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The Healing Bath - by Karyn Siegel-Maier

Why bathing is a lot more than Just scrubbing behind our ears
Whether you work out of an office in "the
Big City" or in the spare bed room of your home, stress is bound to find you. Deadlines, ringing phones, domestic chores, traffic, and errands all take their toll by the end of the day -- every day.

But, instead of "shutting down" with a dry martini, or by becoming mesmerized in front of the television, why not regroup and turn yourself back "on"? How? By slipping into something comfortable -- your bathtub.

The bathtub is a simple, wonderful invention which many of us take for granted. Usually equipped with a showerhead, many of us opt for a quick wash and rinse under its spray and out the door we go. This "drive-by" form of bathing may get you clean, but can produce stress in itself, if you just run in and out to get the job done. You would think, in this case, that the reason the tub is there is solely to catch the drips from air-drying laundry.

Like `chicken soup' for the Nerves -- then & now
For that matter, the tub isn't only reserved for an occasional Saturday night indulgence, or for the kids to use to test the sails of their toy boats. Your ordinary tub can be used for do-it-yourself-at-home stress reduction and natural healing sessions, but in less time and without the hourly fee required from a professional spa. It's like chicken soup for the nerves.

The idea of healing mind, body, and soul in the bath is not a new concept. In fact, few knew how to do it better than the ancient Romans. Beginning with an oil massage and exercise period, most Romans spent a relaxing afternoon at the public bath, either socializing or reading. After visiting the hot, steamy rooms of the caldarium, it was time for the actual bath, first in hot water and then a final rinse in the frigidarium -- you guessed it -- a plunge in cold water. Like the Romans, the Greeks and Turks used bathing as a healing tool.

The tradition of therapeutic bathing, whether hot or cold, was kept alive in the luxurious spas found throughout Europe in the centuries to follow. "Hydrotherapy" was a common practice in 19th-century Europe, but didn't become popular in the United States until around 1840. But, according to Michael Castleman, author of Nature's Cures, "By the time of the Civil War, hundreds of `water-cures' dotted the countryside." The healing bath was here to stay.

Some take it hot (and some don't)
What can a long soak in a hot bath do for you? For one thing, simply locking the bathroom door and enjoying 20 minutes of solitude while immersed in soothing warmth can calm the mind and balance the emotions. For another, a hot bath before retiring can put insomnia to sleep. In Japan, most people take an evening bath to relax, and, collectively, they participate in tooji -- the practice of bathing in hot springs. In fact, it is the recommended treatment for eczema in Japan.

There are other health benefits to be gained from hot baths, such as easing muscle strain, reducing hemorrhoids, and relieving arthritis. Hot baths also increase circulation and can promote the elimination of impurities via the skin. A hot soak also slightly increases the metabolism, offering a small reprieve from self-recrimination if you've indulged in an evening dessert.

Cold baths can relieve itchy skin, mild depression, asthma, and, contrary to popular belief, rev up your waning libido. There is also sufficient research to indicate that the cold treatment may improve a low-sperm count.

An ocean of fun
For years, European spas have incorporated thalassotherapy into their beauty regimens. Thalasso-what? This  

tongue twister refers to sea therapy, or using natural ingredients from the sea to heal and nurture skin.

Combined with algotherapy (using algae and seaweed), the sea has many benefits to offer. Sea salts, particularly those from the Dead Sea, contain the highest mineral concentration of any other substance on the planet. Sea salts are high in potassium and magnesium, which help to retain moisture and yield anti-inflammatory properties.

Algae and seaweed may sound like slimy bath-fellows, but they are rich in minerals and amino acids, which increase circulation and encourage new cell growth. Iginates, commonly found in the ingredients of bath products, are gelatinous agents derived from sea plants that form a protective barrier on the skin. They are sometimes found in body washes and after-bath lotions to help retain moisture.

Splish-splash with herbs in the bath
Essential oils are excellent additions to the bath water. Not only do they possess healing properties, but they can also affect your mood by imparting a soothing aroma-therapeutic quality. Essential oils can be added to a carrier oil, such as jojoba or sweet almond, and added to the bath while the water is running. You can also use undiluted essential oils in the bath water, but make sure you add them just before stepping into the tub; otherwise, their volatile oils may be lost to escaping heat.

Another way to use essential oils is to blend them with jojoba, grapeseed, or sweet almond oil and apply a small amount to your skin before getting in the tub, just like our Roman friends did. The oils will disperse in the water and their scent will be released, while your skin is nourished at the same time.

Tea time in the tub
It's nice to sip a cup of tea while relaxing in the tub, but why not make tea in the tub? Herbal bath bags are highly fragrant and fun to use. "Tub teabags." in a variety of flavors," are also available in many natural health-food stores.

If you grow your own herbs and have a supply of dried material on hand, you can easily make bath bags from doulble-layered muslin or cheesecloth.

Essential for your next bath
Try one of the following blends in your next bath;

For Normal Skin: sandalwood, neroli, patchouli, frankincense
For Dry Skin: chamomile, geranium, lavender, rose
For Oily Skin: neroli, cypress, clary-sage, orange For Blemished Skin: carrot, chamomile, thyme, eucalyptus
Stress Relief: lavender, chamomile, hops, bergamot Detox: dandelio, grapefruit, burdock root, green tea extract
Muscle aches: sage, eucalyptus, peppermint, ginger Increased energy: basil, rosemary, juniper, peppermint

This Article was Originally published in Better Nutrition Magazine.

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