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Tuesday, 24 May 2011 19:48

The Ayurvedically-Inspired Spa

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When looking at the demographic of your spa, you may quickly come to the conclusion that Ayurveda is just too far out, too foreign, and not something that would appeal to your clientele. We have even come across those that thought it was occult and dangerous in that way.
However, Ayurveda is not defined by cultural and religious trappings. In fact, Ayurveda pre-dates all of the religious traditions of the East as a healing system par excellence. “Ayur” means life and “veda” means knowledge. Ayurveda is about living a powerful, rich, and interesting life in the world.

It offers healing methods that are based on a philosophy that support our body and mind to become strong, clear, and adaptive.

Such treatments as Shirodhara, Abhyanga, Ayurvedic Face Rejuventaion, and our PediKarma, will certainly tell your clientele that you offer Ayurvedic treatments. But more important than the treatments and their exotic names is the philosophy that can be adapted to any and all treatments that a spa offers. That is, by learning the Ayurvedic approach, one can turn a facial, a Swedish massage, or a body wrap into an Ayurvedically-inspired and appropriate treatment. Beyond the treatments themselves, Ayurveda also has much to say about the kind of environment and ambience that best supports the Ayurvedically-inspired lifestyle. Again, this is based on the paradigm or philosophy of Ayurveda. So, rather than focus on specific treatments from Ayurveda, this article will focus on the philosophy you can use to make your environment and treatments Ayurvedically inspired. We shall also discuss one other issue near and dear to the success of your spa: retail and how Ayurveda can make each sale more inspiring and beneficial for your client.
Ayurvedic philosophy teaches that there are three energies or doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha that need to be balanced for there to be harmony within and without. Each of us possess all three of these energies, but in varying proportions due to our genetics, age, and circumstances. Kapha is what gives us our body, our actual physical structure, and is the combination of the earth and water elements of the Chinese and Ayurvedic five-element systems. Vata is what gives us the capacity to move and the ability for all things to move inside our body as well – from blood, to digestive juices, breath, and so on. Vata is associated with the elements of air (or metal in the Chinese System) and space (or tree/wood in the Chinese system). Pitta has to do with all of the transformational processes in our bodies, such as the variation in our hormone levels, our metabolism, and so on. pitta is the dynamic combination of water and fire (and also air in the Tibetan system).
Many of you who may have read about Ayurveda, hear of these terms in clinical and pathological terminology. Here I would like to delineate some of these, but then go into the “perfections” of these energies. For in truth, that is what Ayurveda strives for – to bring each one of these doshas (or energies) into balance.

Being like the wind, vata (also known as ch’I in the Chinese tradition) is associated with movement. Thus our Central Nervous System and joints are directly associated with vata. If people have nervous disorders, insomnia, excess worries, and are easily distracted, this is associated with unbalanced vata. If people have dry or aging skin and
hair, sore or popping joints, and tendencies toward bloating and constipation, these are all classified as predominantly vata unbalanced conditions. But, when vata is brought into balance through environmental and lifestyle changes, the distracted and joint sore vata person can move with greater purpose and has the potential to experience what in the Tibetan tradition is called an unlimited mind. They like to see the big picture and the connections between things.
If you are thinking about aspects of your spa that can support and bring into balance the vata dominant client, consider a reception area that is calm, away from the bustle of people signing in and leaving. As these clients can be cold and dry, if the reception area is too cool, perhaps a cozy blanket or a warm cup of tea can be offered. If you have a TV monitor in your reception area, some of the calming DVDs one sees on airplanes before taking off and soothing flute and stringed instrument music are ways to get the vata person settled and ready for their treatment. With respect to treatments, those which are warming, calming, soothing, and methodical in their delivery will help to settle and bring vata into balance. Although vata-dominant people might like to be stimulated and moved to catharsis with –for example – hot and cold treatments in combination, such treatments will actually aggravate the vata client. Products to use on this client and marketed to them later in your retail area are those that hydrate, hence moisturize, and warm the body and skin. For example, massage oils that use sesame oil as their base are most effective. Besides the products themselves, note that vata buyers are curious buyers. They want information and will appreciate a salesperson who knows the background and interesting details of the product. As they can be somewhat indecisive, don’t shy away from making your own recommendation.

