Japanese Bathing Rituals

It would be difficult to research and write about bathing rituals without looking at Japanese bathing, this is a phenomenon remarkably different from most traditions in the modern Western world. I’ve not been fortunate to visit Japan yet, I would really love to visit such a diverse and fascinating country. I have been reading about at the customs of Sento, Furo and Onsen and the significance of the bathing culture to Japan. This is not just about washing the body but ritual purifications embedded in the Japanese culture for centuries. There is no better example of literally immersing yourself in another culture than the bathing rituals that have endured for many lifetimes.

Sento

Is an age-old Japanese practice of public baths, to cleanse both the mind and body. Sento Bathing became popular amongst common people who relished baths at Buddhist temples. Empress Kōmyō began the practice of charity baths, where she would wash beggars at temple baths. Charity baths eventually became an act of reverence for ancestors and practitioners who would offer baths to any person, regardless of age, sex or social status. The evolution of temple bathing to include charity baths and public bathhouses demonstrates the connection between religion and bathing in Japan. The popularity of public baths continued to increase, particularly during the Edo period from 1603 to 1868. The first public bathhouse in Tokyo was founded in 1591. By the late Edo period, there were over 500 Sento in Tokyo. Both gender-divided and mixed baths were popular during this period, despite the Shogun’s concerns about the potential for immoral behaviour in mixed baths. The prudishness of 19th century Westerners led the government to ban mixed bathing to make Japan seem more civilized. In the early 17th century, amusement and recreation was frequently combined with bathing. Men could often have their backs washed by women called Yuna or bath prostitutes. (Until the government outlawed these). Large groups of people that would travel to their local Sento to eat, drink and sing. It introduced the concept of social mixing which not only aided in slowly deconstructing the existing social hierarchy but created a new cultural flow between the elite and commoners, this had a lasting effect on Japanese social status- quo.

Even after WWII, it was still relatively common for people to not have baths, due to the post-war construction boom in residential housing without bathing facilities or running water. So, the only way to bathe was to attend a Sento at the end of their day.  They continued to be built well into the mid-20th century, with the number of bathhouses reaching their national peak in 1968 at 18,325. Today, the number has dwindled to around 4,000.  Japanese people are now able to afford baths or showers in their own homes. For a class-conscious society, the Sento has become an embarrassing reminder of an impoverished past, and as the ranks of Japan’s nouveau riche have continued to swell, a stigma has fallen upon those who patronize the humble Sento. However, it remains a veritable oasis in many communities, especially in the suffocating hot summers and cold winters.

The two main kinds of traditional Sento are Furoya , steam baths, and Yuya a central large communal bath. Ancient cultures believed in the healing effect of water and today the Japanese believe the adoption of hot baths and its related procedures are the cure for many ailments such as: obesity, kidney disease, rheumatism and neurological disorders. The Sento is roughly divided into two sections: where you wash and where you relax. It is vital to wash thoroughly before entering the relaxation baths. Most baths are classed by temperature: tei-on (tepid) to chu-on (warm) which is bearable for 10 minutes or so. The waters of Sento differ from those of Onsen in that they are not naturally heated.

Some Sento have evolved into Super-Sento, which charges a higher price than the public sento and offers an all-day luxurious bathing experience more like an Onsen. It caters to the Japanese post-modern love of all things comfortable and affordable, usually boasting between fifteen to twenty different types of baths, ranging from jacuzzi tubs, whirlpool baths, steam baths, open-air baths to dry saunas. The Ja-Kuu-Ji, Japanese for jacuzzi bath, is popular, and many are spiked with scented bath oils to sooth and restore vitality. The Uutase Buro massages the head, shoulder, spine and back with a high-pressure stream of hot water pummelling down from a meter or so above. Some Sentos have tapped spring water, which enables them to recreate the Rotemburo: an outdoor hot spring that is a cheap alternative to the more expensive Onsen. The Denki Buro (Electric Bath) is a small bath equipped with steel plates that discharge pulsing currents of electricity into the submerged bather to relax the muscles.

While the future of the traditional Sento is bleak the Super-Sento is poised to solidify its position as a staple of Japanese culture. No longer mystical or godly, the modern-day Sento has reinvented itself as an affordable, chill-out, entertainment, yet still elevated beyond a mere bath. So, for total relaxation and the bliss of total cleanliness, the cultural experience of a Sento is a real must!

Furo– Home bathing version of Sento

Bathing in your own home in Japan is called Furo or the more common form of Ofuro. As part of the Japanese ritual of bathing, these are not meant for washing but rather for relaxing and warming oneself. To achieve cleanliness, the bather washes before entering the bath. Furos are seen as a total renewal on many levels including spiritually. In a Japanese-style bath the water is heated to 110° F or even hotter. In private Japanese homes the bathing facilities are always constructed separately from the washing and toilet facilities. The Furo started the popularity of hot-water soaking in other countries, especially the hot tub craze. Today several firms specialize in the construction of wooden Japanese-style bathtubs. The home version of the Ofuro includes a wooden box or a small pool of water with a couple of benches inside. These large baths were traditionally made of Hinoki, Japanese cypress, which is considered sacred. The modern Japanese bath is a high-tech affair that can automatically refill the bath or reheat the water. Within a home’s private ofuro, family members bathe together and discuss their day in a relaxing environment. These larger baths are fairly new, before that, the family used the bath in order of importance, with guests going first, men before women and the eldest family member before the youngest. The Shimai-Buro, the house wife, went last so she cleaned up after everyone else.

