When most people hear the term “spa,” the words that come to mind are more often than not, luxury and pampering. Little is known of the history of spa. And certainly, the spa and beauty industries have tended to cater to a more affluent clientele where luxury is expected and commonplace.
But in a climate where economic, political, and ecological realities are no longer seeming certainties, it would seem that spas are changing and the demographic of who they are trying to cater to more inclusive.
Once again, returning to their original purpose; becoming “green,” which actually means nothing more than trying to operate and offer that which is in keeping with and sustains nature, and thus become sanctuaries for releasing stress and tension and becoming revitalized and rejuvenated. Of course, these have always been promised goals of a day or destination spa visit. But, it would seem that clients are more knowledgeable and insistent upon these goals and as a result, to accomplish these tasks most effectively, there has been a positive trend to include on spa menus the bodywork, sensibility, and education of more holistically oriented therapies from around the world. Of course, everyone would like a bit of pampering. But, without a doubt, this by-product of a stellar spa service must be a part of the far greater gift to your client of being capable of leaving your facility and back out into the world with new skills, a clear head, and open heart to make their life more productive, meaningful, and beneficial for everyone they come into contact with during the day.
To accomplish this task, more and more spas are including forms of nutritional counseling, yoga, relaxation therapy, and meditation to their menus; body and mind techniques that clients can continue to practice when at home. In fact, my wife Melanie and I believe that this trend – where spas educate their clients to take the benefits, lessons, and skills back out into the world is absolutely an essential ingredient for successful, useful spas of the 21st century. We have coined the term “Spa Without Walls” as this next important step.
In the “Spa Without Walls” model, a key ingredient is supporting your client in awakening new potentials by transforming how they work with their own minds. For in Ayurveda, the science of health and longevity that we teach, mind always precedes body. The negative habit patterns of our mind that make us proud, arrogant, angry, miserly, fearful, or confused or the positive mental habit patterns of generosity, patience, discipline, inclusiveness, certainty, and compassion are mirrored in our body and the world around us. And, if we are really honest with ourselves, we all know this to be true.
Transforming our mental patterns is no easy task. Often times, this is accomplished when we are faced with a traumatic event in our lives. Then again, how often have we seen in ourselves that once everything gets back to normal, we backslide into our old ways of doing things? That is why in the East techniques of meditation are emphasized as a means to stabilize positive states of mind, which in turn support positive actions, a more joyful life, and so on.
However, meditation is not always something that a client is either open or educated about or confident in seeing the benefits from. That is where some of the more subtle treatments of Ayurveda can be of great benefit to them, hence a real plus on your spa menu. The practices in Ayurveda that can give a client the experience of a more expanded, relaxed, and clear-minded state have as their focus what in Sanskrit are known as “chakras.”
In Ayurveda and all of the health and spiritual disciplines of the East, there is a recognition of an energy that infuses the body that is beyond sheer matter. This is not all that different from the western notion of a soul, although this notion of a soul or spirit is interpreted in different ways and hotly contested in virtually all world religions. Probably the most significant difference between the Eastern and Western views is that like the anatomy and physiology of our physical body, Ayurveda and other Eastern disciplines see the spiritual energy infusing the body in a matrix or network not unlike our physical nervous system. There are pathways (nadis), plexi, or large junctions of these pathways – energy vortices or wheels (the chakra actually means wheel), and the energy (prana) that pulsates through that matrix. And, just as we can stimulate, massage, or exercise a given part of our body for certain physical benefits, it is possible to stimulate, massage, or meditate upon a certain chakra or energy vortex and affect our mind and mental/emotional patterns.
The practice of Shirodhara, where a fine stream of warm oil is played upon the forehead, the site of the “third eye” or ajna chakra, is actually an Ayurvedic chakra treatment. According to the theory of chakras and their subtle energy matrix, we have three primary invisible channels through which prana or life force flows. Two channels go from our nostrils and wrap around a central channel that is anterior to our spine. Where the two side (from the nostril) channels constrict, the central channel is where you will find the chakras. At a physical level, the chakras are located where we have the major glands of our endocrine system. And there is an inter-dependence between our chakra health and our glandular health. But, this cannot be discussed here.
At a physical level, the warm oil of Shirodhara facilitates the release of serotonin, the chemical that creates that wonderful sensation of deep relaxation. But people receiving Shirodhara often notice a more subtle, powerful shift. They have deeper insights, greater mental clarity, and a heightened sense of all the sense and perception. Some even have spiritual epiphanies. The reason for this has to do with the loosening of the side channels around the central channel at the third-eye or ajna chakra. More spiritual/subtle energy is flowing. This is why Tibetans call Shirodhara “psycho-spiritual” massage and encourage it being administered to those who are entering into meditation retreats.
In Ayurveda and in the Tibetan meditative traditions, there are other, less elaborate or “messy” ways to arouse the energy of the chakras for positive physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. And in the spa setting, rather than embarking on a lengthy full service such as Shirodhara, one can do a simple 15 to 20 minute add-on service using specific oils on the chakras and then laying semi-precious stones over the chakra areas.
