(Originally published as a newsletter for The Dragontree Holistic Day Spa)
About 12 years ago, my wife announced that she was going to open a spa and asked me if I wanted to move my practice there. I had been doing acupuncture for a few years in a more typical medical building. I was passionate about treating challenging cases and being taken seriously as a medical practitioner, so the prospect of moving into a spa was a bit difficult for me. I was concerned that this would be a place for “feel good” experiences rather than real healing. I thought of spa treatments as something of a luxury item – an indulgence. In the end, I chose to do it anyway.
I started my practice in the Dragontree, and I got to know and respect many massage therapists and aestheticians. Yet, for some time I maintained the attitude that much of what the spa offered was just “treats.” It took a while before I started paying attention to what was happening with the spa’s clients. People came in all day, every day, looking dull, weary, and tense, and they left looking peaceful and light. Sometimes it even happened to people who dropped in briefly, like the mailman, the plumber, and the UPS guy. I would be lying if I said that everyone who walked into the spa had amazing, transformative experiences, but it happened with such a majority of our visitors that I had to change my thinking about spa treatments, the spa atmosphere, and the whole idea of indulgence.
I saw that, like many people, I had dismissed the clinical validity of people’s experiences because of the mere fact that the treatment they received felt good. Because it feels good, I thought, it’s an indulgence. After all, we all know medicine is not supposed to be pleasant, right? My experience of medicine while growing up was that it was frightening, tasted bad, or hurt. Sometimes all three. The idea that something could be therapeutic and also thoroughly enjoyable directly conflicted with my past experience.
Throughout our culture, there is a belief that there are certain things about life that nobody likes – including many of the things that are supposed to be good for us, such as exercise, eating vegetables, and getting a colonoscopy – but you just have to grit your teeth and get through it. The corollary to this unfortunate perspective is that if it feels good, it’s either bad for you or there’s something is wrong with you for enjoying it. Maybe it’s a parting gift from our Puritan forebears. If you really love your job you’re probably not working hard enough; if you really enjoy cleaning the house, you’re probably neurotic; if you’re happy all the time, you probably need a psychiatric evaluation. But feeling good is our birthright!
If we believe that feeling good is truly an indulgence, it is easy to see why we might try to subconsciously limit how good we feel, or why we might temper any episodes of enjoyment with a generous dose of guilt (that should do the trick!). It is very important, though, that we do not succumb to the temptation to degrade our experiences.
The most profound truths are so simple we tend to miss them, and such is the case here. Feeling good doesn’t diminish the benefit of spa treatments – in fact, the good feeling is part of the treatment! No double-blind studies are necessary: feeling good is therapeutic. When we feel good, everything about us shifts toward a state of balance. We all know this in our hearts.