By Prof. Gerard Bodeker, Chair, Mental Wellness Initiative of the Global Wellness Institute
The spa and wellness industry has been an early adopter of technology for spa management, spa bookings etc. And now that guests are widely using personal fitness trackers, wellness providers are both using data from guests own apps to track their progress in selected wellness programs as well as bringing in the spa’s own wellness monitoring activity and biofeedback devices as part of their wellness development activities. Fitness, diet, sleep, meditation and mindfulness, breathing – all of these are front-burner categories for wellness apps. Also, an emerging trend is Virtual Reality (VR), which can be used to offer guests an immersive experience, such as forest immersion, ocean experiences, etc. as part of the sounds and sights of Nature, accompanied by matching aromas. Fivelements Habitat in Hong Kong is taking a lead in this direction.
Then there is the trend of “at-home maintenance” following high-tech aesthetic treatments in spas. Here, technology crosses over from the spa into the home and consumers carry this technology through into daily applications at home. An example is NuFACE, which offers a micronutrient delivery device for facial firming at home. This, along with the company’s NuBODY for reducing cellulite, is used by several leading brands, including Four Seasons, Montage, St Regis and Canyon Ranch spa locations.
While everything now is heading towards high technology, I do believe that the personal touch is always of foundational importance in the spa. Touch, a kind voice and manner of the therapist, a soothing cup of tea served with grace, guided meditation and integrative yoga, experiencing Nature with a meditative forest bathing guide, etc. – all of these are part of the essential spa and wellness destination experience.
Yet in parallel, many wellness centres are now using technology to monitor the outcomes of these wellness programs. Do they reduce high blood pressure? Do they enhance sleep? Do brainwaves indicate a deeper meditative state than when just resting with eyes closed? This kind of feedback to guests is very reassuring and gives them confidence in the program and inspires them both to continue later when they are home and also to return to the centre for deeper experiences in the future.
So, a future trend will be a combination of personal engagement along with technology to give feedback on the outcomes of therapies and wellness journeys. But will technology replace therapists? Compare the experience of a massage chair with the experience of receiving a personal massage from a skilled therapist. This probably gives us a clear answer.
We do see many technologies linked to anti-aging. And anti-aging has many dimensions to it. These include: healthy nutrition, skin rejuvenation, programs that enhance brain health, improve mobility, social activities that increase connectedness and reduce isolation and loneliness, etc. In the White Paper on Mental Wellness that colleagues and I produced from the Mental Wellness initiative of the Global Wellness Institute, we identified good science behind a number of these anti-aging pathways. 1
There is no doubt that regular exercise and a plant-rich diet with whole grains rather than refined carbohydrates, and low intake of alcohol and red meat, are central to healthy aging. Medicinal plants used in traditional medicine can also enhance brain health by stimulating what we now know as neuro-plasticity – the ability of the brain to grow and make new connections throughout the adult lifespan when it is given the right conditions. Lingzhi (灵芝), gingko biloba (白果bai guo), cordyceps (冬虫夏草), and gotu kola (积雪草ji xue cao), and others are important brain tonics in Chinese Medicine.
For spa and wellness centres and resorts to contribute to effective anti-aging as mentioned above, they need to offer programs in all of these areas, not just skin and beauty treatments. For my personal anti-aging issues, I follow the items below.
Healthy nutrition. Diets that are known to be ‘heaty’ in Chinese Medicine theory usually cause inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet is an important trend in anti-ageing, and includes low intake of refined carbohydrates, high intake of plant-based foods, low use of unhealthy, polyunsaturated fats, low alcohol consumption.
Integrative exercise such as Yoga, Tai Chi and Dance. These not only enhance physical health, but mental wellness also and they contribute to brain growth through the lifespan.
Meditation. This is the best means of reducing stress, activating the brain’s potential, and creating a calming influence on social and family relationships – which in turn leads to enhanced mental wellbeing. I have practiced Transcendental Meditation (TM) twice daily for four decades now and feel the benefits each time I meditate, and tests show a biological age more than a decade younger than my actual age.
Knowing the science. More and more guests want to know if there is evidence that the programs being offered really work. What is the evidence? The Global Wellness Institute’s database WellnessEvidence.com has much of this information available for free and it should be used by the industry to guide their choices and support confidence in their programs.
Measuring the outcomes of anti-ageing programs. In addition to knowing that research shows that these pathways work, guests want to know “Does it work for ME?” In this case, apps and other biofeedback approaches that give personalised data on the outcomes of wellness programs will be more and more essential as a means of demonstrating effectiveness of what spas are offering to their guests.