The healing powers of a warm bath


If your heart sinks upon discovering your hotel room is missing a bathtub, then this story is for you. The ritual of bathing has been a global obsession for millennia. The ancient Greeks soaked in warm seawater. The Romans pioneered the modern-day spa by building temples around natural hot springs. And, in Japan, a hot onsen is the single best place to chill out. The Russians love heating up and then cooling down in steamy saunas, hot tubs and icy plunge pools, followed by sadistic scrubs. Meanwhile, Scandinavians get their blood pumping and skin glowing post-sauna with a brisk roll in the snow or a frosty bath.

Bathing has been immortalised in film by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette to name a few of the sudsiest. You can’t be a bona fide pop princess until you have stripped off and submerged in a music video. Lady Gaga has bathed three times for the cameras (“Marry The Night”, “You and I”, and “Bad Romance”), while Rihanna’s immersion therapy in “Stay” is a lesson in toxic relationship cleansing. The most decadent example is Taylor Swift’s $12 million diamond-filled bath in “Look What You Made Me Do”. But perhaps nothing compares to Cindy Crawford’s steamy cameo in George Michael’s “Freedom”.

The cinematic reasons for getting wet on film are obvious: bare skin, soap bubbles, low light and intense introspection. But the benefits of bathing go much deeper. Along with the obvious cleansing effects, bathing offers a chance to decompress, de-stress and contemplate life from the sanctity of your tub. When cold weather sets in, a warm bath can boost the immune system . And, if you are already suffering from a cold or flu, it can help with decongestion, especially if you add a little oil or light a eucalyptus scented candle. Since digital devices aren’t waterproof (yet), taking the waters offers a chance to disconnect and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Plus, you’ll feel as warm as those people posting their European vacation pics on social media.

Escaping Amalfi spam is reason enough to lock yourself in the bathroom. But you can make bathing a mind and body experience by adding an aromatic bath oil. Soak in silence, listen to a meditation app or choose a bathtime playlist on Spotify (yes, they exist). There are other benefits, too. A half hour bath taken two hours before bed helps trigger production of the sleep hormone melatonin by raising and then lowering your body temperature. There are even bath soaks designed to be sleep-inducing.

When DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) sets in post-workout, a warm bath can soothe aching muscles by blocking the transmission of pain signals to your brain and help speed recovery by boosting circulation. Adding Epsom salts, which are absorbed by your skin, will help reduce inflammation, flush toxins and calm your nervous system.

If you really must multitask, or find yourself blissfully home alone, you could begin with a body scrub in the shower. Lightly pat yourself dry and massage in a body oil before transitioning to the bath. You could even add a moisturising mask for your face or hair and then rinse it off afterwards with a quick cool shower. If you need further motivation to start filling the tub, don’t forget bathing in warm water also helps aid digestion, improves your mood and deepens your sleep. So, brew a pot of herbal tea, grab a book and dive in. As the poet Sylvia Plath once observed, “There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”

Story by Jody Scott
July 2018


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