Bathing as a gentle act of self-care often inspires a meditative state. It’s a chance to retreat from the world and lie back while the water pampers and lulls your body into proper relaxation. With a mindful and mindful approach, a simple bath can be a powerful tool for both physical and spiritual healing. In fact, if you need a little help taking a more mindful approach to bathing, try a simple walk through history and around the world. For centuries, cultures from all corners of the world have each adopted their own unique ways of bathing. And, more often than not, these methods involved deep awareness and intention.
And, to be clear, the idea of bathing can range from a communal social activity with nutrient-rich mineral pools to detoxifying sweat lodges and steam rooms. Although different in execution, all of these practices involve linking the act of physical cleansing to holistic well-being that addresses mind and body alike.
Ahead are some of the most popular and traditional bathing methods, along with tips on how to adapt these practices into your own bathroom.
Ritual bath around the world
Mineral baths and pools
Some of the earliest public baths date back to the 2nd century BC. BC, in ancient Rome. These were meant to be an indulgence for all the senses, experienced in spectacular mosaic buildings and exquisite pools, using herbs, oils and minerals. These bathhouses typically featured a wide variety of rooms with varying water temperatures, pools, and spaces intended simply for relaxation. It was the ultimate cultural center of all social activity. Sometimes people could even spend days at the bathhouse, solving problems over a glass of wine and a feast. While we can only see the ruins of ancient Roman baths today, their splendor is that of the books and that which prompted today’s public baths.
“We view Bathhouse as a fundamentally human oasis,” says New York-based Bathhouse co-founder Jason Goodman. “Community bathing, at least as we do, is a deep, simple, almost primitive experience that connects people to their bodies.” Today, places like Bathhouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn or AIRE Ancient Baths (which has locations in major cities around the world, including New York, London and Barcelona), offer an immersive wellness experience that includes treatments spa and traditional massages. A modern bathhouse will typically include multiple pools with varying water temperatures as well as steam rooms and treatment rooms for specific services.
In Japan, bathing has often been correlated with natural hot springs, or onsen. Japanese culture considers bathing as important as sleeping and eating. And the act itself deserves equally meticulous attention – for example, Japanese tradition requires individuals to enter the bath already clean. A prelude ritual of exfoliation and washing prepares them for a good bath.
The original hot springs date back to the 6th century, when they were only to be enjoyed by emperors. Today, this popular style of bathing is available in outdoor natural hot springs and indoor man-made facilities. Emphasis is placed on the temperature of the water and its mineral composition as well as on the water vapor that evaporates from the baths. Today, this sacred tradition is carried on in establishments such as the Shibui Spa at the Greenwich Hotel in New York. Here, personalized water temperature and botanical rituals are combined with a massage. The goal is a synchronization of body, mind and soul.
Sweat bath and steam bath
For countries prone to colder climates (and some not so much), a sweat lodge has proven to be an effective therapeutic form of cleansing. The heat and steam open the pores and expel toxins from the body through perspiration.
The Russian banya is perhaps the hottest (literally) of them all, offering a truly rejuvenating steam bath. It is basically a wooden sauna with fired stones which are then sprinkled with water to increase the temperature inside and create more steam. Bathers have been known to hit each other with clumps of birch twigs called Venice, to improve their blood circulation. (These are often made with separate branches for different healing purposes.) A felt hat is often worn to protect the head and hair. A final confrontation for bathers is a cold dip in an icy pool, a jump in the snow, or a cool shower. This polar bear act is meant to revitalize the body.
“My two favorite ways to celebrate winter and start a new year are to heat up my body intensively for an extended period of time and then take a cold dip in the ocean or a river,” says Spencer, co-founder by Bathing Culture. Arnold. In fact, the book “The New Mind-Body Science of Depression” by Charles Raison and Vladimir Maletic explores studies that prove that heating and cooling the body can have antidepressant effects.
The Finns are not as extreme as the Russians, but they have a population of around 5 million and around 2 million public and private saunas in the country. It’s bath love. Saunas are part of Finnish life from birth to end, with some women even having saunas in their delivery room. It is a family tradition shared among friends and family and often even in diplomatic acts. (Finnish and Russian politicians have met in sweat lodges more than once.)