Onsen- Japanese hot springs

The Japanese archipelago is highly volcanic with over 100 active volcanoes and rich hot springs which have become recognised landmarks. Over 25,500 hot springs bubble in Japan year-round and are distributed according to the numerous volcanic chains running through the archipelago. The wealth of hot springs led to the development of Onsen. Which is an excellent way to enjoy Japan’s natural beauty, particularly during cold winters.

 The Japanese have been bathing in the natural hot springs for well over a thousand years, and there are many historical accounts of feudal lords having their own favourite Onsen spots, kakushiyu, where they may have let their samurai bathe after battle. Claims regarding the curative properties precede Buddhism’s introduction to Japan. The Onsen’s healing waters were frequently believed to be gifts from animals, gods or Buddhist deities. The Japanese longevity and long-standing dedication to Onsen are a testament to the positive effects of natural springs on health and well-being. The healing benefits of each Onsen depends on the minerals in its water; hydrogen carbon-rich springs smooth the skin, sulphurous springs help manage blood pressure and keep arteries supple, and iron-heavy springs soothe achy joints and muscles even easing arthritis. Taking to the waters of Onsen has historically carried spiritual and religious meanings in addition to their cleansing and healing properties. Devotional bathing and charity baths show how Buddhism and bathing are intertwined in Japanese history and culture.

Generations of Japanese women and men have practiced the ritual of bathing in mineral-rich Onsens for beautification and health. Despite the technological advances in skin care coming from Asia, Japanese women still consider Onsens a fundamental part of their beauty regimen. Dermatologists have long known that sulphur nourishes the skin, is anti-inflammatory, heals acne and relieves various skin conditions. But beyond the science lays a few centuries of nourishing the soul and a mythical history.

Within the Onsen, there may be one large bath or several big pools, these can be indoors or outdoors. The Rotenburo is an outdoor bath, allowing you to experience nature while enjoying the shelter of a roof of some sort and the heat of the bath. After showering, they slowly lower themselves into the water in the pools, exhaling a long, protracted achii, meaning hot, and then relax and practice mindfulness.

Many newer versions of onsens have been adapted to appeal to the changing needs and interests of Japanese consumers and tourists. The modern Onsen resort experience includes up-scale hotels and spas to replace Ryokans (inns)

Where to try Onsen Bathing in Japan:

Noboribetsuo: On the northern island of Hokkaido, a volcanic area known as Hell Valley supports the town’s thermal pools.

Takaragawa: Tokyoites flock to this Onsen for a dose of nature with their skin-reviving soak. The large outdoor baths are mixed-gender.

Naoshima: The public bathhouse here doubles as an art installation commissioned as one of many contemporary artworks and museums on this remote fishing island in the Seto Inland Sea.

Kinosaki: This old-fashioned village north of Kyoto, has bathing options which range from historic bathhouses to private tubs in ryokans.

it is certain that bathing culture in Japan is vibrant and still flourishing indicating a long-term economic stability and prosperity. By continuously reinventing themselves to remain entertaining and engaging, Onsen and Sento continue to about much more than a simple bath.

The Benefits of Seaweed- Inside and Outside

Inside- Edible

As I mentioned in my last blog post there are huge benefits to bathing with seaweed, however there are also has great benefits for inside as well as outside your body as seaweed holds a reputation as a nutrient-rich superfood. Seaweed or sea vegetables are forms of algae that grow in the sea and are found along rocky shorelines around the world. Its full of vitamins and protein as well as been low-calorie, crunchy and salty so is both nutritious and tasty. Seaweed has long been a staple of many Asian diets particularly in Japanese cuisine but has become increasing popular among health-conscious eaters for the fact that it’s plant-based and high in protein, it has as much calcium as milk, depending on the type of seaweed so is perfect for a vegan diet. Seaweed features powerful anti-viral properties that have been shown to guard against the influenza virus so during the cold and flu season it is worth increasing your intake of this marine plant. (Take note, a little goes a long way) It’s extremely versatile and can be used in many dishes, including sushi rolls, soups and stews, salads, supplements and smoothies. In Brittany, in France, an area which has a kelp forest called the Lamiariar, fisherman minced seaweed in butter which they called Beurre des Algues they ate this on bread and used it to cook fish.

Research is underway in using an extract called alginate (taken from types of brown seaweed) to add fibre to junk food favourites such as burgers, pies and cake. Adding the seaweed extract could quadruple the amount of fibre in white bread. A low fibre diet in the western world is seen as one of the most harmful dietary problems in staying healthy today.

