Many people are rethinking their cleansing rituals. During the pandemic, freed from office arrival times some learned the joy of living in the moment, embracing a newly found respite in cleansing rituals that soothe the skin and soul. They tried something new. Others admittedly found little time for personal hygiene while tending to family, job demands, and health worries. Whether you let go of or clung to your routines we all need self-care and for many that takes place in the bathroom.
The simple acts of washing your face, disrobing, and bathing in a shower or tub allows for intimacy with one’s own body. You get to choose the water temperature, whether to exfoliate your skin with a loofah, or infuse your bath with essential oils. Soothing your skin and soul through cleansing rituals is a centuries old practice. But unlike the privacy of one’s bathroom there are communal traditions that may be just what you need after isolating for nearly two years. Consider visiting a bath house.
In ancient times the Greek and Roman baths were a communal experience. During the time of Homer bathing in cold water was followed by a warm bath. Later in the Hellenic period warm baths were followed by a cold soak. Either way this soak and sweat approach to cleansing and revitalizing has historic roots and benefits for your skin. In many countries today bath houses serve not only as wellness and beauty respites but also a way to connect with community.
In Turkey, bath house services vary but traditional Turkish baths include a sweat area to open the skin pores, a body scrub with a cloth (kese), followed by a soapy wash and a massage. You can wear underwear, a bathing suit or wrap your private parts with a peshtemal, a tiny towel. The pools are separated by gender. While your body returns to a normal temperature after soaking in the hot or cold pools, visitors are offered a sherbet or tea. A good reminder to hydrate.
In Morocco the hammams are customarily visited weekly by locals for cleansing, relaxing, socializing and as an Islamic spiritual ritual that purifies the body before prayers and reflection. They use black olive-oil soap with a loofah during the body scrub. Intense scrubbing sheds a layer of skin, removes any dirt, and de-stresses the body. Buckets of water are poured on your body for rinsing. Visitors are usually offered disposable underwear and flip-flops.
The Korea bath houses are called jjimjilbangs. Culturally they are a place of respite that include hot and cold pools, saunas, massage areas and communal sleeping rooms. Locals visit the bath house as part of their weekly wellness and beauty routine. The bath houses are gender segregated in the wet rooms (pools) because visitors are naked. In the dry rooms (saunas and communal rooms) men and women mix while wearing pajama like clothes.
Integral to Russian culture are the banyas, bath houses containing steam rooms with wooden benches, washing rooms that hold rock chambers where buckets of water are poured over the heated rocks to create steam to protect and condition the skin. Leafy branches are sometimes used for swatting the body to increase circulation. After sweating, one is encouraged to go outside and lay in the snow.
In Japan the bath houses are called sentos. In modern sentos, the visitor may experience herbal baths, electrical pulse baths, and black spring water baths. Bring your soap, shampoo and a small towel or purchase items there. Visitors get naked, rinse off with a bucket, and head to the communal soaking pools.
Many urban bath houses exist in the U.S. They are built on these cultural traditions of cleansing and wellness. The Aire Ancient Baths in Chicago is one, styled on the traditions of the Ottoman, Greek and Roman cultures. Also available to the adventurous nature lover are the naturally fed hot mineral water springs located mostly in U.S. western states. Free to enjoy is Penny Hot Springs located on the Crystal River just past Carbondale, Colorado about forty-five minutes from Aspen. You can soak in the hot springs then step into the river’s cold water or vice versa. While the mineral water soothes the skin the snow-capped mountains and canyons that surround the Springs inspire the soul.
So, if you’ve gotten bored with your cleansing rituals venture to a bath house for a communal experience that will refresh and revitalize your skin, connect you with community, and inspire your soul.
(photo Courtesy: Aire Ancient Baths, Chicago)