I get a lot of joy out of pushing myself mentally and physically, but for years I found it hard to relax and recover. That changed when I rediscovered the joy and power of a great bath. Baths melt away muscle strain from long trail runs and afternoons digging in the garden. They also ease mental weight from hard work and stressful headlines. A great bath is mentally and physically transformative.
Baths have changed my life. They can change yours too. I’ve traveled to bath houses around the world, debated best bathing practices for hours, hunted for cedar tubs deep in the woods, bathed under the stars, and tested hundreds of bath soaks for “work”.
You don’t have to travel to Yakushima, Japan to have the ultimate bath. You can do it at home! Here are some of the best practices I’ve picked up along the way.
1. Shower first
The first step to taking a wonderful bath is to take a quick shower. While this may seem like an inconvenience, a quick shower before the bathe will allow you focus solely on relaxation and rejuvenation, instead of worrying about getting all your nooks and crannies cleaned.
Getting the grime off your body before the soak also makes for a much more enjoyable—and clean—soaking environment, that you’ll want to spend more time in.
2. Temperature and timing
Bath temperature is key. We like them hot (around 107ºF), but not so hot that it leads to that uncomfortable game of footsie with your bath. There is no right time of the day or night to have a soak, in fact some of my very best days have started with an early morning bath. What’s important is to carve out at least 20 minutes, this is especially true if you use a soak, which needs time to work into your sore muscles.
3. Use soaking salts
Speaking of soaks, use one! The best soaks are blends of different types of mineral rich salts. Magnesium salt flakes are really great for physical relaxation and an epsom salt soak also does wonders.
Make sure you look for a blend that is responsibly sourced, salt mining conditions and regulations vary widely. And even though they’re fun, I’ve learned to avoid bubble baths, as they’re often harsh on skin and don’t biodegrade, which can mess up natural waterways.
4. Prep the environment
When you bathe, you slow down and notice your surroundings—so be sure to make them cozy! I know people who paint in the tub, pull tarot, light mellow incense, or even bring crystals into the tub with them.
My bathing environment includes lots of plants, low key music, a big pile of towels, and a bowl of crisp grapes to keep me going. I often bring a book, but think twice about phones or tablets—this is one of the few times you can escape that noise. A bath tray or side table are helpful for keeping all of this stuff tidy.
5. Be water wise
There’s an old caricature of a woman in a bubble bath drinking a glass of wine. While that can be very nice, a cold glass of water is the best. Also conserve water. Share your soak with a lover. Water is life. Don’t waste it :)
A few years back, on my way to a hot spring in the Rio Grande, I got lost hiking at night. The trail had disappeared into the dark of the high desert, miles from camp. Just as our stress and panic peaked, we stumbled onto the hotspring. Easing into the soak, the stress melted away. A huge meteor ripped across the sky and I felt at one with the universe.
I often tap back into this feeling while in the tub—hot water, steam, and the right mindset can turn your tub into the ultimate transportation device. Here are some ways you can turn the bathroom into a meditation room:
A. It may sound silly, but try submerging yourself under the water and make the “om” sound several times. Sound travels faster in water, and the “om” will oscillate through the water and your body.
B. A bath can act as a sensory deprivation device, helping you tune into what your body is feeling. Close your eyes and mentally scan your body from head to toe and back again. Listen to your breath, experience your blood pumping and give thanks for being alive.
C. Even if you don’t actively meditate, it might happen for you naturally. There is a special moment during a bath when your body and the water temperature reach equilibrium, mentally transporting us back to the safe feeling of the womb. This feeling has been proven to reduce anxiety.
We’re living in the midst of political and environmental chaos. While we are all taking steps to make the world a better place, we can’t do this unless we’ve taken care of ourselves. A bath is the perfect way to refresh your mind and body! Who knew you could accomplish so much in the tub?