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Sanus Per Aquam, a Spa Commentary

By Roberta Jordan Published 08/6/2007 | Health

It is hard to understand just how so many other industries got ahold of the concept of Sanus per Aquam, spa, and managed to get it to stick to their type of business.

The acronym spa Latin; Sanus Per Aquam, means health through water; so who and what meets the definition? My hair salon is not a spa.  They do feet, nails and hair. If they hire a massage therapist and turn a room in the back into a treatment room, they are still not a spa. And the microderm abrasion I get at the plastic surgery center is not a spa service; it is a medical type facial provided in a clinical environment, fluorescent lights and all. Why do they not just call themselves an aesthetic surgery center? Plastic sounds so . . . well, plastic.  Health through water is not happening there either.

A high colonic more aptly meets the definition of health through water than my hair salon or the facility that performs my facials. Anyway, I dont want my medical services diluted by the connotation of spa. I want a clinical service to be just that, so why did the medi folks get a hold of the idea that a hybrid concept is advantageous to their industry? And ditto for hair salons; an industry that promotes external aesthetic enhancement, now integrating hydrotherapy? Remember when you went to a beauty parlor; what was wrong with that? Some salons can justify the title by adding Vichy, soaking tubs and other forms of Kur.

It is a large disparity between the doctors oath of do no harm to patients and the 100% mandatory graciousness and servitude required to generate repeat guests. (Can doctors and medical staff really treat their patients as guests? Wouldnt it be nice if they did? Maybe every doctors office could hang the word spa over their door and we would all be treated a little better.  It might not be so stressful if the sign said, Doctors Linger and Waite, Internal Medicine and Spa. . .

And where does the industry of new fangled equipment come into play with health through water? Spa equipment guaranteed to improve your bottom line . . . lets give it the acronym TENC; The Emperors New Clothes. Seldom does the connotation of spa conjure up an image of high tech equipment wrapped around my limbs or face, as a means of relaxation or hydrotherapy. It seems the industry of glamour, the industry of hocus pocus, of medical treatments and any other peripherally related experience has attached itself to the wrong lifeboat. Heres where we might draw the defining line. How about BEST, an acronym for Beauty Enhancement Services and Treatment versus Sanus Per Aquam?

Where can you find a spa, a real spa? They are all over Europe; there are sentos, onsen and rotenboros with geothermal water on all four islands of Japan; there are destination spas with the primary focus on hydrotherapy throughout the United States. There are books with directions to spas through out the West (as organic as a real hot spring in the middle of no where, for free).

The Swedes, Greeks and Romans, throughout history, created and used spas, providing health through water, deep relaxation and yes, massage.  They also enjoyed contrast therapy; smoking hot geothermal waters followed by a dip in the ice hole. . . The steam of a sweat lodge meets the definition of spa, but nothing my hairdresser does, or any piece of medi-equipment will ever convince me I am having a spa experience!

In attempts to move our industry forward through the ever dynamic forces of growth, change and progress; sometimes its worth a look back at how (and why) we define ourselves. Lets drive our industry to use words that mean something. Lets educate the public in what we each do, be precise and not dilute what we do and lets encourage each market to segment to think of new ways to convey their message. Are you selling Sanus Per Aquam, or something else?