How I Learned to Appreciate R&R like a European
As spring begins, I think back fondly to my time in Europe where my husband and I were stationed for over two years. The seasonal shift from the long, cold winter to beautiful spring always promised rolling green hills, roadside markets, and lazy days in the sun. It was here that we learned to embrace the concept of “il dolce far niente”, which in Italian means -- the sweetness of doing nothing.
Around this time last year, I treated my husband to a day at a German wellness spa. He had just come off of a vigorous assignment that weighed heavily on his conscience for over nine months. He was due for some much needed rest and relaxation.
Prior to our visit, we had previously attempted three European spas, each of which ended in the hot pools designed for families. Set in our modest American ways, we sadly couldn’t bring ourselves to enter the hot saunas where bathing suits were not allowed.
We didn’t fully appreciate the health benefits we had missed until one of our friends explained this cultural tradition from a European perspective. He had grown up in Germany as a military brat and spoke the language fluently. As an avid believer in the wellness experience, he insisted we give it a genuine try.
So there we were, several weeks later, sitting nude next to a hundred German strangers. It took quite the pep talk to get us there, but we had finally made it happen. To this day that experience remains one of our fondest memories.
Here’s what we learned …
The concept of a spa dates back to ancient Rome. Originally they were reserved for wealthy men as a place to cleanse and discuss business. Through advancements in technology, they eventually opened up to women and lower class citizens. Over time, they evolved into a social experience where people would meet to relax, talk, and eat. Here they were able to find respite from the physical and emotional demands of daily life.
Fast forward to the 21st century and these wellness spas continue to be scattered throughout Europe. You can find them centrally located in towns or tucked away in mountain huts. Either way, they serve the same purpose: rest and recovery.
In Europe, modern day spas continue to remain an affordable weekend escape from the daily demands of life. They are not luxury items reserved only for country club members, gym pass holders, or vacation splurges. They aren’t tucked away in a gym room locker separated by gender. And they aren’t designed to be a quick fix before or after a workout. Actually, they are the exact opposite.
- The spas are affordable. Patrons vary in age and typically hold seasonal or yearly passes. This encourages frequent return visits.
- Visits are usually enjoyed in half or full day increments giving members ample time to decompress.
- They are adult public access which allow members to enjoy the full experience with their spouse or significant other.
- Sanitation is highly regarded to ensure the cleanest possible air is breathed during the cleanse, ridding the body of excess toxins.
- Throughout the day, members alternate between hot and cold sessions to help force out inflammation.
- The intense heat occupies the mind with the physical strain of the detox, ensuring 100 percent concentration on deep breathing.
- The facility is set up for pure relaxation. Members lounge in the sun, read books, or take naps.
- Socializing over a game of cards or a good meal is an additional bonus.
As someone who had turned health and wellness into a burden that needed to fit into an overbooked schedule, this was truly an eye-opening experience. I now question whether or not the health and wellness ideals we so often hear as Americans are truly realistic and sustainable when combined with our busy lives.
Influenced by this experience, I now strive to allow time for rest and relaxation on the weekends -- without guilt -- even when faced with a never ending to-do list.
I do this by going to the sauna and pool offered at the base near my house for an hour or two. I don’t hit the treadmill, lift weights, or attend any fitness classes. I simply bring a good book and rotate between the pool and sauna. While this isn’t exactly the same experience I had in Germany, it’s close enough.
Sitting in that European spa, I silently watched a time-honored tradition unfold before my very eyes. I learned a valuable lesson that day. If the Europeans can find routine time to embrace the sweetness of doing nothing, then gosh dang it, so can I.