SpaGypsies love to spend time in the tranquil environment of a spa. Whether it’s for relaxation, detoxification, fitness, nutrition and weight control or beauty, Spa Gypsies relish the ability to get away from it all. It can be a spiritual experience or hiking venture. Whether it’s a destination spa like Canyon Ranch or The Spa & Inn at Norwich, a great resort spa like Grand Waialua, or day spa like Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door, many of us do share our next experience with other spa wanders.
(PHILADELPHIA) – Take off those Thanksgiving pounds with a week at a spa retreat. A new study shows that not only are they relaxing and nourishing, but they are safe and a week-long spa stay can correspond with changes in our physical and emotional well-being.
New research from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital evaluated 15 participants before and after their visit to We Care Spa, a health and wellness spa in Desert Hot Springs California, and found the program safe and helped to improve the participants' health. Their complete findings will be available in the December issue of Integrative Medicine, A Clinician's Journal.
"Programs such as these have never before been formally evaluated for their safety and physiological effects," says Andrew Newberg, MD, director of research at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine and lead author on the study. The authors' pilot study is one of the first to attach scientific data to the outcomes of a health and wellness spa stay.
The week-long program included diet modification, meditation and colonic hydrotherapy, voluntarily participation in low-risk hatha and Vishnu flow-yoga programs, and a juice-fast cleansing very low calorie diet of approximately 800 calories per day. Stress management was provided through daily structured meditation and yoga programs as well as time for personal meditation encouraging deep breathing, heightened awareness and a calming effect.
In preparation, participants were asked to modify their diet three to four days prior to arrival by replacing a normal diet with fruit, sprouts, raw and steamed vegetables, salads, vegetables, herbal teas, prune juice in the morning, laxative teas or herbal laxatives nightly and avoiding pasta, meat, cheese, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods.
Andrew Newberg, M.D., is the director of Research at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine. He is nationally known for his research on spirituality and the brain, but studies a wide variety of topics in spirituality and integrative medicine.
(Photo Credit: Thomas Jefferson University Hospital)
The participants, 13 women and two men between the ages of 21 and 85, with no history of significant medical, neurological or psychological conditions each underwent a physical evaluation including weight, height, Body Mass Index (BMI), blood pressure and an EKG test. They also received a complete blood count (CBC), liver function tests, tests measuring cholesterol and triglycerides, thyroid hormone testing, and the concentration of metals such as mercury and lead. In addition, psychological and spiritual measures before and after their arrival were measured.
An evaluation of the results showed that undergoing a spa program resulted in a weight decline of an average of 6.8 lbs., a 7.7 percent decrease in diastolic blood pressure as well as a decrease in mercury, sodium and chloride levels and a 5.2 percent decline in cholesterol level and mean BMI. Cholesterol level decline seemed to be curiously associated with a decline in HDL's, the good-for-you high density lipoproteins, which is of some concern, though they remained within the range regarded as beneficial. Hemoglobin increased 5.9 percent. No statistically significant changes in liver or thyroid function and no EKG changes were noted.
No serious adverse effects were reported by any individual, but the study noted changes in the participants' sodium and chloride concentrations, suggesting that those interested in going to a spa program should check with their physician to make sure they do not have any medical problems or medications that could put them at risk for electrolyte disturbances.
Improvements in anger, tension, vigor, fatigue and confusion were also noted as was a statistically significant improvement in anxiety and depression levels measured by the Speilberger Anxiety Scale and the Beck Depression Index. Participants also reported significant changes in their feelings about spirituality and religiosity.
While beneficial, it is not possible to differentiate the effects of each of the individual elements of the program to determine which components were responsible for the changes observed. "This," says Newberg "will require an evaluation of one or more elements—such as yoga, very low calorie diet or colonics—in isolation to determine which elements have the most significant effects." In the future Newberg and colleagues look to study the effects of a spa stay on specific disease population, i.e. diabetics. The authors also encourage spa participants to consult their physician before attending this or similar programs and research the center vigorously for safety and efficaciousness.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the mind-body connection. Using your thoughts and memories to positively influence some of your body’s physical responses can decrease stress and elevate your mood. Recalling or imagining an experience can often generate similar mental and physical responses to those you have during the actual event.
