Hot Baths Rejuvenate Body and Mind
by Marlaina Donato
Down to our very cells, water is the foundation of life. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, bathing in hot mineral springs and cool saltwater was a common ritual for better health, and spaces dedicated to baths were considered sacred. Stepping into a warm tub harkens back to the safety of the womb while offering abundant health benefits. Opting for a bath instead of a shower can not only help minimize headaches, insomnia, menstrual cramps, depression and chronic pain, but soothe a burnt-out nervous system. It can also enliven stagnant blood and lymphatic fluids, enabling metabolic waste to be carried out of the body through perspiration.
“Hydrotherapy is used in many natural health systems for a wide variety of ailments from inflammation to nervous system dysfunction and skin conditions. Whether you have access to a bathtub or not, there are many ways you can apply these traditional practices to your own self-care routine,” says Marlene Adelmann, herbalist and founder of the Herbal Academy, in Bedford, Massachusetts.
Whether we step into a full-body tub or a foot basin, water is a balm for the modern spirit bogged down by information overload and world events. “Taking time away in the sanctuary of warm water allows us to slip into a different state of mind and to release the energetic armor we defend ourselves with, as well as recuperate and heal internally,” says Kiva Rose Hardin, herbalist and co-editor of Plant Healer magazine, in New Mexico.
Insulin Sensitivity, Pain and Depression
A good bath can lower chronic systemic inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. It can also impact how the body uses insulin. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology shows that immersion in hot water counters low-grade inflammation and increases glucose metabolism in individuals unable to exercise.
Hot baths relax muscles by promoting blood circulation through the tissues and prompting the nervous system into a calming parasympathetic mode. Cold-water soaks—preferably in the morning—provide perks that include boosting immunity and increasing depression-zapping endorphins such as dopamine.
A Handful of Nature
The skin is our largest organ, and what we put into the bath affects us from the outside-in. Bentonite clay for detoxing and Dead Sea salts for pain are great choices. Studies going back to the 1990s show significant, lasting effects of Dead Sea salts on those with osteoarthritis of the knee, as well as rheumatoid arthritis.
Fortifying the bath with Epsom salts, evaporated sea salt or Himalayan pink salt is highly beneficial. “Himalayan salt has 84 valuable trace minerals, including potassium, magnesium and sodium. It draws out toxins, cleanses the skin and helps cleanse the body energetically,” says Hellen Yuan, founder of the bath product company Hellen, in Brooklyn.
Adding bundles of fresh or dried herbs or snipping them into sachets can strengthen immune response and provide a welcome antidote to work-related stress. “Aromatic herbs and essential oils are inhaled through our olfactory system and make a beeline to our brains, signaling that it’s time to relax or feel energized,” says Adelmann, who emphasizes practical common sense. “Although flowers and leaves floating in the tub make for lovely social media posts, most household plumbing cannot handle big, bulky plant material. The simplest way to add herbs to a bath is by making a super-concentrated tea.” Hardin concurs, recommending fresh or dried lavender, flowering goldenrod tops, holy basil leaves (tulsi, Ocimum tenuiflorum) or calendula blossoms.
Baths are good medicine for both genders. “Men carry so much stress in their bodies and typically hold in a lot of tension. A good bath brew eases the muscles and replenishes the mind and soul,” says Yuan.
Bathing can be the ultimate sacred offering to the body. From her wood-fired outdoor tub at the edge of a starlit mesa, Hardin advises, “Efforts need not be expensive or time-consuming. Just focused intent will inherently return a sufficient degree of sensuality, magic and beauty to the bath.”
Marlaina Donato is the author of Multidimensional Aromatherapy. Connect at AutumnEmbersMusic.com.