Could the spa be good for…your brain?
New research may justify calling your spa day legitimate therapy, and not just for your skin.
That a spa day can help you relax may seem obvious…but there is something about it that still feels so…spoiled. Like a waste of time (something you don’t have much of to begin with). But there are two things that may change your mind. First, “just” relaxing is not a waste of time. It is — physically — a necessity. It is as fundamental to your health as a balanced diet. The link between stress, inflammation and a litany of health problems — from acne, eczema, psoriasis, and aging, to obesity, depression, and even cancer — is getting stronger every day. We need to finally accept that decreasing stress is not a luxury. It is a priority.
Second, if you still can’t quite stomach the idea of “doing nothing” for an hour, how much actually goes on in just 60 minutes at the spa may amaze you. Think of it as a multi-tasking session for your health — de-stressing and reducing inflammation (for your body), caring for your skin…and even improving your brain’s function and efficacy. Now you can book a spa day and legitimately say it’s for work!
Purging more than pore cloggers: a spa hour can help you problem-solve, reduce stress, and might even sub for your shrink on occasion!
Spa For Your Health
A spa hour can seem inessential when compared to other big wellness to-do’s. Going to the gym is so clearly effort towards a measurable goal: lower cholesterol, heart health, fitness, tone. Seeing a therapist is now considered a valid practice: focused time for self improvement and to work through problems. Seminars and courses help you learn and acquire new skills. Even vacations are accepted as important for your health and well being. But a spa is still seen as more of a splurge than a legitimately healthy thing to do.
It might be surprising, then, to learn that, outside of your daily workouts and proper nutrition, a spa visit might be the most efficient thing you can do for your health. What might hurt its reputation is how heavenly it feels. But make no mistake: this bliss can do so much for you.
1. Brain Efficiency
YOUR “SPA-AHA!” MOMENT: COULD YOUR SPA HOUR MAKE YOU SMARTER?
In an article for the Scientific American, Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime1, Ferris Jabr explores a growing body of research that reveals how “mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity.” Beyond controlling stress, it seems downtime allows the brain to become more effective.
What does “downtime” mean? It’s not being asleep, which entails other — as important, but different — brain functions. Downtime is mental idleness, getting the brain to its “default mode network” (DMN), a mental state of complex functions that seem to allow the brain to digest much of what it has recently learned and reflect upon itself more profoundly. Asleep, it seems, is too unconscious for this work. Awake, too busy. Idle, in DMN, the brain is in productive limbo where lessons cement themselves and where we do the deeper work of reflection and self improvement. The brain needs sleep, of course, and undergoes vital reparative and memory-cementing work during this time. And we need our brain sharp when we’re awake for obvious reasons: we wouldn’t be able to perform the most basic functions otherwise. But more evidence is suggesting that we should be prioritizing waking rest, too, for the powerful work that the brain does during this time.
What does a spa session have to do with DMN? Downtime includes meditation or mindfulness, vacations and naps. A spa hour is all three. During a typical facial, massage or body treatment at VMV, your mind wanders, it slows down, you experience a real escape from daily worries and, often, you nap — in perfect 10-minute increments (studies show that 7-10 minutes of sleep is ideal to reenergize without needing to recover from the “sleep inertia” that follows longer naps).
In addition to a break and revitalization, the research shows that:
“downtime…is essential to… achieve our highest levels of performance.”
Downtime can help you become more effective at work and problem-solving. As Jabr writes, “studies have demonstrated that the mind obliquely solves tough problems while daydreaming — an experience many people have had while taking a shower. Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during downtime.”
In addition to reading a new book or booking a seminar, consider a spa session to sharpen your brain and help you with problem solving. Your Eureka moment might just be waiting for that facial.
2. Be a Better Person
IT MIGHT MAKE YOUR THERAPIST JEALOUS.
In the same article, Jabr shares that downtime could be a form of self improvement. Citing a review2 on the DMN by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California, Jabr writes, “when we are resting the brain is anything but idle and that, far from being purposeless or unproductive, downtime is in fact essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill an internal code of ethics—processes that depend on the DMN.” Identify affirmation, understanding of human behavior and strengthening our code of ethics…many of the same things that we explore in therapy.
As the mind is freed of distractions, it can make sense of recent learnings and explore unresolved issues that the brain may not be able to focus on during the course of a busy day. Jabr adds, “A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future…we shuffle through all those neglected mental post-it notes listing half-finished projects.” Perfect for goal setting.
“We mull over the aspects of our lives with which we are most dissatisfied, searching for solutions. We sink into scenes from childhood and catapult ourselves into different hypothetical futures. And we subject ourselves to a kind of moral performance review, questioning how we have treated others lately.” Self reflection, check. Self improvement, check.
In a spa hour, this self-reflection happens peacefully and organically. You needn’t concentrate on letting go, you just do. You don’t think, “now I’m going to focus on my life and how I can be a better person” — this, plus surprising perspectives and even solutions, just “pop into your head.” And it’s an altogether pleasant experience: selfimprovement that doesn’t feel like work.
3. Age Fighting
DOWNTIME TO REVERSE TIME
Other studies3 have shown a link between the positive emotional or psychological results of meditation and an increase in the longevity of telomerase, an enzyme that is fundamental to the long-term health and youth of cells. While the notion that meditation reduces stress might be an old one, that meditation could affect proteins related to aging, possibly prolonging our cellular health and youth, is new and compelling.
Furthermore, the link between stress and inflammation is well proven, and inflammation is linked to a slew of skin, mental and health problems. In addition to the “great mind escape” that our spa treatments provide, each one features quality time with our products that, besides being allergen-free, are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, and are deeply reparative to skin.
Don’t forget: skin stressors age the skin, too. Rashes, irritations, pimples, itching, severe dryness, and reactions to face products are all incidents of physical stress on the skin and are all types of inflammation. Whether or not you already have sensitive skin, avoiding allergens can help prevent various problems (even subtle ones which may not yet be obvious) which can thin and stress the skin, and contribute to aging.
4. Skin Renewal
As your mind is wandering, improving brain function and promoting inner peace, the right spa treatment or facial can scrub away dullness, target problem areas and help you reveal fresh, revitalized skin. Nothing revives like a deep-cleaning facial or body treatment (also ideal for jump-starting your daily regimen). VMV’s clinically-sound treatments, designed and audited by dermatologists and our licensed estheticians, are allergen-free and completely customized for your skin’s varying needs.
If you’re counting, that’s brain efficiency and heightened performance, self improvement, and anti-inflammatory cellular health, plus skin cleaning and wellbeing. Not bad for an hour!
1. Jabr, Ferris. Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. Scientific American. Oct. 15, 2013.
2. Immordino-Yang MH, Christodoulou JA, Singh, V. Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education. Perspectives on Psychological Science July 2012 vol. 7 no. 4 352-364.
3. Jacobs, T.L., et al., Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators. Psychoneuroendocrinology (2010), doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.09.010 and Positive psychological changes from meditation training linked to cellular health. UC Davis News and Information. Nov. 3, 2010.
To find a physician in your area who does patch tests, visit contactderm.org
For more on patch testing, check out Patch Test: What Is It and Should I Get One?