• Riah Writes

Bathing around the world: Self-care bath and shower rituals for your wellness

I’ve been very careful in my articles and social media content to highlight that taking care of our wellness should be a holistic job. Something that starts from the inside out, rather than a superficial surface-level ‘treat’ we do once in a while. In the process, I’ve used baths as a go-to example of how the wellness industry commodified baths as a self-care quick fix.

On my Instagram ‘retreat’ story series I’ve highlighted methods to: check-in on your wellness at the end of the week with a ‘wellness wheel’, breathing exercises, and self-care Sunday ‘reset’ routines. I’ve started out by saying “self-care is more than baths”, but maybe I’ve miscommunicated how great they are. I want to appreciate what they can do, but think we could take it a step further:

What if we could elevate our bath (and shower) routines to integrate mindful wellness?

How to elevate your bath and shower routine to become a holistic wellness experience in two steps:

1. ‘Use your bath/shower time for mindful ‘thought cleansing’ and idea generation:

Ever wonder why some of your best ideas seem to come out of the blue (while you're in the shower, for example)? Creativity is actually a distinct process triggered by a few key factors even though it seems pretty ambiguous and intangible.

The basic formula is our brains need to generate the best ideas are:

When we get a dopamine release in our brains. Triggers like exercising, listening to music, and, yes, taking a warm shower or bath, contribute to increased dopamine flow.

When we're relaxed. When we have a relaxed state of mind, we're more likely to turn attention inwards, able to make insightful connections. For example, being sleepy or drunk are some states that elicit for creativity (not promoting alcoholism by the way, just noted it as a recurring observation in the research!)

When we're distracted from life pressures. Distraction gives our brains a break so our subconscious can work on a problem more creatively.

A bath or shower is the perfect blend of all three factors.

So, if we can make our rituals more mindful it can be transformative for generating new creative ideas, problem-solving or reflecting on thoughts and feelings we may be neglecting.

2. Set an intention

Honour the fact that you can make the most out of this cleansing time no matter how long you have, and that it doesn’t have to be yet another ‘task’ in your day. The best way to do this is to set an intention for your bathing time like:

“I’m washing away a hard day/week, and tomorrow will be a fresh start”

“I’m giving myself a work-free moment”

“This will be child-free time I’ve been missing out on because of the demands of parenting”

In ancient Indian bathing rituals, chanting played an important element. Bathing has a strong role in Yoga and ancient rules establish that no asana (body posture) should be performed before bathing. It was advised that during the bath, one should pay attention to the breath, being mindfully present and chant.

If chanting doesn’t appeal (not sure if I’m quite there yet!), I think keeping an intention or affirmation in mind is easy to take into everyday routines and can transform your baths and showers into something more beneficial for your overall wellness.

Beautiful ancient bathing rituals from around the world we can use today:

Royal African baths like Queen Cleopatra

It’s widely known that Cleopatra’s “milk and honey” baths kept her skin looking beautiful and radiant. This makes sense because milk contains lactic acid, which is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). AHAs have been used in the skincare industry for years as they penetrate the top layers of the skin to remove dead skin cells. This exfoliation stimulates the skin and helps to regenerate healthy cells. Honey is a natural antibacterial that helps prevent any breakouts or skin irritation. Honey also contains high levels of antioxidants, which help to repair your skin and to protect it against oxidative and environmental damage.

There are also great bathing rituals from West Africa including African Black Soap (I get mine from Ghana in batches whenever family visit, but it can be ordered online too). Traditional black soap is typically a mixture of water and the ashes of plantain skins, cocoa pod powder, and palm oil. Other recipe blends can include the ashes of palm leaves or shea tree bark, and a combination of palm oil, coconut oil, shea butter, or tropical honey.

It is amazing for clearing acne, hyperpigmentation and fine lines.

African black soap followed by natural Shea Butter is a match made in heaven. I’d also like to highlight a bathing tool said to originate from West Africa I’ve been using daily for many years. ‘Sapor’ goes by a variety of names such as African Bath Net, Shower Loofah, Lava Ponge and body scrub to name a few. It is a super durable, high quality, machine washable, exfoliating bath sponge that has been used in western Africa for decades and does an amazing job at exfoliating far better than your average Loofah.

How to integrate it into your bath/shower routine:

If you’re Vegan like me, or don’t fancy putting milk into your bath, a great alternative to is raw Oats to give a milky effect. Oatmeal contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory and moisture-retaining properties and has been widely recommended by dermatologists throughout the years as a natural remedy to dry skin and conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.

Scroll to the bottom of the article for a FREE bath/shower recipe guide of how to make the perfect Oat mix for your bath routine.

Turkish and Moroccan hammam baths

Hammam, meaning “the spreader of warmth”.

Hammams are bathhouses primarily found in Turkey and Morocco. Traditional hammams contained three chambers: a hot room to steam, a warm room to scrub, and a cooler room to relax. In some hammams, you get scrubbed down in the stream room rather than it being in a separate chamber.

Although we think of bathing as a private activity, the public bath, or hammam, was a vital social institution in any Middle Eastern city for centuries before the start of modern plumbing. Hammams played a central role in promoting hygiene and public health, but they also served as meeting places where people could relax and socialize.

How to integrate it into your bath/shower routine:

When I’ve had hammam baths whilst travelling to Turkey and Morocco, my favourite part is always having a wrap and exfoliating scrub. To recreate this at home I have created a body mask recipe here available for free download. I also bought exfoliating gloves from the last Hammam spa I visited in Morocco and plenty alternatives are available online that mimic that experience.

Scroll to the bottom of the article for a FREE bath/shower recipe guide of how to make the best coffee grind sugar body scrub that makes you smell like a Vanilla Cinnamon treat.