While there are more than 100 types of edible seaweed, these are the varieties you’ll see the most often:

  1. Nori, think of this as the gateway seaweed. It shows up on sushi rolls and in sheets as seaweed snacks.
  2. Kelp- also known as kombu, kelp is the primary ingredient in dashi, a Japanese stock that forms the base of miso soup. Kelp powder can be added to smoothie’s.
  3. Wakame-is the main component of most seaweed salads and the wide, slippery seaweed found in miso soup.

There are several ways of adding seaweed to your diet; kombu can be added to dried beans. (It helps break down the sugars in beans that cause gas) Kelp can be added to coleslaw. Furikake is a topping that includes sesame seeds and nori and can be added to popcorn, roasted veggies, cooked fish and omelettes. Spirulina adds more health benefits to a fruit smoothie.

The colours of seaweed range in colour from Red to Green to Brown to Black: Green algae is sea lettuce or ulva, Brown algae is kombu, arame, kelp and wakame, Red algae is dulse, laver, and nori, and Blue-green algae is spirulina.

There are 7 science-backed benefits of seaweed:

  1. Iodine and Tyrosine (an amino acid) is needed by your thyroid gland to function properly. The thyroid gland releases hormones to help control growth, energy production, reproduction and the repair of damaged cells in your body. Seaweed has the unique ability to absorb concentrated amounts of iodine from the ocean. Without enough iodine, you may start to experience symptoms like weight changes, fatigue or swelling of the neck. Kelp is one of the best sources of iodine.
  2. Good Source of Vitamins and Minerals, each type of seaweed has a unique set of nutrients. Seaweed also contains small amounts of vitamins A, C, E and K, along with folate, zinc, sodium, calcium and magnesium. The protein present in some seaweeds, such as spirulina and chlorella, contain all of the essential amino acids helping to ensure you get the full range of amino acids. Seaweed can also be a good source of omega-3 fats and vitamin B12.
  3. Contains a variety of protective Antioxidants, which can make unstable substances in your body called free radicals less reactive which makes them less likely to damage your cells. Excess free radical production is considered to be an underlying cause of several diseases.
  4. In addition, seaweed boasts a wide variety of beneficial plant compounds, including flavonoids and carotenoids. These have been shown to protect your body’s cells from free radical damage too. Fucoxanthin is the main carotenoid found in brown algae, such as wakame. Fucoxanthin, has been shown to protect cell membranes better than vitamin A. While the body does not always absorb fucoxanthin well, absorption may be improved by consuming it along with fats.
  5. Seaweed provides fibre and polysaccharides that can support your gut health. Gut bacteria play an enormous role in your health. You have more bacteria cells in your body than human cells. An imbalance in these good and bad gut bacteria can lead to sickness and disease. Seaweed has a higher fibre content than most fruits and vegetables.
  6. It may help you lose weight by delaying hunger and reducing weight. Seaweed contains a lot of fibre but does not contain any calories. This helps you feel fuller for longer and can delay hunger pangs. Fucoxanthin, contributes to an increased metabolism and may help reduce body fat.
  7. A reduction in the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Seaweed may help reduce your blood cholesterol levels. It also contains carbohydrates called fucans, which may help prevent blood from clotting. Diabetes, occurs when your body is unable to balance your blood sugar levels over time. Seaweed gives additional improvements in controlling blood sugar. A substance in seaweed called alginate prevented blood sugar spikes and may also reduce the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.

N.B- Although seaweed is considered a very healthy food, there may be some potential dangers of consuming too much. As it can contain a very large and potentially dangerous amount of iodine. High amounts of seaweed can affect thyroid function, and symptoms of too much iodine are often the same as symptoms of not enough iodine. Seaweed can absorb and store minerals in concentrated amounts. This poses a health risk, as seaweed can also contain large amounts of toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury and lead. It is best to buy organic seaweed, as it’s less likely to contain significant amounts of heavy metals.

The fact that it’s plant-based and high in protein as well as containing many other nutrients would make it ideal for a vegetarian or vegan to help any deficiencies in their diet. I think it’s a great idea to add seaweed to your diet for extra fibre too which is often too low in the typical western diet. As a healthy, natural, substantiable food it is very on trend at the current time!

I will write about using seaweed, outside or on the body in my next post.

Water Power-Hydrotherapy, Balneotherapy and Thalassothreapy

Water is the most receptive element and the greatest receiver of energy. In my last blog post, I talked about the history of the practice of the Water Cure, which is a combination of Hydrotherapy, Balneotherapy and Thalassotherapy. Whilst in the main these water therapies are best practised in a spa or with trained practitioners, some aspects like Balneotherapy can be done at home.

