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Redefining Indigenous

By: Richard Williams
Posted: June 4, 2008, from the February 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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Laos is known for its herbal steam treatments and indigenous herbs such as holy basil and camphor bark. The country also implements cupping treatments similar to that of the Chinese Ba Qaa.

The Tibetan people also have traditional medicines derived from indigenous plants. Lum is a traditional bath therapy that is becoming popularized in the spa environment. An example would be Shangri-La’s CHI spas that offer Tibetan bathing rituals.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on the five elements: earth, fire, water, air and metal, whereas ayurveda is based on the three doshas, which are Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and relate to the body type or morphology. It is a tradition steeped in philosophy and meditation. Herbs, oils, pills and tinctures are used internally and externally to balance mind, body and spirit. Ayurvedic treatments and services have become extremely popular in spas globally, and some of the favorites include shirodhara, or the pouring of warm medicated oil over the third eye to calm the mind, cure insomnia and even impotence. Abhyanga uses special oils in a full body massage that rejuvenates, increases circulation and is said to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and leave the skin glowing. There also are a number of specific ayurvedic treatments that are used to eliminate toxins from the body and assist with weight loss and detoxification.

Thai massage is almost a given in many spas, not only in Asia. Think of Thai massage as a type of facilitated yoga. The stretching is wonderful, and the oils never disappoint. Naturally there are many indigenous herbs and spices from Thailand. Thai therapists prepare pouches of varying sizes with dried orange peel, camphor, kaffir lime, lemongrass and prai, to name a few of the ingredients, and these are used to treat the body for muscular skeletal ailments and circulatory disorders. Also, natural mineral salts are a wonderful resource found in Asia from the pink crystal salts of the Himalayas to the sea salts of Bali. These salts are commonplace in spas, finding their way into anything from scrubs to hydrotherapy soaks.

In Polynesia—meaning the islands in the Pacific Ocean—spas have their own indigenous products and services. The most common are from Hawaii, such as the long gentle strokes of a lomi lomi massage or the healing energy that draws on the aloha spirit of Huna healing. The islands of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook group all have their own body therapies and healing indigenous herbs. The Maori of
New Zealand draw from the native bush, grasses, barks and berries to cure fever or reduce infections. So many of these islands are volcanically active and therefore have natural thermal springs which have varying mineral qualities and wonderful healing muds. Again, the Asian spa can tap into this tourism market as it has become more and more prevalent for visitors to seek a “cultural” experience and not just seek out some sunshine and a nice beach.