Pitta (or Yang in the Chinese tradition) is associated with heat and transformation. Thus our glandular and circulatory systems and metabolic processes are most with pitta. If people seem irritable, particular, nitpicking, or overly critical in their mannerism, Type “A” personalities, this is your pitta dominant person. On a physical level, the unbalanced pitta-dominant client may have hot, flushed, broken out, or otherwise sensitive skin, fine, thinning, or prematurely gray hair, smell strongly, eyes sensitive to light, and have tendencies towards migraines. When the pitta person is brought into balance with environmental and lifestyle support, their hyper-critical intensity cools out and what arises is a spontaneous and joyful disposition.
To support the pitta-dominant client, be aware that if at first site it appears that your spa is sloppy, cluttered, or showing signs of being unclean, don’t expect them to return. Calm orderliness add attention to details; a cool, open, or spacious feeling environment allows the pitta to let go. Bring them some fresh fruit, a cool (but not iced) glass of water, tea, or fruit juice. Because their eyes are sensitive to light, your reception area should not have glaring light. Although they can go for very intense, heart pounding music, your reception area should not evoke the feelings they get at their 6 a.m. spin class. Classical music, with its predictable rhythms will do. Treatments for a pitta client should be delivered precisely with an emphasis in cooling their body down. They value quality, so don’t put a timid therapist with them. In the hands of someone confident, the pitta client can become relaxed and let go. The treatment room itself should be a bit cooler or at least have ventilation and spaciousness. With respect to products, these are the people with the most reactive skin. To be effective, the products should be cooling, not too heavy, and especially free from as many synthetics or petro-chemicals as is possible. Be especially light with products for the pitta. Products with Aloe Vera and sunflower or safflower as their base oils are best. When it comes to retail, they want to know what they are going to get out of a product. It has to be top of the line and the salesperson needs to know why this product will get results for them to purchase. But, don’t push; they enjoy their research and will happily read the brochure for the details. They’ll make up their mind when they are ready and probably ask you what else you have for them to go with what they have just bought.

Kapha (or Yin in the Chinese system) is associated with physicality. Thus, in general, the kapha person has the most dense of a body. They are slow and methodical in how they act and move. If your client is ponderous, perhaps lethargic, maybe somewhat depressed in their movement and speech, this is a client with a little too much kapha. Ayurvedic physicians report that they do not see many kapha constitution types in the U.S. But, they do see kapha-imbalanced clients who may have clammy and or congested skin, puffy, slowly accumulated weight, congestion, and very slow digestive systems. When this kapha is brought into balance, this client feels like they are more within their own power. They begin to wake up more to what they are capable of doing rather than feeling like they are weighed down. Indeed, the kapha-dominant client once in balance is strong and resourceful.
To bring out these qualities, a spa needs to be welcoming the minute the kapha client opens the door. The space should feel luxurious in color and décor. These are your kings and queens who – if impressed and taken care of – will be your loyal clients for life. Your reception area should feel plush, warm, and cozy for them. Bring them a hot cup of tea – a spicy kind (like ginger-lemon). But, don’t let them slide into a couch potato mode. Music for kapha can be light jazz or something that is more engaging. If you have magazines, think about magazines on new interior designs, travel, and the like. Because of their ample bodies, the kapha bodies are not usually (if at all) represented in body, spa, or beauty magazines. Leave these out for your vata and pitta clients. With respect to treatments, kapha clients need to be stimulated. Treatments that are bit more intense in their administration or types like salt-glows, alternating hot and cold therapies should be considered. Whereas you should be happy that the vata person drifts out and the pitta person lets go into sleep, you do not want this for your kapha client. Keep them awake – or they’ll miss the whole spa experience. Products should be warm and spicy. Almond or sesame are great bases for their oils. And when it comes to retail, give kapha something to hold. Give them samples; they will be treasured. Invite them to be engaged, but don’t push. When they are ready, if they like a product, they will want more than one of whatever they get. They don’t like to run out of anything and love to gift friends.
If a spa owner, manager, or therapist begins to think “Ayurvedically,” the sensibility in what you already do or have in your spa can best be used and applied to bring out the very best in your clients. When it comes down to it, Ayurveda is a science of well-being and your client is the secret ingredient. If you apply this science and match what you have to the right client, everybody wins. 

With a 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

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