I have covered a little about each method below:

Hydrotherapy is a therapeutic whole-body treatment that involves moving and exercising in water, it can also be called Aqua therapy. Hydrotherapy pools are usually different from ordinary pools – the temperature, pressure and movement of water is controlled and changed according to the requirements of the person having the treatment. However, you could have hydrotherapy treatments in any water or pool. Being immersed, buoyant or massaged in water can relieve our bodies in a variety of different ways, and hydrotherapy can help with many physical and emotional complaints; including rheumatic pain and arthritis, poor muscle and skin tone, back pain, muscle or ligament injuries; broken limbs, neurological conditions such as strokes or brain injuries. Doctors often prescribe a course of hydrotherapy as part of a treatment program. It is also used by athletes to improve and maintain their general health and fitness, and by others as part of a healthy whole-body. Hydrotherapy is often prescribed by a GP or therapist as part of a course of treatment: a program of movements and exercises is tailored to your needs.

NB- If you’re having hydrotherapy at a spa, you may well be having a more general treatment, in which case just be aware of the power of the water.

There are different versions of Hydrotherapy, I have listed several below:

The Watsu Method– Also called water Shiatsu, is a combination of Aqua therapy and Shiatsu. Watsu is based on stretching the body in the supportive, relaxing medium of warm water. Besides the physical benefits this also has benefits mentally. The Watsu method has a general relaxation and calming effect that soothes the muscle tension and stimulates all of the body systems and organs by nourishing the energy flow.

The Feldenkrais Method- This method promotes teaching individuals about the quality of their movements and how to move effortlessly with ease and efficiency. This is called Awareness Through Movement, many of the aspects of this can be successfully adapted to water. The properties of water can affect movement; for example, the relationship of yourself to gravity combined with the unique attributes of the Feldenkrais method.

The Burdenko Method– Is a method of Aqua therapy which is designed to address the 6 precepts of fitness: strength; flexibility; balance; co-ordination, endurance and speed. It is promoted as a great way to recover from injury or surgery.

Balneotherapy, is hydrotherapy without the exercise and is also called Spa therapy. Thermal water treatments are century-old practices, used all over the world and part of traditional therapies of ancient and modern cultures There are three basic ways of taking the waters, these are: externally, through immersion, either total or partial; into the lungs and respiratory tract, through the inhalation of aerosols; and internally, through drinking.  The various kinds of mineral waters have differing effects through each of these. Balneotherapy. is frequently used in alternative medicine as a disease cure and is very popular for treatment of all types of arthritis. Scientific studies have proven that balneotherapy could help in the reduction of pain in conditions such as low back pain, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. It could also help manage stress also in a better way.

Water has different properties at different temperatures: Hot is stimulating and will relax muscles. Warm is gently reviving and will stimulate the appetite, cool, is soothing for heated skin and inflammation. Cold water can only be used for short intervals of time. This can be used after hot water for exhilaration and stimulating circulation. Alternating between hot and cold water can be a powerful technique. Balneologists have three major vectors for analysing and classifying the natural mineral waters that occur at various spa resorts. The thermal waters, as they come out of the earth, are naturally one of three temperatures:

     Hypothermal:  from cool to tepid, well below body temperature.

     Mesothermal:  warm, or around body temperature.

     Hyperthermal:  hot, or well above body temperature.

During immersion, the skin absorption of the minerals in the water can be considerable, especially in total body immersion and if the water is at a high temperature.  The skin and the peripheral lymphatic and capillary circulation are the most directly affected.  With aerosol inhalation, lung and respiratory conditions are targeted.  And with the internal imbibing of the waters, the digestive organs and the Natural Faculty are most directly affected, and through them, every organ and tissue in the body.  In addition, techniques like massage are used with salts, peats, clays and muds. In countries like Hungary and Poland, it has been in use for centuries for the treatment of common ailments.

Balneotherapy can be done at home. The following is a suggestion of ways to ensure it works for you:

Prepare the water in a bath, making sure the temperature is between 98.6 degrees and 107 degrees. If you want to stimulate your body or to treat mild fatigue, a bath at a temperature of 98.6 degrees is ideal. If you would like to soothe your muscles and joints after an intense workout, the preferred temperature would be higher at 107 degrees. The minerals that can be easily used at home for Balneotherapy are Epsom salt and Dead Sea salt. The recommended amount is 1-2 cups in a standard-sized bath. Soak for about 15 to 20 minutes to reap the benefits of this therapy. Making sure that you are soaked all the way up to the neck. After taking your bath, relax for 10-20 minutes, lie down or meditate for a while.

NB-If you have respiratory or heart problems, make sure to consult a doctor before opting for Balneotherapy.

Thalassotherapy– It was Frenchman Jacques de la Bonnardière, in 1865, who invented the concept of thalassotherapy, combining two Greek words, thalassa (sea) and therapies (therapia). The Greeks, have always been a seafaring people and they have always placed great faith in the healing powers of the sea and the marine environment. Due to the supernatural power attributed to the warm waters and their vapours, it’s not surprising how the first Thermal baths arose in Ancient times near the temples and natural hot springs. Some claims are made that Thalassotherapy was developed in France during the 19th century. I think that many of the techniques were used for centuries before this but were actually fine- honed in France at a later time.