There are a host of empowering mind-body exercises that have been proven to help people decrease anxiety, pain, and the use of medication; enhance sleep and recovery time from injury or illness; strengthen the immune system and one’s sense of control and well being.
The Practice of Keeping Calm
The goal of calming and relaxation exercises is to help change the way you perceive a situation and react to it: to help you feel more in control, more confident or secure, and also to activate healing processes within the body. Practicing these exercises for 10-15 minutes a day will help you achieve a quiet mind more quickly when a stressful situation arises, and as Carole Tessier points out in Happiness, the Best Medicine, could be the single most important thing we do for our health.
One Breath at a Time
Easily the most portable tool in your possession, your breathing practice can make for a world of difference anywhere, anytime. Oxygen is the source of all energy in the body, so everyone should be paying closer attention to breathing correctly. Proper breathing eliminates toxins in the body, purifies your blood, improves sexuality, and enables you to assimilate food better. Once again, Carole Tessier comes to the rescue with The Healing Breath, sharing calming exercises that will help get you on the right track.
After you’ve become comfortable with mindful breathing, try incorporating visualization of a happy event or memory. Talk about getting more bang for your breath!
Leave No Muscle Unturned
Progressive muscle relaxation involves sequentially tensing, and then relaxing, specific muscle groups in the body. By isolating and addressing one area at a time, and progressing through the entire body, you can ensure that nothing is missed, and bring the benefit of relaxation to your entire body.
The key to this exercise is to tighten a specific muscle group for at least 5 seconds until you feel the tension, and then release the muscles for 10 seconds. Start by relaxing the muscles in your feet, then your legs, up through your torso, and work up through each muscle group to your neck shoulders and scalp. With each group, keep awareness in your mind of how the muscles feel while being tensed and then after being relaxed.
Staying Sharp Without the Stress
Sometimes it seems like an impossible task to avoid stress in the modern world. We intensely feel the pressures of work, raising a family, keeping up socially, and maintaining our homes, We almost feel that juggling all of theses demands requires a hyper-alert consciousness, and that we’re falling short that’s not what we’re bringing. Here’s the problem: this near constant state of “fight or flight” causes stress on our minds and bodies that will, sooner or later, take a toll on our health.
If only there was a way to be alert, aware and productive without the stress....well, there is. Kristin Shaw explains it all here in Meditation for Clarity. You can have it all.
A Hands-On Approach
Once thought of as a frivolous luxury, it is now understood how healthful Massage Therapy can be. The act of releasing stress from our muscles by kneading, applying pressure, and stretching is the most obvious benefit. What isn’t as apparent is the reward to our minds...the time spent “letting go” while our bodily tensions are being addressed can bring about a state of long-lasting mental relaxation and clarity. And as if that weren’t enough, our emotional life is cared for as well during massage - the attention of kind and loving hands can bring about healing of a different kind.
It has always been a mission of mySpaShop to “bring Spa home”. In A Touch of Bliss, we offer some easy yet effective massage techniques that you and your partner can use to keep each other healthy and happy.
Music Therapy - what a pleasurable way to bring about physiological, psychological and emotional well bring. A combination of soothing or energetic music and therapeutic techniques simply makes good sense as a healing ritual. Music comes in through our ears, is perceived and comprehended by our brains, and makes its way down into our bodies, either relaxing us or getting us moving! It can raise and lower our heart rates, bring us joy or sweet nostalgia, and flood us with happy memories.
In Overcoming Stress With Music and Sound, Dudley Evenson reminds us of the many ways in which music can be a healing force to reckon with.
There are so many ways in which we can connect our minds and bodies, creating a holistic approach to relaxation and clarity, and bringing our emotional life along as we progress. mySpaShop wants you to be healthy, fullfilled, and joyful, and we will keep bring you tools to help unmask and unleash your happiness.