~ Wellness ~
Terms and Definitions


Authors: De Santi, Denise (DE ES, 2005); Fister, Stefanie (DE EN, 2006); Plangger, Julia (DE FR, 2006); Saurer, Claudia (DE IT, 2004); Schwarz, Johanna (DE RU, 2008)
Published by LULU, 514 pages. ISBN 978-1-4092-7755-2, (preview download, 3,1 mb)

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This glossary serves the aim to analyse and compare German, English, Italian, Spanish and French terminology employed in the spa industry. It has been designed with the objective to provide the respective cultures an efficient and well-organized reference book. On one hand it helps tourists, who intend to take a spa vacation in one of those countries, to understand the rich variety of spa offers and treatments in their own language. On the other hand it may aid the employees of the spa industry, who wish to increase the quality of their services by illustrating the spa offers in a foreign language. But this glossary may be of an advantage even to hoteliers, who intend to establish a spa resort or to add a spa facility to their hotel: Here they can find information about the fascinating variety and oh-so rich number of existing spa treatments and spa facilities.

The subsequent English introduction gives you a short insight into the English and German spa industry, the language that it employs and the corresponding cultures. The instructions as well as the table of symbols and abbreviations are designed to make the glossary easily accessible and user-friendly. The main part, the terminology section, combines a number of different language directions (source-target language): First, the German language creates the basis for the English, Italian, Spanish French and Russian equivalents DE – EN, IT, ES, FR RU; then the source language changes so that each language successively serves as a source language (EN – DE ES FR IT RU / IT – DE EN ES FR RU / ES – DE EN FR IT RU / FR – DE EN ES IT RU / RU – DE EN ES FR IT). The final chapter features the bibliography.


Health and well-being are of increasing importance in our society. Well-being, however, does not only refer to physical well-being but also to spiritual and mental aspects; I guess everybody knows the saying “sound mind, sound body”. Nowadays, when people have rarely time to care for both their body and mind, it is important to have somewhere to regenerate and relax. Stress and work have strong impacts on our life, and much too often we lose our inner balance and joy of living.

During a spa vacation, it is possible to gain new strength, regenerate or even renew yourself. The spagoer’s utmost relaxation and health are among the main aims of a spa. But not only regeneration, health too is of importance. Spagoers call for a change in their philosophy of life, their nutrition behaviour and their mind-body relation. A spa is able to fulfill those needs in many ways, since it encompasses both maintaining good health and relieving stress. Spa services range from the most different kinds of martial arts - most of them of Asian origin -, gymnastics and kinesiotherapy to water sports and both indoor and outdoor sports; all of them including both individual and group instruction. Relaxing massage treatments and rejuvenating vitality baths are especially designed to pamper your body and let you unwind. And for your mental well-being a variety of meditation techniques are provided. The wide-ranging spa services, however, also promote a healthy and sensible nutrition, since adequate nutrition is the basis of a sound and healthy life.

But let us gain a more profound insight into the development of this phenomenon, since today’s spa industry is partly based on therapies and treatments dating back five thousand years, such as traditional Chinese medicine or Indian Ayurveda. But while some treatments are of eastern origins, there are other treatments such as Greek thalassotherapy and Roman bathing rituals that are rooted in western cultures. Over the last several years, however, a large number of those antique and exotic treatments have gained new recognition in our society and are now increasingly used as alternative or complementary treatments to traditional western medicine. The hotel industry has identified this growing demand on time and is thus now able to provide health and recreation centres with the most outstanding facilities. Twenty years ago it would have been more than difficult to find an Austrian or German hotel featuring more than just a simple sauna, a swimming pool or a basic massage room. Facilities and services dedicated to the promotion of health were mainly provided by so-called Kurhotels; health resorts that specialized in the after-care of patients who suffered from illness or had been injured in an accident. To access these health resorts, however, a medical prescription was required. Contrary to today’s spa resorts, which often base their holistic diagnoses on traditional Chinese medicine or Ayurvedic principles, health resorts primarily promoted treatments and therapies that belong to traditional western medicine.

For some time now, German speaking regions have been experiencing a veritable spa boom. Interesting is that this rather new type of recreation and relaxation attracts not only people suffering from illness but healthy people too, whose aim is to revitalize, rejuvenate and simply relax. The main difference between the former Kurhotel and the modern spa resort is that the latter does not only promote the visitor’s health but also focuses on improving his overall well-being. And as mentioned before the spagoer is not only cared for with traditional western treatments; alternative medicine also plays a significant role. This new type of recreation is designed for a very broad target group, attracting all ages, the private spagoer as well as businessmen.

The hotel industry and health resorts responded equally to the boom of promoting wellbeing and beauty: Due to large investments and modernization, so-called health centres and oases of well-being were created. A large number of hoteliers took advantage of the opportunity and made their seasonal hotels a year-round business. Off-season periods now promoted lucrative offers combining corporate or other large events with spa services. But the private spagoer was also cared for: spa resorts added pampering treatments and beauty services to the traditional hiking and recreation vacation in the German speaking area and, thus, provided further reasons for taking a spa vacation.