The word spa comes from the Latin sanitus per aqua which translates as health through water and the curative qualities of seawater and the seaside climate have been used for therapeutic purposes since Roman times. Today, it’s a big business and there are countless seaside towns where visitors flock to be sprayed, floated, pummelled and hosed using a variety of water-based techniques. The marine air is filled with healing, refreshing negative ions. Modern science tells us that all life evolved out of the oceans, so the desire to take a healing, refreshing dip in the ocean can be seen as the desire to return to our Source.  The writings of Rene Quinton formed the foundation for the modern science of Thalassotherapy. French physicians started formulating treatment plans and therapeutic protocols in Thalassotherapy and constructing seaside Balneotherapy resorts where seawater was pumped in to large thermal treatment pools. The first rheumatism and depression treatment centre opened in Boulogne-Sur-Mer in 1800 but enthusiasm for Thalassotherapy only really took hold in 1822 with the opening of the first warm water spa in Dieppe, which would launch its fashionable beach resort. Which encouraged people to take a spa holiday.

 Some of the health problems that can be treated include eczema and psoriasis, joint problems, arthritis, poor circulation, immobility and post-operative conditions, which are treated with seawater baths and sea algae packs.  Thalassotherapy is also very beneficial against stress, fatigue and aging and other minor health complaints we all suffer from which can slowly sap our vitality and immunity.   The secret to seawater’s effectiveness lies in its trace minerals, which act as catalysts to activate the cellular enzymes.  Without these vital trace minerals, cellular activity gets sluggish, which adversely impacts all the major bodily functions. The nutrients from food ingested by a de-mineralized body can’t be properly absorbed, digested and metabolized.  So, our bodies can’t properly expel metabolic wastes and toxins.  Cellular sluggishness can produce a whole plethora of nasty symptoms including fatigue, insomnia, a slow metabolism, circulation problems and poor immunity, all of which can lead to more serious health ailments and diseases.  All of these conditions can be remedied by the healing effects of seawater and Thalassotherapy. Some of the standard procedures and treatments are algae poultices, algae hand and foot baths, hot seawater baths, ( Seaweed has incredible qualities and I will tell you more about these in my next blog post) underwater massage and jet Thermal Medicine.

The health benefits of the seaside and ocean can be experienced by simply spending a day near the coastline, it is certainly one of my favourite things to do, I always feel wonderful afterwards!

The Ancient Origins of Hydrotherapy

The beneficial properties of water have been well-known since ancient times for its healing and disease-protecting effects. When men discovered the importance of water as an essential element for human life, they built the first civilisations close by to the sea and rivers. Due to its importance, water was seen as magical and considered a gift of the divinity. Egyptians and Israelites used to plunge themselves in the sacral water of Niles and Jordan.  Hindus, enter the waters of the Ganges river for healing their soul and body.

Ancient Greeks knew the beneficial properties of sulphurous springs, especially for healing skin diseases and for relieving muscular and joint pain. The element of Water was thought to have an Expulsive Virtue which washed impurities and waste products from the body. The cleansing action of the water is enhanced by its surface tension, which further enables the water to be able to penetrate and draw out the impurities and toxins. In the Homeric poems and Hesiod, many references are made to the use of restorative baths. Plato said, “The sea cures all ailments of man.”  Euripides said, “The sea washes away all men’s illnesses.”  Plato, Hippocrates and Aristotle all recommended hot seawater baths.  Cato the Elder served his slaves a mixture of wine and seawater to restore their energy.

Hippocrates, the famous philosopher, was the father of Hydrotherapy. He was very interested in the therapeutic properties of various waters, which he saw were either rain- fed, as in lakes or marshes, or from subterranean aquifers, as in mineral springs that come bubbling out of the rocks.  He theorized that their differing curative properties came from their differing contents of various minerals like; iron, copper, silver, gold and sulfur. In his work “De is, a quiz at loci” he describes the chemical and organoleptic water features, and the effects of hot and cold baths on the human body. Hippocrates, proposed the hypothesis that all the human diseases started in an imbalance of the bodily fluids. To restore balance; changes of habits and environment were advised, including bathing, perspiration, walking, and massages.

Thermalism became the social form of Hydrotherapy. Following on from the Greeks, Romans considered bathing as a regular regimen for good health. Many Roman and Byzantine physicians like Herophilus, Erasistratus, Asclepiades and Orebasius studied the curative properties of mineral springs. Roman thermal baths became a social experience for everyone. Numerous baths, which they called Balnea, were constructed in Rome and conquered lands all over Europe, for both private and public use. Baths, were also built in private houses, often with special areas dedicated to sauna and massage.  Not only was this a good regimen for human health, thermalism became important for socialising, relaxation and working. The Roman Thermae also had a medicinal emphasis, and were largely used as recuperation centres for the wounded military soldiers, fatigued by wars, to treat their sore wounds and tired muscles through the natural spring waters.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, spas in Austria and Germany, became popular. The Water Cure, which was also called Taking the Waters, was a 19th century health reform movement that employed the therapeutic use of water to revitalize health and treat disease. In the 19th century, detailed chemical analyses of the mineral contents of various hot springs waters began. (Today, in many European countries the scientific study of therapeutic spa bathing, is a recognized subspecialty of medicine) The Water Cure was a combination of Hydrotherapy, which is therapeutic bathing, Balneothrepy, which is bathing in thermal springs and Thalassothreapy, which is ocean bathing.

