This is the season we crave silence and peace more than ever . . . and here’s some hope that goes back to the very foundation of spa. This past September, I sat down with Jeremy McCarthy, group director of spa and wellness at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, to talk about quiet—one of the fundamentals of spa.
How important is silence in the spa world?
Over half of the world’s population is now living in urban areas where silence is scarce. Spas provide a unique space where people can come to experience the new luxuries of modern urban living: respite from technology, human touch, and silence.
What forms of silence do you offer— i.e., treatments, workshops, or dinners?
Our spas encourage people to participate in longer spa experiences (our two- and three-hour Time Rituals, for example, are some of our most popular treatments). We feel that taking time to move slowly through your spa journey is an important part of the experience and a much-needed change from the high-paced productivity of modern life.
Last year, we introduced a new promotion for the holiday season called Silent Night, in which we invite people to come into the spa and experience treatments in silence. On this evening, we do not play music in the spa and the guest receives their consultation prior to entering the facilities. Once they are inside the spa, the therapists will not ask them any questions, nor will they try to recommend them anything during their treatment. It is a chance for guests to use their time in the spa for quiet contemplation and reflection.
A lot of the benefits of a spa experience come from taking time for yourself in silence, away from technology, and in the hands of a nurturing and compassionate healer.
When did you begin to explore the concept of silence, and why?
Several years ago, I went back to school to get my Masters of Applied Positive Psychology and I did my thesis on The Psychology of Spas & Wellbeing, which I’ve since published as a book. Through studying the true impact of spa experiences on the mind, I found that even in the holistic spa world, we tend to overvalue the physical aspects of the experience. Most spas market themselves around the scope of their facilities, the techniques of their therapists, and the ingredients of their products. My research indicates that a lot of the benefits of a spa experience come from taking time for yourself in silence, away from technology, and in the hands of a nurturing and compassionate healer.
How can we bring more awareness to the benefits and joys of silence in the 24/7 world we inhabit?
Thanks to our mobile devices, we are living in the first era in human history where people can be productive every waking minute of every day. There is no more forced downtime. For this reason, it is important that we intentionally set aside unproductive time to allow our minds to rest, recover, and process the non-stop streams of information we are absorbing through our devices. In short, we need to practice the lost art of sitting and doing nothing. Meditation is one way, but many people are intimidated by meditation or have struggled in their initial attempts at it. I recommend simply scheduling time for unproductive rest or practicing a “slow” hobby such as coloring, kite flying, or cooking.
Any words of advice for people looking for silent retreats and experiences?
A recent research study found that people would rather experience painful electric shocks than sit in a room and do nothing for 15 minutes. It is human nature to want to be productive, and once you are used to a frenetic urban lifestyle it can be very difficult to try and slow down. The nice thing about a retreat is it forces you to struggle through these uncomfortable moments and find what is there on the other side. People should be prepared to bring an open mind, a strong determination, and a lot of patience. For those who are able to overcome the initiation, it can be a life-changing experience.
Do you have any silent practices you would like to share with us?
I practice a meditation with my children that I call “just be a parent.” First thing in the morning, when my kids are up, I try to spend the first moments of my day just sitting and completely focused on my kids. Sometimes this means playing a game with them, or having a conversation. But sometimes, it is simply sitting quietly and watching them do whatever they are doing. It is a great way to start my day (and theirs) with calm and love.