Spa History

A business traveler wants to minimize jet lag. A mother of three wants some time to herself. A group of friends plans a birthday celebration. A man with back pain seeks relief. A teenager is troubled by acne. A weekend warrior is sore from overexertion. A man decides to stop smoking. A pregnant woman wants to feel more comfortable. A couple wants to reconnect. Where can all these people go for help? A spa.

Today’s spa is a center for healing and nourishing mind, body, and spirit. People go to spas for fitness, stress management, peace of mind, pampering and pleasure, and health and wellness. Spas offer a wide variety of techniques and services – traditional and modern, from the East and from the West – to meet the diverse needs of their clients.

Spas come in many shapes, sizes, and focuses – from day spas where you can get a single treatment to destination spas where you can stay for a week or more to medical spas that treat cosmetic and chronic health problems. Spas are everywhere. The number of spas in the U.S. grew at an annual rate of 21% from 1995-1999 and continues to show strong growth.

Although spas seem to have sprung up overnight, that’s not the case. “The Waters” can be traced back to early civilizations. Like water, spa popularity has come in waves throughout history. Social bathing was an important cultural process practiced by Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Minoans, Greeks, and Romans whenever they sought health and relief from their pain and diseases.

With the medical discoveries of the early 20th century, scientific clinics and public hospitals replaced the spa. Existing spas responded by offering luxury accommodations, and many eventually turned into vacation locations or clinics that concentrated on weight loss, catering to the wealthy, with the spa origins obscured. In recent years, the value of prevention, healthy lifestyles, and relaxation has been rediscovered and the spa is again finding its place in modern society as a place uniquely qualified to address these needs. Spas now appeal to and are accessible to a much broader population.

Today’s spa is an interesting combination of ancient traditions and modern mechanical wonders. However, the heart of the modern spa, just as the ancient spa, is water and the rituals that evolve around it.

There have been many recent additions to spa water therapies in recent times. The Jacuzzi whirlpool, a central fixture in many modern spas, was invented in the 1950s, followed by Hydrotherapy Tubs, Swiss Showers, Scotch Hoses, and Vichy Showers. In addition to these mechanical inventions, new therapeutic ways to use still water have been discovered: Floatation Therapy, Watsu, Wassertanzen, Water Dance, Liquid Sound, and Dreams and Rituals in Healing Waters have been developed. The spa today embraces and celebrates its origins in water and is constantly looking for new ways to express it.

Leah Grout