In 1849, Father Sebastian Kneipp who became known as the Water Doctor, invented a system of naturopathy of natural therapeutics.  When taken seriously ill with pulmonary tuberculosis, he discovers a book by the physician Johann Sigmund Hahn, On the Healing Virtues of Cold Water, Inwardly and Outwardly Applied, which explained about the healing power of cold water. Fascinated by this information, Kneipp performed an experiment on himself in the cold Danube river. A bath that lasted only a few seconds and a brief run afterwards lead to a surprising positive result. He is invigorated afterwards and repeats the brief baths over the following days and supplements them with half-baths and affusions, the pouring on of water on the head, as in the rite of baptism. As a result, his state of health continually improves and his illness is gone. He began using Hydrotherapy to help some of his poorer parishioners. Kneipp, broadened his approach to include; medicinal herbs, exercise, a diet of low-protein and high fibre and adhering to the body’s natural biorhythms. He wrote My Water Cure in 1886 which was translated into several languages. Kneipp’s effective philosophy is grounded on the five basic principles of Water, Plants, Exercise, Nutrition and Balance. His five pillars remain so relevant today that his methods of aromatherapy and plant healing play an immense role in contributing to modern holistic healthcare and have influenced many other health programs and experts. The German UNESCO Committee have acknowledged his work as part of Germany’s cultural heritage. Today, the company of Kneipp continues its 125 years old heritage by providing natural body, bathing and skin products inspired by the lifelong naturopathic studies of the health pioneer Father Sebastian Kneipp.

The Belle Epoque period, late Victorian era to the Edwardian era, saw the emergence of Elitist Thermalism, throughout Europe and the Americas, Spas were on the rise. The new thermal centres were an integral part of gentile life, it was the beginning of Medical and Health Tourism. Health was not solely linked to the treatment of disease and ailments but also for well-being, luxury and social status.

To able to travel for their health like the nobility, was very much seen as a major aspiration for the wealthy classes, to be seen taking the waters whether afflicted by illness or not. The elite flocked in their masses to the European spas to socialize, fall in love, find creative inspiration, show- off the latest fashions, attend cultural events and meet famous people. I do hope that their health also benefited from the wonderful natural resources.

In my next blog post, I will go into more detail about the actual treatments. This is such a large subject it was becoming a bit too long like War and Peace!

The Dead Sea and The Wonderful Benefits of Dead Sea Salts

The Dead Sea is called Ya-Ha Melah (in Hebrew) which is literally, the “sea of salt. The Dead Sea is a landlocked salt- lake, the largest in the world, bordered by Jordan, Israel and the Palestine. Extraordinary climatic and environmental conditions make the Dead Sea a truly remarkable place, and its salt deposits are unlike anything else in the world. The water has 34.2% salinity, which is why people are able to float in the water. The Dead Sea has been an attraction for healing and wellness for thousands of years. That’s because the unique mineral composition of the water, mud, and atmospheric pressure have been shown to improve inflammatory conditions like psoriasis and arthritis. The low pollution and allergen levels of the Dead Sea depression region make it an ideal place to recover from ailments such as asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, and cystic fibrosis. Dead Sea water is a wonderful treatment for dry skin conditions, nourishing the skin and replenishes much-needed moisture.

Jenna Rosenstein,the beauty director of Harper’s Bazaar, fashion magazine, visited the Dead Sea and below are some of her observations:

The water was so warm that it verged on hot. I kept walking until it reached my torso, and then I leaned back and splashed into the sea. I submerged only for a second before popping back up on the surface, like a human rubber duckie.

I’ve tried nearly every facial and skincare product that promises luminous, even skin—nothing compares to a dip in the Dead Sea. And if you can’t fly out there anytime soon, at least pick up a packet (or ten) of Dead Sea bath salts. In this golden age of wellness and self-care, a little salt water might be all you need.

 Using Dead salts has been documented from as far back as biblical times. King Solomon presented the Queen of Sheba with a gift of Dead Sea Salts when she was visiting the Holy Lands. Queen Cleopatra, attributed her great beauty to the secrets of the sea and its salts. She had Marc Anthony conquer the regions surrounding the Dead Sea, so she would always have access to a bountiful supply. Some records state that she established cosmetic clinics to offer salt treatments to her guests, but I found many versions of the facts on this, so I am not sure if that is true.