Germany, Austria and Switzerland built their first spa resorts mainly in regions featuring natural hot springs. Yet, a few years ago even ski and hiking resorts began to build renowned spa hotels. As those resorts cannot benefit from thermal waters, most of them specialise in thalassotherapy, which is highly efficient thanks to the use of artificial products, imported sea salt or seaweed powder.

But water and above all its therapeutic properties have been of major importance in almost all cultures. The Greeks and the Romans for instance built entire temples amongst the surroundings of thermal springs. Mineral and medicinal springs were so believed to be under divine protection and would therefore never lose their healing power. The word spa is actually rooted in the Latin language and means salus per aquam, health from water. Today, the term spa describes "everything from a hot tub to hot springs, from a massage table in a hair salon to a full-service five-star resort". (Lazarus 2000:7) These facilities are provided by a so-called resort, spa resort or spa hotel. While the word spa e.g. tends not to be used in the Italian spa industry - since the Italian spa actually stands for Società per Azioni, meaning public limited company - it is widely used in the English language.

My study about compound German and English spa names illustrates the following: In general, every German hotel providing a wet area with a sauna or massage facility may be refered to as a so-called Wellnesshotel. The name of the hotel often tells what kind of facility is provided. There is for instance the Vollerhof in the quaint Austrian hamlet Puch, which is also referred to as Kurhotel. This guarantees that the hotel also provides medical assistance. The so-called Wellnesshotel zum Gourmet located in the Austrian hamlet of Seefeld specialises in high cuisine and well-being, as the terms Wellnesshotel and Gourmet suggest. The name Trofana Royal – Gourmet- und Relaxhotel, on the contrary, does not really give information about the spa services offered by the hotel, even though it boasts a spa facility of more than 2,500 m².

In German speaking regions, hotels situated in natural hot spring areas are often referred to as Thermenhotels, meaning hot spring resorts. For more information about a hotel’s spa services, however, you are generally recommended to read through the hotel’s brochure. Spa services in hotels are often based on the natural resources of the surrounding thermal region itself. Spas in the States and the UK come in numerous shapes, sizes, focuses and names - from day spas where you can get a single treatment to destination spas where you can stay for a week or more to medical spas that treat cosmetic and chronic health problems. Airport spas are located in an airport and specialize in short treatments, like a 15-minute chair massage or oxygen therapy. And dental spas incorporate spa elements into their dental services. Once again, the name and type of a spa depends on the range of spa services and the medical facilities. According to my thesis a spa resort – or Wellnesshotel in German - is a comfortable, soothing place, where you can rejoice and revitalize, improve overall health and fitness and nourish both your spirit and soul. Spa services range from pampering massage treatments to relaxing soaks and packs, a delicious but healthy spa cuisine, beauty treatments as well as the most varied therapies. A spa, however, will never be able to substitute medical facilities such as hospitals, rehabilitation centres or similar institutions.

This rather recent development towards health and well-being in Western societies is not meant to be limited to temporary experiences such as a vacation. According to the German website, the spa philosophy represents a distinct way or view of life. If intentionally developed and enhanced by new experiences and knowledge, the spa philosophy may well provide the ideal prerequisites for a good and satisfying life. This obviously depends on how much time you are willing or even able to spend on your personal fitness and your ability to handle stress. Self-esteem and a positive relationship with yourself are of major importance, since the spa philosophy asks for a never-ending interest in new ideas, values and the aim of life.

Larger spa resorts with high-quality facilities guarantee well-trained staff and, most of the time, medical or physiotherapeutic assistance for treatments and therapies. In addition to traditional medicine, alternative eastern treatments represent a central element in a spa resort. Numerous treatments, therapies and massage techniques for instance are based on traditional Chinese medicine, so-called TCM. Boasting a more than 3000 years old tradition, TCM is actually based on five fundamental pillars: acupuncture, phytotherapy, nutritional therapy according to the five elements theory, chi kung and energy balancing. Throughout the world, traditional Chinese medicine is known for its holistic attitude in the understanding and curing of disease. One of the major systems of thought within Chinese medicine is the five elements theory. According to TCM, wood, fire, earth, metal and water are the basic substances constituting the entire material world. Each element corresponds to a variety of phenomena. The most common correspondences are listed below.

Only when these elements are in balance with each other is man able to lead a healthy life and maintain his homeostatic balance. But life and its forces may cause the elements to become unbalanced, which can lead to ill health. TCM-based diagnosis, however, may be able to find out which element has become too strong and which one has weakened and thus to re-establish your balance. The dualism of yin and yang is another central aspect of TCM. According to ancient Chinese philosophy, only the harmony between these opposing but complementary forces can promote inner balance. The yin-yang theory is about the distribution of forces, the balance of energy or polarised energy. Yin, the feminine element, is passive, stationary, cold and reflecting, whereas yang, the masculine element, is active, dynamic and warm.

