National Geographic Traveler
All travel, All the time

Africa/Middle East
North America
South/Central America
Wellness Glossary
WorldWise Trivia Quiz

Photo: Marula fruit as a headdress

Test your geography IQ with our interactive quiz.
» Play Now

Guatemala Photo Gallery

Photo: Guatemala

View photos that reveal the soul of Guatemala along back roads and in small villages.
» Click Here

Denver Guide

Photo: Rockmount Ranch Wear, Denver

Plan a trip to this Rocky Mountain metropolis with our guide to blogs, magazines, books, and more.
» Click Here

51 Ways to Cut Vacation Costs

Photo: Los Angeles International Airport

Don't get caught in a tourist money trap. Learn how to avoid hidden charges, and get expert money-saving tips.
» Click Here

The Little Book of Travel Wisdom

Photo: plane taking off

Don't leave home without these essential tips, resources, and websites.
» Read More


Wellness Glossary
Text by Genevieve Contey

Traditional Chinese method of applying pressure and massage to specific "energy points" on the body to relieve tension.

Stimulation of specific "energy points" on the body by the insertion of small, fine needles. Acupuncture is an alternative treatment commonly used to relieve pain.

Alpine wellness
Also known as mountain wellness. This is the participation in outdoor activities in mountain areas as a way to promote harmony with nature and an overall feeling of well-being. Alpine wellness often includes spa treatments at popular mountain resorts like in Switzerland and Austria.

The use of various fragrant plant-based oils in massages, facials, wraps, and/or bath soaks to stimulate the senses and provide therapeutic healing for specific ailments.

In Sanskrit, means "the science of life." Ayurveda is a 4,000-year-old system of traditional Indian medicine based on the belief that the body is comprised of five basic elements: air, water, fire, space, and earth. Ayurveda balances these elements through the combination of massage, essential oils, herbs, and meditation. In Kerala, India—renowned for its ayurvedic centers (shalas)—ayurveda is the region's official state-supported system of healthcare.

Balinese massage
Rooted in the healing traditions of Bali, Indonesia, this type of massage uses kneading and rolling actions followed by an application of spiced coconut oil.

Buddhist (Zen) meditation
A type of meditation in which practitioners remain completely aware in the present moment in order to free themselves of the anxieties and worries produced by the active and/or distracted mind.

Casino spa
The newest type of spa, found in major casino hotels.

Craniosacral therapy
A specialized technique of applying gentle pressure to cranial bones of the skull to relieve headaches, sinus pain, back pain, and other related ailments.

Day spa
Offers professional services and signature treatments provided by licensed aestheticians and therapists, which usually include massage, body and face treatments, professional spa products, and nutritional/weight counseling. Does not usually include accommodations.

Back to Top

Destination spa
A general term for resort spa or wellness center that visitors travel to and attend for an extended period of time.

A popular spa service, this treatment is meant to rejuvenate facial skin through cleansing, toning, exfoliation of dead cells, and massage of facial muscles.

The Italian word for "mud." Fango mud masks, baths, and body packs are made from mineral-rich Italian mud thought to detoxify the skin and reinvigorate muscles.

Hatha yoga The most common branch of yoga practiced in the United States. Hatha is derived from the Sanskrit words for sun (Ha) and moon (tha), which suggests the goals of balance and harmony between opposites. There are many subtypes of Hatha yoga, such as Ashtanga Vinyasa, Kripalu, Bikram, Iyengar, and Sivananda, which are based on the teachings of influential yogi (yoga masters).

Holistic medicine
From "holistic," meaning "whole". An alternative form of medicine that seeks to balance the close connections between mind and body.

The use of water to achieve therapeutic benefit and relaxation. Hydrotherapy can include jet massages, steam baths, mineral springs, seawater soaks (see Thalassotherapy), and various types of shower experiences.

