The dictionary definition of a labyrinth is: “A place constructed of or full of intricate passageways and blind alleys; a maze (as in a garden) formed by paths separated by high hedges; something extremely complex or tortuous.” In the spa setting, however, a labyrinth is the exact opposite, meant to provide a peaceful experience for those seeking mindfulness. Not to be confused with a maze, which is designed to trick someone into losing their way, a spa labyrinth is designed to help people find their way.
Historically, labyrinths have been designed with two intentions. “One is to keep people and things in or out, and to protect natural resources; the second is to foster a contemplative, inward journey,” says Amanda Grant, chief program and partnership officer at CIVANA Wellness Resort and Spa in Carefree, Arizona. “These polarities are a nice analogy for how we move through life.”
Labyrinths date back to ancient times and have been documented in all sorts of places, suggesting that something about it is built into our DNA. “I find it fascinating that labyrinths have been found on all seven continents, with many existing even before there was intercontinental travel, which is mind-blowing. That means that it’s an inherent process of humans to create this,” says Sunny Thompson, owner of Wellspring, a woodland retreat and spa in Ashford, Washington. “It came to many people in very different places, in different ways. Making a symbolic, spiritual circle in some way or another is very primal for humans.”
The well-being benefits of labyrinths are as individualized as the people who use them, but typically the goal is to help a person slow down and become engaged and mindful. “The number one benefit of a labyrinth is being present in your experience, exactly as it is,” says Grant. “It invites us to notice everything we can hear, see, smell, feel and even taste. And that allows us to be more present for ourselves and others.”
Thompson explains that meditation through movement is the primary benefit of these walks. “It’s a way to have quiet time, a way to focus in and listen to your spirit about what’s going on, to focus there, release it and move on, knowing that it’s going to be better,” she says. “Anytime you can have an experience like that, it’s very valuable.” Some labyrinth experiences reported by guests include solving problems, finding a form of healing, and having “aha” moments.
“People really relax; it’s a real clearing for the mind, body and spirit,” adds Kimberly Matthew, mind body instructor at The Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley, Pennsylvania. “It helps them silence their inner noise.”