Prescription For Relaxation
A traditional source of
healing around the world, spas are now becoming a model for U.S. hospitals
embracing integrative wellness.
The smell of lavender wafts
through the air, released from an aromatherapy diffuser on the table. A woman
lies in a state of deep calm, having just completed a series of restorative
yoga poses, and a therapist is relaxing her even further with massage therapy.
If you think this sounds like a spa
visit, think again; the setting is actually a New York City hospital, and the
person receiving treatments is a stroke survivor.
Head to New Jersey, and it’s the same story: A brand-new
medical center features a full-service spa that offers facials, massage, and
other spa services. But this state-of-the-art facility complete with multiple
pools and Jacuzzis, a fitness center, and a café also includes a cardiac rehab
unit and provides surgery, radiation oncology, and arthritis care.
These are just two examples of a sea of change that’s
occurring in the health care professionals view of wellness – and it all starts
with spas. The positive feelings
we get by luxuriating in spa environments can translate into long-term
wellness. Just think of the relief that can be found sitting in a steam room or
whirlpool tub. Add time in a silent lounge without cell phones, and a drop in
stress levels is as apparent as a spa-goer’s exhale.
Now that more medical
professionals are recognizing the role of stress in setting our bodies up for
disease, it makes perfect sense for hospitals to take a page from spas and
offer massage, aromatherapy, yoga, and other relaxation-inducing therapies,
viewing them as integral parts of a preventive approach to healthcare. There’s been a revolution in how the
medical profession views health and wellness – stress reduction is now seen as
a major player in keeping people healthy and active and preventing chronic
Try to dismiss integrative
wellness programs as isolated examples of cutting-edge medicine, and experts
will set you straight. A 2007 survey by the American Hospital Association found
that 37% of responding hospitals offered complementary or alternative
therapies, up from 26.5 percent in 2005.
Some hospitals are taking
the spa concept even further by providing patients with soothing amenities such
as herbal tonics and organic skincare products. The primary push for all of
this change is coming from consumers, experts say. Americans spend almost $34 billion a year on complementary
and alternative medical treatments, according to data complied by the National
Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. But that doesn’t mean
doctors and nurses aren’t recognizing the benefits of recommending alternative
therapies to patients. In fact, according to a 2009 survey by the American
Massage Therapy Association, 76 percent of massage therapists received
referrals from health care professionals that year, an increase from 69 percent
just one year before. In addition, the number of hospitals offering massage
increased by more than 30 percent between 2004 and 2006.
medicine program first began in New York, initially for
patients and families
needing help coping with the stress of treatments. The program provides
training in healing and relaxation techniques for nurses and yoga teachers, then
brings them into the hospital wards to work with patients.
At hospitals that have
therapeutic/alternative medicine programs, staff members have embraced the new
approach. When the program first began, doctors and nurses weren’t sure how it
could help. Now the therapeutic practitioner is barely through the door and
they’re saying, “Thank God you’re here, can you please go to the patient in
Room 1? She’s so anxious and upset, we can’t get her to calm down.” Hospitals
around the country – including the Mayo Clinic, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,
and City of Hope – are calling to try and set up similar programs.
Perhaps one reason hospitals
are so excited is the program’s apparent success. Benjamin Kligler, M.D., vice
chairman of the department of integrative medicine at Beth Israel has overseen
a research study following the pilot therapeutic project and has been
documenting results. While the
study is not yet complete, he’s pleased with the outcome so far. “I can tell
you we’re seeing very positive results,” he says. “The patients say they have
less anxiety, less pain, fewer sleep problems, and less emotional stress from
None of this comes as a
surprise to therapeutic professionals. Pampering equals self-care; it's a way
of sending yourself a message that you're worth caring for. All the things we
know in the therapeutic community - the importance of touch and taking time for
yourself - the medical community is now discovering. They're realizing how
important it is for people to feel empowered to take care care of themselves.