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Healing Waters: Hot Baths Rejuvenate Body and Mind

Jul 31, 2020 ● By Marlaina Donato
Woman lying in healing bath water

Goran Bogicevic/

Down to our very cells, water is the foundation of life. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, bathing in hot mineral springs and cool saltwater was a common ritual for better health, and spaces dedicated to baths were considered sacred. Stepping into a warm tub harkens back to the safety of the womb while offering abundant health benefits. Opting for a bath instead of a shower can not only help minimize headaches, insomnia, menstrual cramps, depression and chronic pain, but soothe a burnt-out nervous system. It can also enliven stagnant blood and lymphatic fluids, enabling metabolic waste to be carried out of the body through perspiration.

“Hydrotherapy is used in many natural health systems for a wide variety of ailments from inflammation to nervous system dysfunction and skin conditions. Whether you have access to a bathtub or not, there are many ways you can apply these traditional practices to your own self-care routine,” says Marlene Adelmann, herbalist and founder of the Herbal Academy, in Bedford, Massachusetts.

Whether we step into a full-body tub or a foot basin, water is a balm for the modern spirit bogged down by information overload and world events. “Taking time away in the sanctuary of warm water allows us to slip into a different state of mind and to release the energetic armor we defend ourselves with, as well as recuperate and heal internally,” says Kiva Rose Hardin, herbalist and co-editor of Plant Healer magazine, in New Mexico.

Insulin Sensitivity, Pain and Depression

A good bath can lower chronic systemic inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. It can also impact how the body uses insulin. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology shows that immersion in hot water counters low-grade inflammation and increases glucose metabolism in individuals unable to exercise.

Hot baths relax muscles by promoting blood circulation through the tissues and prompting the nervous system into a calming parasympathetic mode. Cold-water soaks—preferably in the morning—provide perks that include boosting immunity and increasing depression-zapping endorphins such as dopamine. 

A Handful of Nature

The skin is our largest organ, and what we put into the bath affects us from the outside-in. Bentonite clay for detoxing and Dead Sea salts for pain are great choices. Studies going back to the 1990s show significant, lasting effects of Dead Sea salts on those with osteoarthritis of the knee, as well as rheumatoid arthritis. 

Fortifying the bath with Epsom salts, evaporated sea salt or Himalayan pink salt is highly beneficial. “Himalayan salt has 84 valuable trace minerals, including potassium, magnesium and sodium. It draws out toxins, cleanses the skin and helps cleanse the body energetically,” says Hellen Yuan, founder of the bath product company Hellen, in Brooklyn.

Adding bundles of fresh or dried herbs or snipping them into sachets can strengthen immune response and provide a welcome antidote to work-related stress. “Aromatic herbs and essential oils are inhaled through our olfactory system and make a beeline to our brains, signaling that it’s time to relax or feel energized,” says Adelmann, who emphasizes practical common sense.

“Although flowers and leaves floating in the tub make for lovely social media posts, most household plumbing cannot handle big, bulky plant material. The simplest way to add herbs to a bath is by making a super-concentrated tea.” Hardin concurs, recommending fresh or dried lavender, flowering goldenrod tops, holy basil leaves (tulsi, Ocimum tenuiflorum) or calendula blossoms. 

Sacred Waters

Baths are good medicine for both genders. “Men carry so much stress in their bodies and typically hold in a lot of tension. A good bath brew eases the muscles and replenishes the mind and soul,” says Yuan.

Bathing can be the ultimate sacred offering to the body. From her wood-fired outdoor tub at the edge of a starlit mesa, Hardin advises, “Efforts need not be expensive or time-consuming. Just focused intent will inherently return a sufficient degree of sensuality, magic and beauty to the bath.” 

Marlaina Donato is the author of Multidimensional Aromatherapy.

Essential Oils and Safety Tips


From Hellen Yuan: Foot baths are a great alternative to a full-body bath because of the 72,000-plus nerve endings in our feet and the six acupuncture meridian points.

From Marlene Adelmann: Essential oils should always be properly diluted and dispersed in oil, thick aloe vera leaf gel, Castile soap or a dispersing agent such as Solubol. Water, alcohol and hydrosol are not safe carriers, as they do not disperse the essential oils.

For aromatherapy bath salts, dilute essential oils in a small amount of oil before stirring into the salt. For nut allergies, avoid almond oil.

Nourishing Additions Add Zing to Bath Waters

Organic apple cider vinegar: 1 cup to a bath to balance skin pH levels, combat yeast infections and soothe sunburn

Himalayan salt: ½ cup to bath water for acne, eczema and psoriasis

Dead Sea salts or sea salt: ½ cup to bath water for psoriasis and arthritis pain

Chamomile flowers or organic, dried rose petals: 1 extra-strong cup to bath water for relaxation and better sleep or use herbs gathered in a muslin bag or sock and steep in the bath

Ginger: ½ cup shredded fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ginger powder to bath water for increasing the body’s chi, boosting immunity and relieving pain. Follow-up with a shower to rinse off perspiration (contraindicated in the presence of high blood pressure, diabetes or a history of heart disease)

Epsom salts: ½ cup added to the bath to fortify magnesium and boost serotonin, which can increase energy and stamina, decrease irritability and adrenaline, lower blood pressure, increase concentration and improve sleeping habits

Essential oils: 5 to 7 drops mixed well into bath salts—lavender (for nervous system support), eucalyptus or tea tree (congestion, colds, flu), geranium (adrenal and reproductive hormonal support), pine or fir needle (adrenal and nervous system support)

Marlene Adelmann’s Go-to Bath Recipes:

Herbal Bath De-Stress Tea
¼ cup lemon balm leaves
¼ cup chamomile flowers
¼ cup peppermint leaves
¼ cup rose petals

Combine herbs together in a 2-quart jar. Pour 2 quarts boiling water over herbs and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain tea and discard or compost herbs. Pour tea into bath and enjoy.

Herbal Bath Salts
2 cups Epsom salt
1 cup sea salt
½ cup baking soda
2 Tbsp carrier oil
20 drops lavender essential oil 

Put salts and baking soda in a bowl and combine thoroughly. Combine essential oil with carrier oil in a small bowl. Add essential oil mixture to salt mixture. Store in a glass jar for 6 to 12 months. Use 1 to 2 cups per bath.