The area around the Dead Sea has always had an association with mythical worlds. Dead Sea Salts are favoured by Spiritual Healers as it is reported to remove all negative energies which we all pick up on our daily travels. These negative energies attach themselves to our Aura, resulting in a negative impact of our mood, mental state and sometimes physical wellbeing. There are many Spiritual Baths which use Dead Sea Salt, Herbs, and oils that people use to uncross negative conditions. Dead Sea salts can also be added to floor washes to remove negative energies from the home and sprinkling Dead Sea salt outside of the home has the same effect. Tradition has it that placing salt in the four corners of a room keeps negative spirits at bay and purifies the room.

There are over 20 different minerals found in Dead Sea salt aside from sodium chloride, the main constituent of sea salt, including magnesium, calcium, sulphur, bromide, iodine, zinc and potassium. It is these minerals that are the reason behind the wonderful healing and therapeutic qualities of the salt. It contains 10 x the minerals of other natural sea salts. It’s not processed or only had minimal processing, since it comes directly through the evaporation of seawater so it keeps its trace elements.

The many minerals have different properties but the key ones are below:

Sulphur– decongests and is anti- bacterial

Calcium– promotes skin growth and regeneration

Sodium– cleanses and exfoliates, revives sore muscles and neutralizes free radicals

Zinc and Potassium– work to promote moisture retention, keeping the skin, plump and hydrated

Magnesium– detoxifies and cleanses the epidermis

Bromide – helps relieve allergic reactions of the skin by reducing inflammation

Iron– stimulating circulation

These essential minerals naturally occur in our bodies but must be replenished, as they are lost throughout the day and are known to treat, detoxify, and cleanse our bodies.

So, if your nightly baths need an extra boost add a touch of salts as these are very absorbent, they mix well with essential oils giving even more health benefits. Dead Sea salt baths are known for their ability to ease stress, boost your overall health and promote better sleep. Putting them in a hot bath can have the same results as low- level exercise. Stretching and moving in the water can also provide a low impact workout for pains in the muscles and joints. If you are unable to have a full bath Dead Sea salts work really well in a footbath. Soothing achy, overworked legs and feet and reducing swelling.

 Research has proven that soaking regularly in water enriched with Dead Sea salt can provide relief from many unpleasant skin disorders. Problem areas can also be exfoliated using Dead Sea Salts as the grainy texture helps to detoxify and shifts blemishes whilst stimulating the blood flow.

Warm water and Dead Sea salt are generally safe for most people. However, there are some precautions to consider before you take a soak in the bath. It is important not to be use them, if you have had an allergic reaction, have an open cut or wound, as the salt can cause stinging sensations.

In the 1960’s, Habitat in the Kings Road started selling Dead Sea salts as an ozone- rich bath treatments giving the same feelings of well- being attached to the seaside. In 2020, I would agree that Dead Sea Salts still have all the wonderful healing aspects of the sea and are a lovely addition to any bath.

Forest Bathing and The Power of Green

When I lived in London, I was close to Hampstead Heath, I had a hectic and stressful lifestyle and if I had a rare free moment I would always go for a walk on the heath. Slowing down and observing the most minuscule of details, how the smells changed as I strolled along the rough paths: earthy, fresh, woody, musty and floral. The noticing of these things deeply quieted my busy mind. I always returned from my walks grounded. At the time I didn’t intentionally practice connecting with nature and surrounding myself with the energy of the natural world. I felt grateful for a chance to get just out of my head, as I have a constant Monkey Brain, and found mediating difficult, then and now, walking in the woods, was a mediation of sorts for me.

Forest bathing originated in Japan in the early 1980s, where it is called Shinrin-Yoku, practitioners greatly respect trees and believe that they’re the protectors and wise watchers of the forest. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries created Forest Bathing as a way to promote national health and being outdoors. Even Forestry England promote this on their website. While this is not an ancient practice, many see it as a cure for modern ailments and a form of nature therapy. Investigations on the physiological effects that result from being in a forest began in Japan in 1990 and continue today. In a 2011 study, scientists found that people walking in nature had lower blood pressure than those in the city. Another study in Japan showed that inhaling the aroma from cedar trees boosts stress-fighting compounds in the body.

During a nature bath, you’re “bathing” in the energy and clean air of the woods. The healing effects of forests and other natural, green settings, is shown to reduce stress hormone production, lower heart rate and blood pressure, improve moods, free up creativity, boost the immune system, accelerate recovery from illness, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. So, is advantageous for your physical and mental wellbeing. Most of all, Forest Bathing positively benefits your mood. After trying this many have seen a noticeable improvement in both focus and attention, researchers have even linked this practice to better focus in those with ADHD. Personally, even looking at images of forests and woods fill me with a instant sense of calm and relief.

5 simple steps to practising Shinrin-Yoku or Forest Bathing;

  1. leave behind your phone, camera or any other distractions, so that you can be fully present in the experience.
  2.  Leave behind your goals and wander aimlessly, don’t plan a route.
  3. Pause from time to time, to look more closely, feel some bark and leaves, hug a tree or run dirt between your fingers.
  4. Find a comfortable spot to sit and listen to the sounds around you.
  5. If you go with others, agree not to talk until the end of the walk.