But the Middle Eastern way is that of the hammam or Turkish bath, recognized by a domed roof and a unique heating system, where heat is radiated through the floor and walls. It is mainly used as a socializing place, where a bath masseur called a tellak takes care of your relaxation activity. There are no swimming pools. Instead, water flows freely over the marble tubs and steam is generated naturally as the hot water meets the hot stone floor.
And yet another type of sweat lodge is the temazcal, an ancient Mayan sweating ritual that requires willpower through a four-part ceremony performed in Mesoamerica (modern Mexico). Maya village chiefs often understood their differences in the temazcal, sometimes continuing for days as they found peaceful ways to coexist. The ceremony takes place in a small domed igloo with hot coals in the center often infused with herbs, copal and other offerings, says Maricarmen Rojas Corro, head therapist at the Maya Spa at the AZULIK hotel in Tulum. . The process is that of the ego at first, bending the mind to really give in to the uncomfortable temperatures and sweat out its worries. The ritual is accompanied by chanting and breathing led by the shaman. A cold water bath and sweet fruits are used to recover energy and hydrate after the ceremony.
Today, each of these practices is still widely available to the general public, offering a real insight into the medicine of our ancestors and the healing power of steam, breath and water. If you are looking to experience a traditional ceremony, seek out experts whose cultural backgrounds are rooted in tradition to ensure a true understanding of the practice. Offer humble respect to the culture from which the ritual originates and consider its history. Most of these rituals are welcoming to all, as bathing is an activity that we all share on a daily basis as humanity.
How to fit conscious bathing culture into your life
Bathe With intention
Historically, cultures have always focused on intentional bathing, with a clear purpose, sometimes because they didn’t bathe as frequently. Although modern society is blessed with having bathing as a regular activity, try to consider your intention when entering the water, be it a bath or a shower.
“Before setting your intention, tune into your more subtle energies,” says Reiki Master Serena Poon. “You can do this by asking yourself questions like ‘How am I feeling?’, ‘Where am I holding tension?’, ‘What does my body and mind need to thrive? ‘ Once you have an idea of what your body and energy fields need, you can set an intention for your bath – it could be to cleanse and renew or to energize.
Use Natural and sustainable bath products
Many bath essentials on the market include chemical-filled washes, petroleum by-products, unsustainable ingredients like palm oil, and ubiquitous synthetics that bioaccumulate. Traditionally, however, bathing incorporated natural herbal and mineral remedies.
“We ask people to be careful what they use to ensure their bathing doesn’t contribute to environmental degradation,” says Arnold. Try to opt for more natural products and look for formulas with synthetic fragrances as well as palm oil, petroleum and dyes (sorry, neon bath bombs).
Try the Therapeutic Ritual Bath
“We have to remember how to bathe,” explains Rojas Corro. Remember to make the bathing ritual your own by picking the herbs that speak to you. Rojas Corro recommends starting with basil, rosemary and rue. “Its purpose is to cleanse and it will remove negative energies,” she says. Infuse them whole in a bath like a soup (or try them in essential oil form). If you don’t have a tub, consider putting a bowl of boiling water or an oil diffuser in the bathroom while you shower for a true herbal bath experience.
Poon’s recommended ritual includes Himalayan bath salts in the tub surrounded by crystals that speak to you and/or the astrological situation of the world. Use an abalone shell to stain a stick of your choice and create a soothing smoke, or clean yourself up a little water at a time. This repetitive act is like a mantra for the soul, and the elements that accompany it act as its nutrients.
“You have to be very conscious when thanking the water element,” explains Rojas Corro. And while she means it in a spiritual way, it’s also a big thing today with droughts, pollution, and simply a huge percentage of the world without access to clean water. The duration and frequency of showers should be seriously considered and opt for baths when possible, as this is a chance to better regulate the amount of water used. Plus, when the opportunity arises, take a dip in the river, hot spring, cenote, or whatever your nearest (and cleanest) water source is to truly appreciate the wonder of this element that is a true healer.