A bath and a rubber ducky were staples in most childhoods, but somewhere between diapers and a day job, we lost our way to the bathtub. Whether we knew it or not, bath time was more than just getting clean, it was therapy. The concept of water as therapy is nothing new, from the Japanese onsen and the Native American Temazcal to the Turkish hammam and the Roman bath. And today, bath rituals are finding there way onto even more spa menus.
The idea behind hydrotherapy is simple: various water temperatures and textures (steam, ice, bubbles) have different benefits, so if you're looking to stimulate your heart or tighten pores, Diane Varney, director of education at Qua Baths & Spa in Las Vegas, says, a cold shower could do the trick, and if you want to relax your muscles (a good way to prep for a massage or spa treatment), a soak in warm water will help. Varney is also a fan of the cold plunge, where, after taking a hot shower or bath, you douse yourself with cold water, which, she says, allows the body to take in more oxygen.
"The temperature in relation to body temperature is key," Dr. Jonathan Paul De Vierville, director at the Alamo Plaza Spa at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, says. "You're getting the body to respond." While hot and cold water are normally used for the above, a cold shower can at times warm the body, he says, and a hot bath, after some time, can be stimulating rather than relaxing.
Baths are also a good way to soak up minerals, Jean Kolb, director of wellness and product development at Kohler Co., says. "When we feel sluggish it's because of the depletion of minerals." Using bath salts, herbs, or bath milk in water that's above body temperature is a good way to put some of those minerals back in the body. Alternating between hot, cold, and warm water can be good for the body but, Kolb says, be sure to always end in warm water.
While many treatments are exclusive to spas, hydrotherapy is accessible to anyone with a shower or tub. "Your bathroom needs to be your safe haven," Kolb says, "and it doesn't have to cost a lot of money." Dimmer switches and colored bulbs, pitchers of ice cubes and cold water (for the cold plunge), and chilled ice cloths are just a few of Kolb's suggestions. "Make sure you're incorporating all five senses." Varney recommends a body scrub ("Skin is the largest organ in the body. If we don't keep it clean the body can't breathe") and bath salts or milk in various scents depending on your goals (to invigorate, try rosemary; to relax, try lavender).
The time after your bath is just as important as time spent in the water, says De Vierville, who recommends about 20 to 30 minutes of tub time, with equal time spent resting after. "It's ying and yang," he says. "No matter the water temperature, you should always have a rest period following a bath. Soaking and sleeping go together. See if you dream."
A good night's rest is yet another byproduct of bath time and another reason why experts such as De Vierville believe, "If people took more baths we'd be healthier."
Looking for an upgrade from your tub at home? Try these hydrotherapy treatments:
The Highland Fling (50 min, $140-$160), named after a celebratory Scottish dance, at Kohler Waters Spa (www.destinationkohler.com) in Kohler, Wisconsin incorporates a Vichy shower and buckets of warm water, which are flung on the body. Coffee granules mixed with mint oil exfoliate, and chocolate body butter moisturizes.
The Sand & Foam (50 min, $155) treatment at Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas (www.harrahs.com/qua/index.html) is one of its most popular and takes place under the Vichy shower's seven showerheads, combining a milk foam and Pure Fiji crème scrub.
At The Bathhouse at Calistoga Ranch (www.calistogaranch.com) in Napa Valley, you can partake in private, outdoor 30-minute baths ($85) incorporating a number of bath treatments ranging from the liquid Mud Bath, said to detoxify and purify, to the calming Jasmine Rose.
Similar to the Native American steam lodge, the Zareeba treatment (90 min, $215; available after 6pm) at the Regent Palms' Temple Spa (www.regenthotels.com) in Turks and Caicos uses steam infused with fresh herbs to cleanse and detox, and is followed by a cooling massage.
Cleopatra was known for taking milk baths, and at Mii amo, a destination spa at Enchantment in Sedona, AZ (www.miiamo.com), milk and honey pair up to exfoliate and hydrate. The Milk and Honey bath (60-90 min, $145-$205) starts with a honey scrub, followed by a soak in a milk and honey-filled tub. A light massage completes the treatment.
Quan Spa (www.quanspa.com) at the JW Marriott Hotel Beijing is based on the Chinese word for "source of pure water," and its signature treatment, the Spice Bath (30 min, $40), is said to heat the body and improve circulation with a combination of flowers, herbs, and spices.
Evian is more than just bottled water. The water company's Evian Spa by Three in Shanghai (tel. +8621 6321 6622; email firstname.lastname@example.org) uses color, water, scent, and texture in its Colour Hydrotherapy Underwater Bath (30 min, $47). Various water jets massage the body, aroma-filled bubbles soothe, and changing colored lights create a relaxing ambience.