If possible, embrace all your senses; sight, touch, smell, listen to the sounds, bring natural snacks with you to eat, nuts and berries are ideal.

 Thanks to the power of the internet, Forest Bathing has dramatically increased in popularity all over the globe. For the full experience, participants walk with trained guides, who are like therapists, taking their clients through guided meditations, yoga and walks, helping them to see nature in a new light.

The International Nature and Forest Therapy Alliance (INFTA) is committed to establishing Forest Therapy as a scientifically-proven natural medicine by building networks and establishing partnerships with research, education and Public health bodies across the globe. Through these networks, INFTA will access studies, contribute to research on and create awareness about Forest Therapy and Forest Medicine. INFTA’s mission is to make Forest Therapy accessible to all for the health and well-being of people world-wide. Recent estimates by the INFTA project see a demand of up to 10,000 INFTA-Certified Forest Therapy Guides in China alone over the next five years.

Though still a new practice, forest bathing has already shown great promise in treating real conditions without the side effects of medication. It is possible to do this without using a guide, so the costs are low. A pair of walking boots or trainers, a rain proof jacket in the UK and a water bottle are all that are needed.

So next time you go outside, why not find your nearest nature trail and begin your own forest bathing experience?

10 Tips for a Younger Brain

I have always said that I wanted to look 10 years younger, which sounds a little vain, but in truth, I want to be able to live an active, healthy life in my later years. As the years are advancing quicker than ever this seems even more true. The one thing I have noticed about those who appear to have been blessed with eternal youth, is their active minds, many interests and the fact that they are very much still engaged with the world around them. Continuing to travel, exercise, write, dance and create well into their 70’s, 80’s even 90’s. So rather than wanting to just look 10 years younger I need my brain and body to remain younger too.

From 30 years of age our brains start shrinking and from the age of 40 continues to lose a further 5% every decade. Terrible news indeed, however, there is some good news. Advances in scientific research has shown that there are steps that can be taken to slow down the aging process and even grow new brain cells. This is called Neurogenesis. To learn more about this read 100 Days to a New Brain by Dr Sabina Brennan. Now I am going to definitely buy a copy of this book but there are also 10 tips to help keep your intellect sharp as the years move on.

  1. Follow the Mediterranean diet
  2. Daydream
  3. Keep brain hydrated
  4. Socialise
  5. Reduce risk factors for high blood pressure
  6. Prioritise sleep
  7. Challenge yourself
  8. Manage stress
  9. Say yes to life-long learning
  10. Stand more

I don’t think there were two many surprises in this list: drinking plenty of water is still the biggest health tip, delivering key nutrients to the brain and removing toxins. Having spent time living in Spain, I am already a fan of the Mediterranean diet and seeing how healthy people are there in later life in contrast to the UK, a major factor been their diet this is even more motivating. I have been successfully daydreaming since childhood, so its great to see that there are some advantages to one of my key skills, your brain is more activate whilst daydreaming that when focused on a task. (Now they don’t tell you that in school) Been social can be through family, friends or even volunteering. I would add to this not spending too much time alone in later years is important. The research shows that social support has a positive impact on our cognitive function. Mixing with children and a younger generation is vital to keep your brain and body on its toes still! Once again In Mediterranean family’s grandparents and older relations do play a large role in their families. Your heart works like a pump, using pressure to push blood through the arteries around the body and brain. So, it is vital to keep your blood pressure in the range of 90/60mmHg to 120/80mmhg. A diet too high in salt, smoking, drinking and an inactive lifestyle will often raise blood pressure. Poor sleep can harm the brain. When your brain is deprived of sleep, the active process of your brains waste clearance system may not have sufficient time to give your brain a deep clean. A build up of waste products from cells has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. Having a good night’s sleep is also stress relieving and having high levels of stress inhibits learning and impairs memory.  Staying challenged and continuing to learn are very important. I am a great believer in Life-long learning, word quizzes, learning a new language or even taking a night class (helping to stay social) or an online course will all help bring about improvements in your brain health. There are lots of free online course and often reductions for older citizens on night classes.  And finally, stand more, I found this one surprising but our brains perform better when standing so trying to not sit down for long periods of time and stand when possible.

So overall, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, drinking water, daydreaming, staying social, sleeping well, manging stress, standing more, continuing to learn and challenge myself will help me keep my brain active for many years to come. All this is quite easy to follow and I know anything I do now will make a difference to my life quality in 20 years’ time.

My parents still do a daily crossword, which if done regularly can slow down the decline in mermory and decrease the risk of dementia.

My lively 94 year old neighbour plays bridge in a club, so is out most nights and this has I think helped her to stay alert and youthful. During the lockdown my family do a weekly quiz on Zoom and this has been a great way to keep using the grey matter. I now have a good excuse to play solitaire on my computer when I should be working but that’s a different blog post!

brain collage