Hydro healing

The benefits of hydrotherapy have been recognised for thousands of years. In Europe, where this type of therapy is especially popular, there are many spas specialising in water-based cures and therapies. Leisure Manager finds out how the trend is taking off in the Middle East.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  May 8, 2006

|~|Detail-Shot(845)L.jpg|~|Hydrotherapy pools use pressurised water jets to massage the body.|~|In Dubai alone, there are at least 120 spas, health clubs and clinics offering wellness services and by 2015 it is predicted that the UAE will be among the top spa destinations in the world. "International statistics indicate that the wellness market is growing by at least 17%, but it is obvious that it is growing faster than that in the Gulf area," says Diana Taylor, exhibition manager for the Wellness and Spas Middle East tradeshow, which will take place in Dubai in May. Organised by Messe Frankfurt, the event promises to provide a focal point for the region's rapidly emerging spa market, with over 180 exhibitors representing some 300 brands, all presenting the latest treatments and equipment available for health and relaxation. Although hydrotherapy, as a formal system, dates from about 1829 and is one of the oldest forms of medical treatment, today the various therapies available are predominantly used for relaxation. "Clients that lead a very hectic life choose hydrotherapy treatments as it provides a deep and immediate relaxation," says Maria Micu, spa manager at the Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa. Due to its location on the shore of the Dead Sea, hydrotherapy treatments involving the mineral-rich seawater are a speciality at the Jordan Valley Marriott's spa. Many of the 21 different minerals found in the water of the Dead Sea, such as magnesium, calcium and potassium, are found in no other sea in the world and are recognised for nourishing the skin, easing rheumatic discomfort and helping with metabolic disorders. The Spa has therefore created its own collection of signature treatments using the healing powers of Dead Sea salts, mud and other locally-sourced ingredients. The Dead Sea Water Hydro Massage is a therapeutic underwater massage and is one of the Spa's most popular treatments among holidaymakers at the resort. "This treatment invigorates and relaxes at the same time, as hundreds of water jets massage out all tension from the muscles," explains Micu. "It increases blood circulation and lymph drainage, eliminates excess water from the body and opens the pores so that the skin can absorb all the rich minerals in the sea water. The warm water also induces a lasting state of calm, relaxation and well-being," she adds. The treatment can be performed in conjunction with colour and light therapy to balance the body's physical, emotional, spiritual or mental energy. Micu says that most of The Spa's clients choose to combine hydrotherapy with other treatments, such as body scrubs, wraps and massages. "Being immersed in water opens the pores, increases blood circulation and dilates the blood vessels. This improves the absorption of minerals into the skin so we often follow the hydro bath with a body scrub, mud envelopment and massage," says Micu. "This sequence allows the skin to be prepared by the hydro bath, then the exfoliation will remove all the dead cells from the surface of the skin. The mud replenishes and purifies the skin and then the body is soothed and muscles are completely relaxed with a body massage." Amara, the spa at the Park Hyatt Dubai, also offers a series of natural, water-based therapies in conjunction with more traditional spa treatments. Each private treatment room comes with its own outdoor terrace where guests can indulge in the spa's trademark open-air rain shower before every treatment. The special showerhead delivers water in the form of rain-like droplets to gently massage the scalp and body, leaving guests feeling relaxed and energised. "Imagine bathing in gentle rain under the open sky surrounded by greenery," says Maria Warner, marketing communications manager for the Park Hyatt Dubai. "The terrace area is entirely enclosed, with a wall high enough to guarantee total privacy, but is still wide enough to provide a sense of space. The prevailing atmosphere is one of serenity and tranquillity." At the Four Seasons Doha hydrotherapy is also combined with other treatments for greater relaxation and improved results. The spa's signature Five Elements treatment includes hydrotherapy baths based on the essential Chinese elements of earth, fire, metal, wood and, of course, water. Guests are also recommended to spend a minimum of 30 minutes using the various hydrotherapy facilities before they have any of the spa’s other treatments. A sauna, steam room, whirlpool, ice room and Swiss showers are available within the male and female locker rooms. The spa also has a hydrotherapy jet bath and an extensive hydrotherapy lounge, which encompasses a large hydro pool and hot and cold plunge pools, as well as a current-resistance swimming pool. In addition, the spa has a hot-cold Kniepp bath — a footbath that stimulates the metabolism and encourages the removal of waste materials from the body. This alternative water therapy can also help to strengthen the immune system and is therefore recommended during convalescence or to ward off colds and flu. The Kniepp bath at the Four Seasons Doha has a bed of stone pebbles to stimulate the thousands of nerve endings in the feet. Walking in the water, on the bed of stones creates an effect much like that of a reflexology massage, invigorating different parts of the body. "Foot massage jets, whirlpools, large showers and air beds are also available in our lounge," says Michael Clarke, director of spa and recreation at the Four Seasons Doha. "The hydrotherapy pool is the most popular of the water treatments as this massages