to Tuscany (visit if you fancy an Italian holiday with the lotus position). Yoga uses controlled breathing and meditation to tone the body and improve circulation and flexibility. At the Mandarin Orientalhotel in New York they offer Thai yoga massage, which combines simple yoga poses and traditional Thai massage.
Popularly just another word for feeling calm, but many spas are interpreting the term strictly in its original Japanese form - a concept of seeking enlightenment through self-contemplation. In short, learning to know yourself.
  • undefined: Elizabeth King