If Spa is in the business of promoting health, is the philosophy of epicureanism the right way to go about dealing with alcoholic beverages? The opposite extreme is teetotalism and for many in the spa world, this is the vision of health that is preferred. But not all spas are on the same wavelength. Take for instance this spa in Maui who now boasts a beer soak bath, complete with oats, hops and barley in addition to actual beer products to enhance the aroma. As someone who loves a good soak the idea is more appealing than the reality I envision as the therapist who would have to clean out the hydrotherapy tub!
And here is another spas version of the epicurean philosophy designed to attract men to the spa. Calling the mens event Beer and a Buzz, buckets of beer free to sample were offered to male clients while services such as eyebrow waxing, hair cuts and trims were offered alongside the beer. It sounds as if this idea was being tried in a rural community and while it may get people in the door, and in some respects contribute to the awareness amongst men of the working classes that not all spas are for prostitutes and sissies, where should spas draw the line when it comes to potentially addictive substances like alcohol?
Epicurus believed that pleasure is the greatest good. But the way to attain pleasure was to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one’s desires. This led one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear, as well as absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism, insofar as it declares pleasure as the sole intrinsic good, its conception of absence of pain as the greatest pleasure and its advocacy of a simple life make it different from “hedonism” as it is commonly understood. Additionally, epicureanism is a very materialist philosophy and many underlying spa philosophies that some treatments are predicated on may find this emphasis on the material to be burdensome, if not a subversive Marxist influence from a Hegelian standpoint, which in fact is the pot calling the kettle black but the distinction is a relevant one. But there is again the emphasis on moderation in the Epicurean view.
Numerous idioms and slang terms imply abstinence from alcohol. A common American term is “on the (water) wagon” as well as the terms “dry” and “sober”. “Straight edge” is a newer idiom for abstaining from alcohol and other intoxicants, referring to a sub-culture derived from hardcore punk that promotes abstinence from alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. Also SHARPS or skinheads against racial prejudice fall into this category I believe. “Temperance” was a more popular term in the 19th century and early 20th century when temperance unions throughout the US battled consumption of alcoholic beverages but more contemporary usage has expanded this definition to include abstinence from all recreational intoxicants legal and illegal. Hence, the connection between abstinence, spas and health.
My own background is in hospitality so the philosophy of Epicurus is known to me and one I have practiced as a massage therapist in resort and convention spas. When dealing with tourists, who often only visit a resort spa once a year or less, spa is removed from it’s foundation in health and elevated to a level of hedonism that often involves a glass or two of an intoxicant. Fortunately, I have never had to turn down a guest for massage because they were inebriated. But I don’t doubt that some therapists have had to wade into these waters! But as a smoker, I have encountered one person who really went overboard in telling me off because of it. I remain surprised that they did not let a curse word slip so vehement was their position.
In my experience, the number of spas that are strictly devoted to the teetotaler point of view are actually not as prevalent as those who practice an epicurean view but wellness vacations are becoming more common in the new age of tourism. Diversity of this kind is something desirable in my opinion and I hope that spa goers see it the same way and feel free to make a choice about what kind of spa to visit at different times. Spas diversity is one of its strongest elements and one of it’s greatest strengths. Lets try and keep it that way.