Kneipp treatments/ Kneippism
Named for Father Sebastian Kneipp, a 19th-century German priest who pioneered the use of alternating hot and cold baths to cure various illnesses such as tuberculosis and cholera. Kneipp treatments ( are based on the use of plant and herb extracts, brisk exercise, and a moderate but healthy diet.  Bad Woerishofen, in Bavaria, is the site of Kneipp's original health clinic and a popular Kur town. See also Kur.

Kur/"the kur"
The German term for "cure" and/or "Taking the Waters." German Kur towns, such as Bad Woerishofen, Baden-Baden, and Bad Toelz, have centralized medical spas that are similar to American-style day spas.

Liquid sound
A new form of hydrotherapy, popular in a number of German bath spas, which incorporates the use of music and laser lights.

Lomi-Lomi massage
A traditional Hawaiian method derived from the ancient Polynesians that incorporates long, continuous massage strokes. Traditional Hawaiian prayers and healing rituals are often part of the experience.

Back to Top

Lymphatic drainage massage Gentle, wave-like massage of the face and neck that promotes drainage of toxins and waste from the body's intricate lymph system.

Applications of various clays, creams, or algae gels that are allowed to set on the face and then peeled off. Masks rejuvenate the skin by clarifying the pores, evening skin tone, and providing moisture. Clay masks from Mexico and mineral-rich muds from the Dead Sea are especially popular.

Medical tourist
Also referred to as health tourist. Medical tourists travel distances, often abroad, to access affordable medical services, such as physical exams, dental work, cosmetic surgery, and general surgical procedures like heart bypass or joint replacement. Popular medical tourism hubs include Singapore, India, Thailand, Mexico, and Central/Southern America.

A hybrid between a day spa and medical office. A medi-spa can operate within a doctor's office or it might employ the services of specialized physicians such as dermatologists, cosmetic surgeons, dentists, and chiropractors.

A popular meditation method based on Buddhist principles and developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Mindfulness is a state of compassionate, non-judgmental awareness of the moment.

Mineral springs spa
A spa with onsite access to mineral-rich hot and cold springs or seawater for therapeutic soaking or drinking. Mineral springs spas are popular wellness destinations in California, Mexico, the Pacific Northwest, Japan, and Europe.

A Japanese hot spring. Onsen are found all over Japan due to the geologic activity of the country's volcanoes. The onsen bathing ritual at many inns and resorts is an elaborate yet popular cultural activity among Japanese.

Qi Gong Energy massage
A Chinese holistic healing method that combines deep tissue massage with shiatsu, reflexology, and craniosacral therapy to relieve tense muscles, stimulate organs, and relax the mind.

Applications of kaolin, clay, fruit enzymes, or alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) to exfoliate dead skin cells and unclog hair follicles and pores. Regular peels are said to reduce the signs of aging.

Pregnancy massage
A special Swedish massage or acupressure treatment administered to a pregnant woman as she rests on her side.

Back to Top

An ancient healing method in which specific organs in the body are stimulated by applying pressure to corresponding reflex points in the feet and ankles.

In Japanese, it means "universal life energy." Practiced around the world, Reiki is a hands-on alternative healing technique that involves the exchange of energy between practitioner and patient to restore mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual balance.

Resort/hotel spa The fastest growing segment of the hospitality industry, this type of spa can be found at upscale hotels and resorts. These spas offer guests spa services and products in addition to regular hotel amenities, including healthy "spa cuisine."

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, "a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director." Popular retreats include yoga, meditation, spiritual, fasting (weight loss), and healing programs.

Seaweed body wrap The application of paste made from seaweed powder. Vitamins and minerals found in this paste help fend off aging and reduce skin bloating and puffiness.

Shiatsu massage
A Japanese form of rigorous massage that uses fingers to apply acupressure to points along the body's energy pathways (meridians) in order to stimulate physical relaxation and reduce stress.

An ayurvedic treatment in which a soothing hot oil is dripped onto the forehead and other energy (chakra) points of the head and neck to induce relaxation and mental clarity.

