Thursday, January 11, 2018

Taking a bath for your health

Baths are my secret weapon for self-care. When I bring this up to a lot of people, I often get the response of "but you're just stewing in your own filth." Obviously they haven't had a really good bath - one that is actually composed of the proper elements for physical and mental well-being.

But don't you just sit in a tub of hot water? No! If that's what you're doing, you're not giving yourself an optimal experience. It's like that old episode of Friends, "The one where Chandler takes a bath." Monica is able to create an atmosphere of relaxation with bath salts, aromatherapy, ambiance... But when Chandler tries to re-create this experience, his salts don't dissolve, the water isn't the right temperature. It's easy to overlook important details that can really make or break the experience.

Which brings me to my next point: There are different types of baths! Create the right conditions for your own personal needs. Here are some elements that can change the outcome of a self-care bath:

Elements of a Self-care Bath: Detoxifying and Relaxing

1) Water temperatures and application:

In general, hot/warm water in extended time periods (20-60 minutes) helps to relax the nervous system and your body. If you feel like you need help decompressing and getting to sleep, a hot bath is a great way to prep the body for bed.

If you're looking to invigorate your circulation and give yourself a bit of a "wake-up", follow that hot bath with 1-2 minutes of a cool/cold shower. The water doesn't need to be freezing, we're not looking to shock your system. We want it cold enough that it's a noticeable change from the bath, but not intolerable. For some individuals, even 30 seconds of cold water application is enough to change circulation, and at the least, the neck down should be exposed to the water.

Hot water tends to bring circulation to the surface, allowing your body to try to cool itself down. Whereas afterwards, if you apply cold water, you then force all of that warm blood back from your extremities and from the surface, back to central circulation.

2) Salts and Minerals:

Epsom salts, used externally, are a fantastic way of creating a mineral rich medium in which to soak your body. In particular, Epsom salts contain Magnesium sulfate. By soaking in this solution for 20-40 minutes, your body can absorb magnesium (and sulfates), which can act as a natural muscle relaxant. The trick is in adding the right amount of salts.

A full bathtub needs 2 full measured cups of Epsom salts. Other benefits of Epsom salts include a calming effect on the mind and nervous system, relaxing sore muscles and aches, and a detoxification effect on the body as it promotes pathways of elimination. Make sure to swish the salts around until they are fully dissolved into the water.

3) Oils (carrier/moisturizers and aromatherapy)

Oils are an excellent way of elevating the wellness aspect of your bath. Mix a handful of Epsom salts with some olive oil and rub gently over skin as a softener and exfoliator.
Essential oils can be added to the bath (just about 5-10 drops) as well for mood support and relaxation.

The Recipe for a perfect Detox-Relax Bath

We do a lot of detoxifying through our skin! Which is also why sweating can be beneficial and healthy. A detox bath can be accomplished just by using our Epsom salts, and by soaking for at least 30 minutes. The relaxation part will take a small amount of work on your part, to create the atmosphere you need. 
  • First, you'll need to set up your bathroom: grab a big fluffy towel, light a few candles if you wish, brew a cup of tea or get a cup of lemon water to sip on while you're in the tub. 
  • Try to eliminate distractions. Play relaxation instrumental music in the background, but avoid screens (tv, tablets, phones). Allow yourself this time just for you. It's your time to recharge - build up your Yin!
  • Fill your tub with warm/hot water 
  • Add 2 cups epsom salts, swished in bath and dissolved.
  • Add 5-10 drops of essential oils
  • Alternatively or additionally, you can add dried herb to your bath. 
    • Add in calendula or chamomile flowers to help ease skin irritations, and ease an angry tummy; Add dried lavender if you don't have the essential oils on hand. 
    • Note: I recommend cheesecloth to contain the flowers if you want to make clean-up easier in the end. You can use quite a bit of them, about 3-6 heaping tablespoons. 
  • Soak and relax for at least 30 minutes. Up to 45 or 60 minutes if you're looking to relax more before bed. 
  • Rinse off or just towel dry, making sure to be gentle on the skin. End with a slow gentle body massage with your favourite moisturizer or oil. Even if you don't have an extra set of hands to massage you, self-massage to apply a moisturizer will do just fine.