Japanese Onsen bathing rituals

There are two types of Japanese baths: public bathhouses (sento) and hot-spring baths (onsen). The difference is in how the water is heated. Unlike Western bathroom suites, where all hygienic fixtures are contained in a single room, the Japanese bath is constructed solely for the task of cleansing and refreshing the body. Its main feature is a deep tub, traditionally made of fragrant Hinoki cypress wood, though more modern materials may be used in contemporary houses.

Bathing is done in two phases. The first step is to cleanse the body. Usually, the cleanse is performed in a small shower, or by using splashes of bathwater scooped with a hinoki wood bucket before proceeding into the bathtub to soak.

How to integrate it into your bath/shower routine:

Follow the two-step process in brief cleansing before soaking and capture the Hinoki fragrance. In my ever-expanding candle collection that ranges across price points: from Diptyque, Jo Malone, Tom Ford to your average Soy Wax ones from TKMaxx, one of my all-time favourite at only £4.96 is MUJI’s Hinoki Wood candle.

I can’t describe my love for this fragrance. I’ve repeat purchased it so many times and associate the smell with a sense of peace because I usually burn it during my quiet prayer time so it’s come to be a super comforting and much-loved smell.

I would describe it as deep, woody, warm, sweet yet fresh. On the MUJI site, it’s described as: “fresh like that of the moss and trees; with fresh lemon-like notes.”

Given that Hinoki is the traditional wood used for Japanese baths, burning this during a bath/shower could be a great way to recreate part of the Japanese Sento or Onsen experience.

Middle-East dead sea baths

The Dead Sea is a salt lake bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west as described on Wikipedia. It lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, and its main tributary is the Jordan River.

The Dead Sea has been an attraction for healing and wellness for thousands of years because of its unique mineral composition in the water. It is hyperasaline containing 9.6 times the amount of salt than the ocean meaning that plants and animals cannot survive its environment hence the name ‘dead’ sea.

The unique mix of salt, mud, and atmospheric pressure have been shown to improve inflammatory conditions like psoirasis, acne, and arthritis. Bathing rituals of smothering yourself in the mud of the dead sea, allowing it to rest and then soaking it off in its waters attracts beauty junkies around the world yearly.

How to integrate it into your bath/shower routine:

I personally think no bath is ever complete without a salt element. Epsom salts are brilliant for muscle ache, but also salt mixes for the bath can act as beautiful scrub exfoliants.

For a gentle homemade DIY recipe that’s super easy to use, scroll to the bottom of the article a FREE bath/shower recipe guide of how to make a beautiful salt mix for your bath routine.

Indian Ayurveda in bathing

Ayurveda is an alternative medicine system with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent. Typically, Ayurveda treatment starts with an internal purification process, followed by a special diet, herbal remedies, massage therapy, yoga, and meditation. Overall its concepts are based on universal interconnectedness, the body's constitution and life forces (doshas). It’s a holistic method that sees the body as being controlled by three forces: Pita, Vata and Kapa, and we all have a predominant force depending on our body type.

According to maharishi Ayurveda, ancient ayurvedic texts speak of therapeutic baths featuring rose petals, milk, honey, and turmeric. Preceded by a luxurious full-body warm oil massage and followed by the application of rich sandalwood paste and floral waters on the skin, the ayurvedic bath was designed to restore balance to mind, body and spirit.

How to integrate it into your bath/shower routine:

Turmeric is used widely in Indian and Ayurveda recipes and has undoubtedly taken the wellness industry by storm, I have a tried and tested face mask recipe I use every now and again for glowing skin.

Scroll to the bottom of the article a FREE bath/shower recipe guide of how to make a beautiful Turmeric face mask for your bath/shower routine.

Finnish sauna baths

“Sauna” is a Finnish word, meaning a hot steam bath -the steam for which is created by pouring water over heated stones. Finland has around two million saunas, or approximately one sauna for every two or three people.

According to BBC Travel, the traditional Finnish sauna dates back to at least the 12th Century which involved heating by a wood stove with no chimney. After soaking in the heat, many locals will head outside to roll around in the snow or jump into a hole in a frozen-over lake, since going from hot to cold is thought to stimulate blood circulation.

How to integrate it into your bath/shower routine:

Vary the temperatures in your shower to create a steam in your shower and open or close your pores. Also adding pure Eucalyptus or essential oil blends to a bottom corner or your shower can create a sauna-like steam.

Scroll to the bottom of the article for a FREE bath/shower recipe guide including recommended essential oil blends and shower tools to turn your shower experience into a Finnish spa sauna.

Key components of a mindful bath/shower:

  • Music: make your own playlist or have a look on YouTube or Spotify for the limitless amounts under the ‘bath’ or ‘spa’ genre.

  • Lighting (low lighting is best if it’s a bedtime ritual)

  • Try dry brushing

  • Cold therapy

  • Eucalyptus showers

  • Epsom salts

  • Match the scent with your mood (I usually go for Dr Bronner’s Lemongrass shower sugar scrub in the mornings in the mornings and their Lavender shower Castile version in the evenings- usually whilst reading the crazy text on their packaging)

  • Vary textures: exfoliant scrubs, loofahs, oils, foams all create variation

P.S. Be sustainable with water use! Turn off the shower whilst applying products/exfoliating and back on again to rinse off. It saves water and cares for our planet, prevents product waste going straight down the drain and the momentary temperature change is great for your skin!

I’ve created some of my favourite bath recipes below that I’ve tried and tested if you want some inspiration for your bath or shower:

I’m a big fan of creating masks, body butters, scrubs and serums from scratch and will be sharing more on my Instagram. Follow to stay tuned for more wellness, creativity and social issues content: @riah_writes

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