Signature treatment
A popular treatment or specialty service that might distinguish a spa from its competitor. A signature treatment commonly uses locally available indigenous ingredients or traditions.

According to the International Spa Association, a spa facilitates "overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body, and spirit."  Types of spas include: club spas, day spas, destination spas, medi-spas, and resort/hotel spas.

Spa, Belgium
The thermal springs in this town were thought by the Romans to have curative powers. Spa is the disputed origin for the modern use of the word "spa." Its reputation as a spa town dates back to the 14th century.

Back to Top

Stone massage
The placement of heated flat, smooth stones on different muscles of the body to relieve tension and promote relaxation.

Sweat lodge
A Native North and Central American ceremonial sauna that uses heat and steam for healing and purifying the body and spirit. Sweat lodges can be found at many spa and wellness resorts, particularly in the Southwestern United States and Mexico, where they are known as temazcales.

Swedish massage
A popular massage method that uses tapping, rolling, and vibration massage techniques with a soothing massage oil to relieve tension and improve circulation.

Swiss shower
An alternating hot and cold shower that uses multiple shower jets to simulate massage, usually following a skin treatment or table massage.

Tai Chi
A Chinese martial art that features slow, rhythmic movements, deep breathing, and concentration to condition the body and clarify the mind.

Taking the waters
The centuries-old act of bathing, soaking, or ingesting mineral-rich spring or seawater to cure a broad range of ailments, such as arthritis, rheumatism, and various aches and pains. See also Kur.

Thai massage
An ancient method of massage from Thailand that involves a combination of yoga-like stretching, rocking, and acupressure applied to the body over loose-fitting clothing. Wat Pho, a historic temple complex in Bangkok's Old City quarter, and the northern city of Chiang Mai are home to massage schools.

From the Greek word "thalassos" meaning "sea." This treatment, which originated in 19th-century coastal France and is popular in European spas, can include seawater soaks, seaweed wraps, mud applications, and inhalation of sea mist or fog.

Back to Top

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
An ancient system of medicine estimated to date back to the third century B.C. TCM doctors often prescribe herb and mineral combinations to harmonize the body's five basic "elements": fire, wood, earth, metal, and water.

Vichy shower
Named for the French spa town of Vichy, this is a shower taken lying down on a table as water jets provide a hydromassage from above and below.

A wellness experience coined in Bordeaux, France, this treatment is based on the perceived health and anti-aging benefits of wine and grape extracts. Vinotherapy, in the form of wine-based soaks, wraps, and cuisine, can be found at vineyards across Europe and the United States.

A warm underwater massage (Japanese Shiatsu) that applies acupressure to points along the body's energy pathways (meridians) in order to stimulate deep relaxation and reduce stress.

A broad term that stands for a general state of good health and mental, physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being.

Wellness center
A one-stop shop for spa, wellness, and medical services. Wellness centers aim to nourish the body, mind, and spirit. The Chopra Center, Canyon Ranch, Pritikin Longevity Center, and Miraval Resort & Spa are all examples of wellness centers.

Rooted in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga uses various poses (asanas), breathing techniques, and meditation to achieve improved circulation, muscle tone, and spiritual/psychological well-being. There are six main branches of yoga: Hatha, Bhakti, Jnana, Karma, Raja, and Tantra. Yoga retreats and resorts can be found all over the world.

Back to Top

E-mail a Friend

Traveler Subscription Offer
Our Picks

Center for Sustainable Destinations

Learn how to preserve the authenticity of the places you love.

» Click Here

National Geographic Traveler Places of a Lifetime
Our guides lead you to the best in ten world-class cities with photo galleries, walking tours, and what to know before you go.

» Click Here

The National Geographic Traveler Reader Panel

Are you a real traveler? Someone who cares about authenticity? Who has a point of view about where we should travel—and how? Then tell us what you think and be eligible to win a trip to almost anywhere in the United States.

» Click Here