Spa resorts offering TCM diagnosis often provide medical staff which either acquired their skills first-hand in Asia or attended renowned TCM training courses. This is also true for Ayurvedic diagnosis and treatments, recently offered by an increasing number of resorts. Ayurveda is the Indian equivalent to traditional Chinese medicine and, thus, has much in common with TCM. The word Ayurveda comes from Sanskrit and means the science of a long (and healthy) life. The theory of the three doshas is the main principle on which Ayurvedic medicine is based. The doshas - called vatha, pitta, and kapha - determine a person’s body and soul and disease is the result of imbalances between the doshas. Thus, the Ayurvedic practitioner does not much focus on alleviating symptoms within a short period of time but instead adopts a holistic approach and aims to achieve a balance between body, mind and soul. The primary objective of Ayurveda is therefore to follow a healthy way of life and thus to maintain one’s health. Entering the metabolism and thus influencing on all organs of the body, nutrition is of fundamental importance in Ayurvedic medicine. For this reason, numerous herbal and mineral diets are used, depending on which dosha is to be altered. A broad range of treatments including meditation, deep relaxation, breathing and physical exercises, individual oil massage, music or art may be given. Ayurveda, therefore, is about maintaining health rather than curing illness.

An accurate holistic diagnosis - according to Ayurvedic principles - begins with a relaxing and serene conversation between the practitioner and the patient. This is followed by a diagnosis based on the examination of the patient’s pulse and tongue. After studying the patient’s eye colour, language and skin, the practitioner identifies the respective dosha, which provides the basis for the following treatment. It is rather unlikely that traditional medicine recognizes Ayurveda as a valid alternative. The difference between Ayurveda and traditional medicine does not only consist of distinct techniques when it comes to producing a diagnosis; they represent two entirely different philosophies and ideologies. It must be said, though, that the highly efficient Ayurvedic remedies used in phytotherapy have aroused considerable interest even in western medicine.


As mentioned before, spa resorts do not only offer eastern or oriental treatments. In Mediterranean spas especially, thalassotherapy-based treatments are flourishing. The underlying principle of thalassotherapy is to use the healing power of the sea; the word “thalasso” derives from the Greek thàlassa, meaning sea. Thalassotherapy was in fact developed more than 2000 years ago by none other than Greek physician Hippocrates.

Thalassotherapy covers all treatments in combination with sea water, sea salt, seaweed or sand. But due to its versatile characteristics, sea water is able to do more than just stimulate general body functions. Thalassotherapy is known to promote health and beauty, the flow of energy and overall well-being. Including treatments and facilities such as Kneipp therapy, revitalizing soaks, showers and jet massage, thalassotherapy is actually a part of hydrotherapy. Since 75% of the human body is composed of water, it seems evident that this therapy is of particular importance. Water is the element from which all life comes. Floating effortlessly in the water promotes complete relaxation, as if held in your mother’s womb. The therapeutic use of water encompasses baths, showers and jet massage and, above all, benefits from the flexibility of this vital element.

Water, however, can be used in the most different ways. Therapeutic effects result, for example, from alternating temperatures. Used in combination with essential oils or mud, water promotes the body‘s remineralization; buoyancy, for instance, is used in rehabilitation and remedial gymnastics. Many treatments used in hydrotherapy are part of our every day life, such as a revitalizing shower in the morning, a relaxing bath in the evening, or a cooling ice wrap to treat swellings. Therapists and naturopaths often recommend hydrotherapy treatments not only because they are easily administered but also because there are rarely any side effects. Numerous spagoers book a spa vacation because they want to improve their health and above all tone their body. Whether they suffer from Christmas calories or want to fight cellulite - the spa’s beauty salon with numerous specialised treatments such as packs, wraps or masks will sort out any problem. Beauty treatments for instance are often enhanced with comprehensive fitness training and individual diets. Most beauty salons, moreover, focus on specialised facial treatments to fight wrinkles, hold back the aging process and rejuvenate the skin. Makeup industry offers a wide range of applications, crèmes and therapies and often directly cooperates with the resort’s beauty department or salon.

Maria Galland and the Henry Chenot Method are among the branches most frequently encountered in Austria and the German speaking regions.  Despite the saying “true beauty comes from within”, people want that their beauty can also be seen from the outside. Beauty salons generally offer all standard beauty treatments, including packs and wraps to fight cellulite and burn extra calories, peels to rejuvenate your skin, masks, facial cleaning, makeup and hair removal. Only few spa resorts provide plastic surgery, such as liposuction, and medicinal dermatology, such as birthmark removal or laser hair removal. Finally I would like to say that there are many ways to pamper your body and unwind. And a spa resort is the right place to do so. Numerous treatments offered in a spa are European, whereas others originate in Asia. But all of them have on thing in common: They are specifically designed according the elements of the “Seven Pillars of Well-Being”, the essential facets of health, beauty and inner peace, to provide you a holistic and unforgettable spa experience.