From our research, study, and practice with Indian and Tibetan doctors and spiritual masters, we recommend the following oils and stones for doing a simple chakra add-on that will take whatever work you have been doing on your client to a deeper, more satisfying level. Like Shirodhara, we recommend that you do the following protocol at the very end of the session and do nothing else while the stones are on the body. What is offered here is an abridged version of our more extensive Tibetan Chakra Stone Ritual.
While there are seven chakras traditionally described, the Tibetans say that only five need to be addressed. First, palpate the following points and as you do so, note if they feel sharp (PITTA), dull (KAPHA), or somewhat painful, but changeable (VATA) in their sensation. Also, here I am describing the element, emotions, and potentials to which these chakra points are below:
1. The Sacral Chakra, at the sacral plexus, about three finger-widths below the navel. This center is associated with the Element of Water and is associated with guilt and the right to feel. The antidote to such feelings comes from the capacity to develop the wisdom to transform the neurotic emotion of jealousy. As we transform our jealousy, the chakra allows us to experience what in the Tibetan tradition is called “all-accomplishing” wisdom. We develop greater power and resourcefulness free
2. The Navel Center - located at our physical solar plexus, midways between the bottom of our sternum and above our navel. This chakra is associated with the Element of Fire and the feelings of shame and the right to act. The antidote to such feelings comes from the wisdom in transforming the neurotic emotion of pride. As we transform pride, we access “equanimitous” wisdom. We have a much greater sense of fairness and justice free of partisanship. It opens us to our altruism.
3. The Heart Center - associated with the Element of Air and the feelings of sorrow and the right to love and be loved. The antidote to such feelings comes from the wisdom in transforming the neurotic emotion of anger and hatred. As we transform these two most toxic of our emotions, we access a “mirror-like” wisdom. You become more relaxed, open, and clear-headed in seeing things as
4. The Throat Center - located above the sternum and below the Adams Apple. This chakra is associated with the Element of Ether and the feelings of lies and the right to speak and hear truth. The antidote to such feelings comes from the wisdom in transforming the neurotic emotion of desire. As we transform desire, we access “discriminating” wisdom. Our judgment improves and we know where and how to offer our love and concern. Our compassion becomes more skillful and we are less likely to be duped.
5. The Third Eye Center - located slightly above the meeting of our two eyebrows. The Third Eye Chakra is associated with illusion and the right to see. The antidote to such feelings comes from the wisdom in transforming the neurotic emotion of ignorance or confusion. This is sometimes the result of just plain not understanding, but is also associated with willfully ignoring. As one begins to transform ignorance, ignoring, and confusion, one accesses greater levels of a wisdom that is described as “all-pervasive.” In our awakened state, we have our pulse on and feel intimately connected with the universe itself.
After you palpate each area and note its sensitivity, use the following oils and a lapis lazuli egg or smooth stone to massage each chakra area, starting from the Sacral chakra, moving your way up…
1. If sharp in sensation, apply sunflower or safflower oil. This oil can be infused with eucalyptus if you wish. With a cool lapis stone, massage gently in a clockwise circle around the chakra point for at least 21 times.
2. If the point is dull, apply almond oil. It becomes even more effective if it is infused with ginger. Use
a more rapid, jostling stimulation to the chakra point.
3. If the point is neither sharp, nor dull, but variable, use sesame oil. Infuse the oil with bay laurel if possible. Slowly and deeply massage the point with the stone, again 21 times in a clockwise direction.
After you have applied oil and massaged all of the points, then take the following semi-precious stones and place them on the chakra points in the following order. Note that the choice of stones is based on a Tibetan understanding and will thus be different from what you may have read in yoga books or magazines.
- Ajna Chakra (third eye) – white howlite
- Heart Chakra – lapis lazuli
- Navel Chakra (at solar plexus) – yellow jasper
- Throat Chakra – red jasper
- Sacral Chakra (below the navel) – malachite
Allow the stones to sit directly on your client’s skin for seven to 10 minutes. While this is happening, we like to play Tibet bell music. But, there are any number of beautiful chakra CDs from which to choose.
After the allotted time, remove the stones in the reverse order and give the client another minute or two to come to and prepare to re-enter their world.
This simple, 20 minute add-on can yield profound results. Easy to do, you may even want try it on yourself to get a sense as to what your clients may experience when you offer it to them. At the end of the day, take off your work clothes, lie down, palpate the points, add the oils and the stones, and experience your own chakra journey.
With an educational background and training that is as conventional as it is ‘alternative,’ Robert Sachs is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a licensed massage therapist, yoga instructor, and has been a student of Indian and Tibetan spiritual and healing traditions since the early 70s. Along with his wife, Melanie, Robert runs Diamond Way Ayurveda, the foremost promoters of Ayurveda in the spa and beauty industries. Robert and Melanie live in San Luis Obispo, Calif. They have three children, Kai Ling, Harriet Christina, and Jabeth David-Francis. 866-303-3321