10:00 Natural Living & Health

Naked and Wet: Bathing Rituals around the World

I was talking with a friend about ways to save time during our day. “I hate bathing,” he said. “You get in. You get wet. You soap up. You get out. You dry off. You do it every day. Talk about a time waster. I wish there was a better way to do that.”

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the consensus of the modern man. A bath is a necessity that keeps us able to interact with the rest of society as inoffensively as possible. It gets rid of the dirt and sweat. Oh, sure, we might enjoy a long shower on occasion, or a deep soak in a tub on an even rarer occasion, but really bathing is a perfunctory part of our day. It has no other purpose – no greater reason.

We’ve lost sight of the ritual of bathing. Only since the Industrial Age began has it become so…mundane.

In many places in the world bathing is not just for cleanliness – it’s a time for reflection, relaxation and even community involvement.

In parts of Japan the public baths – called Sento or Onsen – are very much a part of life. People go there to bathe every day and the baths have a strict set of rules and rituals that must be adhered to. You begin with a bucket shower. You soap up and get clean, then pour buckets of water over your head until the soap is gone. After that you sit in a series of progressively hotter tubs. Many of these are heated by hot springs. Some are even natural pools outdoors. You are meant to relax. It can take hours.

Other cultures have community bathhouses that are meant to invigorate you as much as relax you. You go there to catch up with your neighbors, to hear the latest news or broker a better deal. Russia has their Banya; Turkey, the Hammam; and Korea calls them Jimjilbang.

These places have showers and hot tubs and cold plunges. You follow a set cycle of ever increasing heat and wet that culminates in alcohol, tea, food and talk.

And let’s not forget to thank those innovative Finns for bringing the world the Sauna. In Finland the sauna is place where families gather – young and old, men and women, kids and parents – to sit naked together and sweat while they talk about life.

Some cultures use bathing for religious purposes. It can be a place of prayer and reflection – like the Native American Sweat Lodge. It can include a specific time and specific language that must be recited like Indian Hindu Snanam. Or it can be a meaningful purification, like the Jewish Mikveh.

People around the world see a different type of benefit to bathing than my friend.

Don’t be like him. Elevate the everyday into something better. Try a new soap in the shower or soak in a tub once a week. Look for the local Haman or Banya or Jimjilbang. You’d be surprised at what you’ll find.

Sometimes bathing is just to get clean. Sometimes it’s more than that.

Banner image: “arabic baths” CC 2.0 / Edited

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