The Power of Ritual

Ceremonial Elements can Enhance the Spa Experience

By Chrissy Spehar

Originally published in Skin Deep.

In today’s fast-paced world, your clients come to you not only to beautify their skin, but also to slow down and take a few moments for themselves. During treatments, you can honor your clients’ goals — both spiritual and physical — by thoroughly focusing on them through ritual.

Though the word ritual might bring to mind an image of nymphs dancing in the moonlight, rituals are actually more common than one might think. According to Catherina Bernstein, spa consultant and director of Suchness Spa in Eureka Springs, Ark., most people don’t realize that much of what we do in everyday life is ritual. “For example,” she says, “the routines we go through every morning are rituals, but people don’t stop to acknowledge them as such. If they did, they might be able to have a more tranquil and aware start to their day.”

Though many of your clients don’t notice opportunities to enhance tranquility and awareness on a day-to-day basis, those qualities will certainly resonate with even the most infrequent spa-goer. Incorporating a little bit of ceremony into your practice can create the perfect mix of spiritual mindfulness and physical focus, resulting in the ultimate spa experience.

According to Carine Fabius, author of Ceremonies for Real Life (Wildcat Canyon Press, 2002), “Rituals are valuable because they allow you to focus on what you’re trying to achieve.” She explains that energy is attached to thoughts, and energy attracts like energy. Consequently, creating positive thoughts creates positive energy, which creates more of both. She says, “When we can use our energy to focus on something we want, we have a higher chance of achieving that goal.”

Besides bringing focus and awareness to a treatment, rituals can also foster customer loyalty by creating a powerful and unique spa experience. According to Nina Ummel, of Ummelina International Day Spa in Seattle, Wash., “Using rituals consistently provides a way to prepare clients mentally for the spa experience.” She explains that rituals create the space for clients to be immersed in the mind, body, and spirit aspects of their treatment, as well as anticipate their treatment and be ready to relax and bask in the moment. And, she says, “Rituals are also a good way to individualize treatments.”

Be Ritual Ready

According to Ummel, there is no right or wrong way to incorporate rituals into your practice. “A ritual can be anything you do consistently and consciously to help bring a richer experience to the client,” she says. At Ummelina, for example, all of the choices on the spa menu are called rituals instead of treatments, and staff members consider themselves part of a tribe, a community. “Everything we do — from the language we speak, to our clients, to the footbaths we give before every ritual (treatment), to the herbal tea we serve in the ‘sanctuary’ (waiting room) — is an example of a ritual we do every day to make our clients feel as if they’re being taken away somewhere they can escape for a few hours,” she says.

Something Ummel has already realized is that a spa environment naturally provides many of the materials you might use in rituals. For instance, Fabius recommends learning the medicinal properties and folkloric values of plants and herbs, since so many skin care products already include these ingredients. “Once you know what a plant is supposed to do — that lavender is useful for its soothing effect, for example — then you can tell your clients why you chose that herb and have them do a simple visualization of the plant working for their skin,” she says. “This visualization will not only help them focus on the goal of achieving beautiful skin but will also help them relax. You can make this process a ritual that you do with every client at the beginning of a treatment.”

Bernstein recommends paying attention to all the senses when designing rituals. “Don’t underestimate the power of sound and scent when incorporating rituals into treatments. Doing a little aromatherapy before and during every treatment will help clients let go, and, if done consistently, clients will begin to associate the fragrances you use with being nurtured, and they’ll want to come back to that,” she says.

At Bernstein’s spa, Suchness, each treatment begins with a nurturing footbath, aromatherapy comprised of Thai lemongrass, lime, and sandalwood, and the toning of a Tibetan bowl. “All these things affect a different sense and let the client know that this is a different time and space than they were in [before they entered the spa]. We use these rituals to give our clients a signal that this time is dedicated to them,” Bernstein says.

Looking for ideas that might work for you? Below are some easy ways to incorporate ritual into your practice.

In the Waiting Room

• Offer paper and pen. Fabius advises having some beautiful stationary on hand in the waiting area and ask your clients to write down their goals for the treatment they are about to receive. “Making a list is an easy ritual that can bring focus to our goals,” she says.

• Serve something soothing. “Sipping a nice herbal tea or other calming concoction before every treatment allows clients to relax,” Ummel says. “They begin to look forward to it and expect it every time they come in.”

Before a Treatment

• Set the mood. Have a rainbow of candles on hand and ask your clients to choose the color that most represents the goal(s) they want to achieve during a treatment. “Light blue is a soothing color, for example,” Fabius says. “Light the candle and have them focus on their goals for a minute before the treatment begins.”

After a Treatment

• Punctuate the experience. Bring clients back to reality with soothing sounds. At Suchness Spa, practitioners also tone a Tibetan bowl at the end of a treatment.

• Focus on the breath: Gently instruct your clients to inhale and exhale with focused intent to end the session. “Guide them through breaths until they are present and ready to come back,” Bernstein says.

Lastly, remember that everyone can benefit from ritual. “Rituals help you and your clients focus on the goal,” Fabius says. “They are physical, focused prayers, and whether someone believes in them or not doesn’t matter. As long as you are clear about what you want, you’ll be more likely to achieve it.”