Bathing — it’s one of those things that most of us do every day. It’s such an ingrained part of our routine that we don’t really think about it too much. But there are many advantages to a nice, warm bath — and some of them might surprise you.
Bathing Traditions Around the World
Before we get into why baths are so amazing, let’s look at how a few different cultures around the world have shaped their bathing rituals.
Finland is the homeland of the sauna, and these sweat baths are so central to Finnish life that almost every citizen takes at least one a week. In the sauna, you start by warming up and breaking into a sweat while inhaling birch vapor and brushing the body with birch branches to increase both circulation and perspiration. After 8-10 minutes, the bather jumps into a nearby frigid lake, rolls in the snow, or simply takes a shower.
In Turkey, bathing is a quasi-religious ritual used to purify both the body and the soul. The architecture of a hamam (Turkish bath) is often ornate, underscoring a feeling of sanctity and meditation. Bathers in the hamam go through a five-step cleansing process: the warming of the body (to relax and loosen up), an exceptionally vigorous massage, a hearty scrub, a soapy wash and rinse, and a cool down/relaxation to wrap up. Hamams are separated by sex and feature a steam room, a warm room to bathe in, and a cool room to rest in.
In Russia, the steamy banya is a social affair — loud, boisterous, and meant for long philosophical discussions. Felt hats soaked in cold water protect patrons from the heat, while beatings with birch switches stimulate the sweat glands. After they’re done steaming, they finish up with a nice long shower, some vodka, and even a little snack.
Locals of all classes will meet at the Japanese sentō/onsen to strengthen friendships and family bonds. Bathers start by sitting on a small wooden stool and scrubbing themselves with soap and water to rinse away the dirt. Then they immerse themselves in a series of hot pools. The ritual is treated as leisurely and meditative — no splashing or excessive noisiness is allowed.
Whereas Japanese bath houses are famous for their solemnity and simplicity, Korea’s bath houses (traditional mogyoktang or modern jimjilbang) are both casual and social. Visitors are encouraged to roam through a variety of rooms, including steam rooms, ice rooms, jade rooms, saunas, and herbal pools. Eating and mingling are also highly encouraged.
As you can see, heat is a huge part of most bathing rituals around the world — and it turns out their might be a good reason for that …
Warm Water and Our Health
Did you know that luxuriating in a warm bath actually has health benefits? Let’s take a closer look:
A study from the University of Oregon found that passive heating can improve cardiovascular function. By taking regular hot baths (four to five per week), a person can lower their blood pressure. Warm baths make our hearts beat faster, improves our circulation, makes the blood less viscous, and makes our blood vessels function better. The warm water also makes our blood more oxygenated by allowing us to breathe deeper and slower
A 2002 University of Wolverhampton study found that a warm bath at the end of the day significantly improved the mood of the participants. Researchers believed this was due to a combination of isolation, warmth, comfort, and — strangely enough — body positioning. As it turns out, our brains associate horizontal body positions with both vulnerability and relaxation. This is especially true in a bath, as it mimics the warm, fluid conditions of the womb.
Finally, a hot bath before bed is a good way to ensure that you fall asleep with more ease. A drop in body temperature at night signals our brains to start producing melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone). Although our bodies naturally get colder at night, we can spur them on by heating up in a warm bath and then cooling down before slipping into bed.
Additions to Our Baths and Their Benefits
Adding a little something to the water is a great way to both jazz up bath time and increase the benefits to bathing. Some things you might mix in include:
- Epsom salts: Good for soothing your skin and reducing muscle-related aches and pains.
- Baking soda: Baking soda has a number of health benefits, including relieving the symptoms of yeast infections, reducing eczema flare-ups, and soothing irritation related to poison oak, ivy, or sumac.
- Colloidal oatmeal: Helps hold in moisture and ease inflammation.
- Essential oils: Certain essential oils can help hydrate and heal dry or irritated skin. Furthermore, aromatherapy is great for reducing stress. Just make sure you’re adding them to your bath correctly as essential oils are extremely potent and won’t simply mix into the water without carrier oil. The best practice is to mix some into carrier oil and slather on your body before going into the bath.
Whether you decide to dress your bath with essential oils, use fancy bath bombs, toss in some epsom salts, or go au naturale, turning bath time into a healing ritual can make it a truly magical experience. Sliding into a tub of warm water, clearing your mind, and just letting the calm wash over you is a fantastic exercise for both the mind and body.
What’s your favorite bathing ritual?
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