Soothe your limbs, calm your mind and drift int night’s sleep – these are just some of the health benefi ts you’ll receive from a long soak in the tub.
I MAGINE CLOSING THE bathroom door behind you and breathing in the scented steam. The room is illuminated by flickering candlelight, and you have nothing left to do but slide into a warm bath and relax. A restorative soak is routine for many of us, and it’s been that way for centuries. ‘Bathing rituals have been practised medicinally since ancient times, including in China, Japan, India, Turkey, Greece and elsewhere,’ says Dr Paulette Sherman, author of The Book of Sacred Baths (£15.99, Llewellyn).
Bath Time Bliss – Your Sensory Ritual – Health-Boosting Heat Photo Gallery
‘They were used to purify, soothe the soul, open intuition and creativity, and, of course, to improve health.’ The relaxation element of bathing is often the first benefi that comes to mind. Being immersed in warm water triggers memories in your brain of feeling safe and nurtured in the womb. In addition, the warmth of the water loosens muscle and joint tension so you feel better physically as well as mentally. Adding salts to your bath can also increase the relaxation element. New findings from Westlab show that Epsom salts are particularly benefi cial at this time of year. ‘A lack of natural light can cause levels of your Bathtim BLIS happy hormone, serotonin, to reduce,’ says Westlab salt chemist Karen Davis. ‘But the magnesium in Epsom salts helps to keep your levels topped up. This mineral is also crucial for helping your muscles and nerves relax.’ Try Westlab’s Reviving Epsom Salt (£5.99, westlabsalts.co.uk), which is a rich source of magnesium sulphate.
FEEL THE FLOW
Another important physical benefit from bathing is that your circulation improves and blood vessels dilate. ‘This helps your body retain nutrients and oxygen, while eliminating toxins through your pores,’ says Kay Pennington, spa manager for Aqua Sana Spa (aquasana.co.uk). Even the steam from a bath is enough to improve your peripheral circulation – the blood flow through your extremities. You can optimise this circulation boost and stimulate lymph fl ow to help remove toxins from your body with a body brush or handheld massaging tool. Brush towards your heart in long, sweeping movements, starting at your feet and working your way up. Brush several times over each area, overlapping as you go.
The slow increase in body temperature that occurs in a bath is known as ‘passive heating’, and it has the added bonus of burning calories, according to new research from the University of Loughborough. It’s because more so-called ‘heat shock proteins’ are produced by your cells, activating a calorie burn of up to 140 per hour, as well as regulating insulin, which can reduce cravings for evening snacks. It’s bathing’s heat factor that helps you sleep more soundly too. By increasing your body’s core temperature, it’s then easier for it to cool down. And your body needs to be cool for you to stay in the restorative stage of sleep. Water of around 35-37°C is ideal, which, if you don’t have a thermometer to hand, is just a little higher than the temperature you can feel under your tongue. Regularly raising your body temperature has also been shown to improve your immunity, according to studies by the Charity Medical School in Berlin. When your temperature is high, the pH level of your body rises as well to be more alkaline, meaning acid-loving diseases can’t thrive. To get the optimum benefits from your bath, soak for 20-30 minutes.
YOUR SENSORY RITUAL
You’ll get all the aforementioned benefi ts from a regular bath, however, you can turn tub time into an even more restorative experience with a few additions…
Experiment with scent. When it comes to essential oils, try mixing and matching to suit your wellbeing needs. Lavender is, of course, the go-to scent for calmness and relaxation; sage has been proven to provide a cognitive boost; a combination of frankincense and clove is good for easing stomach pains; and peppermint and citrus oils are said to boost happiness (check out tisserand.com). To get more of an aroma hit from the steam, wet a fl annel then hold it over the top of your forehead and the water like a canopy, taking deep, even breaths.
Indulge your taste buds Many of us enjoy a cup of tea in the bath, which is a ritual in itself – see p58. Or, you could take a fruit bowl to the bathroom and tear into juicy fi gs or peaches without worrying about sticky hands. Even ‘naughty’ treats have wellbeing benefi ts. A glass of red wine will further dilate blood vessels to improve your circulation, and a couple of squares of dark chocolate will boost magnesium levels.
Add some gentle sounds The right music can really maximise relaxation. Spotify has plenty of playlists for chilling in the bath, but, as a general rule, anything with a continuous rhythm of 60bpm will help your heart rate and brainwaves synch into trance-like calmness, according to The British Academy of Sound Therapy. They recommend Enya, Mozart and a song called Weightless, by Marconi Union.
Create a warm glow Ambient lighting from some scented candles can add a special touch to your bath. Try the Janjira Massage Therapy Candles (£32, janjira. co.uk), available in uplifting grapefruit and tangerine, or calming jasmine and ylang ylang. Burn the candle during your bath, then, once you’re dry, tip the melted soybean and coconut oil into your hand to massage over your skin for a moisture boost.
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