Ancient spa rituals in modern practice

31 Oct 2016

If you're looking to treat yourself, this is the perfect time - National Spa Week is in full swing and we've rounded up our favourite spa deals with savings of up to 72%. That's the easy bit sorted, but when it comes to spa experiences, the hardest thing can often be deciding which treatment to go for. So, to help you, we've taken a look at some ancient spa rituals to see how they're still used today.

There are several theories surrounding the origin of the word "spa". Some believe it is an acronym of the Latin phrase "salus per aqua" meaning "health from water", while others think it comes from a small Belgian village called Spa, where Roman soldiers would retreat for rest after battle.

Although spas are typically attributed to the Romans, the concept dates back to Ancient Egypt. The therapeutic powers of the Nile Delta and the Dead Sea attracted the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra to bath in its salt-rich waters.


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Famous for her legendary beauty, Cleopatra employed a number of beauty rituals to preserve her youth. In addition to bathing in sea salts, Cleopatra is also said to have bathed in goat and donkey milk to keep her skin soft and supple. The Egyptians also credited honey with the ability to repair wounds.

Using salt and milk for spa treatments is still common today; salt is used to replenish minerals that have been lost throughout the day, whilst the lactic acid in milk exfoliates the skin to leave it looking refreshed. The spa at Oulton Hall in Leeds, for example, offers a salt and oil scrub as part of this 49%-off spa package.

Much like the ancient Egyptians, ancient Greeks and Romans also considered bathing and cleanliness essential to good health. They also saw it as an opportunity to socialise, and bathing often involved sharing snacks and drinks together. Whilst the Greeks also used salt and herbal infusions for their medicinal benefits, they were mostly famous for steam baths. In ancient Greece steam baths were called laconias and were much like modern-day saunas. In 450BC the Greek historian Herodutus advised that the Greeks should use the steam from the laconia to induce sweating to remove impurities from the body.

It's a practice many of us indulge in to this day. One of our favourite places to do so is Spa Verta in Battersea, London, where you can currently get a 55-minute treatment, four hours' use of the facilities, afternoon tea or lunch and a glass of prosecco for £99.


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The Romans emulated the bathing practices of the Greeks, but unlike the Greeks who favoured simplicity in style, the Romans built elaborate baths adorned with paintings, ornate mosaics and marble statues. While the style differed, the primary intention remained the same, because Roman baths were centred on inducing sweating by gradual exposure to increasing temperatures.

With the Roman Empire expanding, these bathhouses and the rituals associated with them spread across the Mediterranean and into certain regions of Europe and North Africa. For a modern-day take on the Roman experience, we recommend The Garden Spa at Appleby Manor in Cumbria. It has five treatment rooms, a hydrotherapy pool, a salt inhalation room, a steam room, a sauna, a foot spa, and an outdoor garden with a spa bath and a fire pit, designed to emulate the practices of Roman bathhouses.

Other cultures and civilizations have also adopted the idea of a bathhouse and in many ways; Turkish hammans live on as an extension of Roman baths. Similar in style, Turkish baths were also very detailed and artistic, strewn with tapestries, dramatic columns, gold fixtures and richly woven tapestries. During the days of the Ottoman Empire, hammans were open from sunrise to sunset, and became popular destinations at which bathers could enjoy music and entertainment. Unwind with a Turkish hamman and Moroccan bath session at the Crystal Palace Spa.

Ancient Japanese customs have also placed emphasis on the spiritual pursuits of cleanliness. With a tradition of removing their shoes before entering a home, huge attention is given to foot therapies in ancient culture. According to Japanese legend dating back 1,600 years, the concept of the traditional Japanese footbath developed when a group of monks and sickly travellers embarked on a pilgrimage to heal their ailments. Along the way, they stopped for rest at a mountain, where they discovered a hot spring, in which they soaked their feet. When they woke up, the pilgrims claimed they had been restored, and word of the magical healing power of the springs spread across the villages. From that point forward, the term "footbath" or "Ashiyu" in Japanese came into popular use. See if the legend is true at this deal for a spa experience at the Bridge Hotel & Spa in Wetherby.

While the Japanese focus on the feet, ancient Indian relaxation techniques concentrate on the head. Indian head massage, or "champissage" has been a fundamental part of the age-old Indian practice of Ayurveda, which aims to balance the body, mind and spirit to promote a long life. By stimulating blood flow to the scalp, champissage was thought to relax the mind, as well as nourish the hair roots. Rebalance the flow of energy through your body with a head massage at Mottram Hall in Cheshire.

Moving away from the power of water, Mayan shamans believed that jade, quartz and other stones were sacred, enabling energy to run through the body. Combined with aromatic Mayan oils and native salts, stones were used to release tension and anxiety from the body. Once the stones had been used, they were returned to sacred Mayan grounds so their restorative powers could regenerate. De-stress your body with a hot-stone massage at the Cotswold Hotel & Spa in Chipping Norton

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our favourite spa deals in the UK right now

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