While there’s a good chance you already have a bathing routine, what about a bathing ritual? You may hop in the shower each morning to get clean, fast, but regularly getting in the bathtub simply to relax, be alone and feel the warmth of the water surrounding you can restore your mind, body and soul.
Cultures across the globe have employed the curative power of water for centuries. Unlike the names used to describe its use for restorative purposes today—hydrotherapy, balneotherapy, hydropathy—the basic science behind it is simple: Soaking in warm water triggers the dilation of blood vessels, which in turn relaxes muscles. This physical reaction can ease pain and encourage the body to let go of stress that may be manifesting as tight shoulders, a stiff neck or a sore back. Additionally, taking the time to relax and soothe your body in a tub of warm water can help with the emotional impact of stress, promoting relaxation and encouraging you to take a moment for yourself. No wonder traditional and alternative healers alike recommend warm baths to relieve symptoms associated with a host of issues, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraines, sleep disorders, overexertion and more.
The bath ritual that is most beneficial for you is a very personal thing, but it all starts with carving out the time. Thinking of your bath as a moment to give your mind and body a break adds a sense of importance and weight to what might otherwise be seen as an unnecessary indulgence. Choose the frequency that seems most helpful to you—say, at least weekly—and aim to devote at least 30 minutes to your bath; about half that if you suffer from chronically dry skin, though. Ask family members to respect this (that means no interruptions), and remind yourself that you deserve this gift.
Then, explore ways to help you engage your senses, relax and renew:
Set the mood. It doesn’t matter if your bathroom is palatial or pint-sized, there are plenty of things you can do to evoke tranquility. Clear clutter from countertops, introduce soft natural light or flickering candles and add a touch of nature with flowers or plants. Soothing music is a nice touch, but leave other electronics (such as your phone) on the other side of the bathroom door.
Test the temperature. Ideally, bath water should be close to body temperature or a few degrees above. Overly hot water can dry or even scald skin, and can be a health risk if you’re pregnant or have multiple sclerosis, a heart condition or other disorders. You should be able to comfortably enter and recline in the tub.
Add aromatherapy. Customize your bath with an essential oil or two. Typically, 12 to 16 drops (total) is enough, in whichever combination of oils you choose. To energize and beat fatigue, try grapefruit, ginger, rosemary or peppermint. For stress relief and relaxation, consider chamomile, jasmine, lavender or patchouli.
Quiet your mind. If you’re up to your neck in bathwater but you’re still obsessing over a work project or running a loop of a recent argument, it’s certain that you aren’t getting the relaxation you could if your mind was still. Calm your thoughts by repeating a mantra or affirmation (consider using the phrase “I am present” or “I love myself”), or simply focus on your breathing as you soak.
Pamper yourself. Incorporating often-skipped personal care steps into your bathing ritual is a wonderful way to treat yourself to something special. Take time in the tub to exfoliate rough spots, apply a facial mask, deep condition your hair or simply clean your body from head to toe. Attending to your physical self in these ways can bring about inner benefits, too.
Ease soreness. A bath is often the prescription to soothe a sore body, particularly when you add magnesium sulfate. Better known as Epsom salt, it releases ions into the water that, when absorbed by your skin, help combat inflammation that can contribute to aches and pains. Its minerals are known to soften dry, rough skin and even help ease conditions like eczema and psoriasis. There are other oils that can specifically help with aches and pains, like arnica, ginger, basil, rosemary and ylang ylang.
Finish your bathing ritual with the same level of attentive care you began it with. Pat (don’t rub) yourself with a plush towel and moisturize generously while your skin is still damp to seal in all that beneficial moisture. Take a moment to revel in your relaxed state and appreciate this time.