various parts of the body using water jets. It is a large pool and allows guests to move around and focus the different jets, bubbles and showers on different parts of the body, which is very relaxing and invigorating and helps to relax the muscles." The hydrotherapy lounge is free for guests to use, and the spa does approximately 30 hydro treatments per month as part of its Five Elements package. Clarke has noticed that hydrotherapy has mass appeal. "Our experience has been that all age groups, genders and nationalities have been using the hydrotherapy facilities. Everyone benefits from the healing and recuperative properties of hydrotherapy," he says. "It employs the body's reaction to hot and cold stimuli, which invigorates blood flow and circulation, stimulates the immune system and reduces the production of the hormones responsible for stress." Let worries float away Also good for stress is floatation therapy. In this form of therapy, a specially designed floatation tank is filled with water to a depth of 25cm and treated with a very high concentration of approximately 320kg of Epsom salts. This creates a high density that supports the body, allowing guests to float without effort. The soundproof tank isolates the guest from external stimuli such as light and noise, creating an extreme state of sensory relaxation so that the brain's normal workload is reduced by up to 90%. The Marriott Jordan Valley Resort & Spa offers a flotation tank at its spa facility. "We use pure Dead Sea water for our wet floatation, so we do not have to add anything to the water. The high salt level in the water effectively creates a zero gravity environment," says Micu. "The tank enables the guest to find the areas of their bodies that they are holding tense and relax them. Finding where gravity is and in which direction, then computing how to move and not fall over, uses a lot of the brain's activity on a daily basis. When people float they are free to let their mind wander and think about other things." The temperature inside a flotation tank is isothermal over the surface of the body so that the nerve endings on the surface of the skin no longer perceive a difference between the skin and the solution inside the tank, effectively making users feel at one with the water. Gentle music, from the underwater speakers that are built into some tanks, helps guests to relax, and floating in total darkness has been shown to cause a drop in the electrical activity of the brain, causing deep relaxation. "Floatation therapy is such a simple idea that some of the benefits seem too good to be true, but there is real scientific research that has validated the health-giving effects of the treatment," says Julie Meacham, managing director of Spa Origin, which created the floatation tank now in use at Jumeirah Emirates Towers' new men-only spa, H2O, which opened in March. Naheel Joz, director of spa development at Spa Origin was responsible for the installation of the floatation tank. He is adamant that offering floatation therapy will make the H2O spa relatively unique. "There are only about five or six tanks of this type in the world," he states. "With the implementation of our tank at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, people are beginning to become more aware of the benefits of floatation. Indeed, the therapy is already proving to be pretty popular there," Joz adds. H2O features a treatment menu designed to deliver what it calls "active relaxation" for male guests. The facilities include four multi-purpose treatment rooms and a relaxation area, with treatments designed to meet the needs of the international businessmen that make up around 80% of Jumeirah Emirates Towers' guests. The cures on offer have been created to ease discomfort after long-haul flights as well as revive and energise after long meetings and conferences. "The spa offers fast and result-orientated treatments providing maximum relaxation and revitalisation in a short time," says Doris Greif, general manager of Jumeirah Emirates Towers. "Time is a rare commodity and we have, therefore, developed a treatment menu for H2O that features express and longer sessions to accommodate male travellers and their needs." In H2O's flotation pool, guests can enjoy an hour of privacy, floating in warm salt water to relaxing music. The total relaxation gained from 45 minutes of this therapy is equivalent to eight hours sleep, according to Meacham. "It is well known that relaxing sleep in bed is essential to good health and often the best way to recover from stress or minor illness. Floating in a flotation therapy tank is even more relaxing," she says. "The state of deep relaxation that can be achieved allows the body to recover from stress and can relieve pain. Natural endorphins are released and the brain gives out alpha waves, which are associated with relaxation and meditation." Apart from providing general relaxation, hydrotherapy in general, and floatation therapy in particular, have also been shown to have medical benefits. Both anecdotally and in controlled studies, the therapies are said to reduce, or even eliminate, pain. The pain relief can be permanent after one session or, in the case of chronic joint pain such as arthritis, lasts for several hours and can help reduce the need for pain medication. Water-based therapies also appear to help with psychological disorders, such as anger management and insomnia, as well as offering relief for those sufferering from high blood pressure. "Once you try hydrotherapy, you realise that it really does have many therapeutic and soothing properties," says Marriott Jordan Valley’s Micu. "After all, the human body is made up of 75% water — it is little surprise that it makes us feel at peace. Whether it is a simple jacuzzi bath or a more elaborate hydrotherapy treatment, water is now a highlight of most spa menus."||**||

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