Around the world, every culture has developed and refined its bathing routines to create bathing rituals that are not just relaxing; they are cultural experiences, too, uniting cleansing of the body and spirit.
Modern life is fast and furious. Jumping into the shower to start or end the day has become more in-and-out habit, less self-care. Yet, the power of the bath has endured. The simple act of pouring a squeeze of bubble bath under the running faucet turns a simple cleansing routine into a moment of luxury and a little bit of therapy for the soul too.
This time to bathe and enjoy the holistic benefits of immersing ourselves in water is something our ancestors understood well. The rich and varied history of ancient bathing rituals offers a glimpse into the affirming power of bath time that provides an opportunity to soothe, heal – and socialize.
Herbal and Floral Bathing Rituals
Herbal, or floral, bathing is perhaps the bath time ritual most readily mirrored in modern bathing practices. Our bathroom cabinets are filled with flower and herb-infused products for skin and hair that make promises to the soul too; lavender to relax, eucalyptus to refresh, citrus to revive. Herbal baths are a route into doing something good for you, inside and out; a simple, relaxing ritual that supports wellbeing and draws the power of the chosen herbs and flowers into the skin.
This rich heritage of floral bathing can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, where oils, flowers, and aromatic herbs were used in bathing for their medicinal and spiritual properties, allowing bathers to turn their bath water into an elixir of sensual luxury.
Mandi Bunga Floral Bathing, Photo (left) ©Dreamwood Photography, (right) Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata from Pexels
Floral baths are also popular throughout Malaysia's multi-cultural ethic communities, including Malay, Chinese and Indian. The Mandi Bunga - ‘floral bath’ in Malay - is a rite that many believe can lead you to a better path or expel bad energy to fix the past. is a rite that many believe can lead you to a better path or expel bad energy to fix the past. Turning a bath into an event, the ceremony is overseen by a spiritual leader, from the bather preparing their carefully selected collection of fragrant flowers and finally entering the water. The combination of tangible cleansing and ritualistic intention is transformative.
Before modern medicine, herbs and flowers were what humans used to treat ailments. Combining the elemental properties of water with flora that can soothe, herbal bathing rituals have endured because they work. From physical ills such as muscle tension to helping us balance the mind after a stressful day, the harmony of water and plants is a purifying experience
Ancient Roman Bathhouse, Bath England, Photo ©iLongLoveKing
Thermal baths use hot springs to create a unique bathing experience said to rejuvenate the mind and body. With the high temperatures of natural mineral springs, bathing stimulates body and soul, awakening the body’s energy, flowing through you just like the water around you.
Perhaps no one is as famous for bathing as the Ancient Romans. Their whole day affairs were a sophisticated journey from room to room, including steam rooms, sweat rooms, and cold rooms. But at the heart of the experience was the thermal hot spring bathhouse, a social space that was the center of Ancient Rome’s most common daily activity. Although personal hygiene was paramount, Romans embraced the art of bathing, elevating it to a complex ritual that included undressing, bathing, sweating, and resting.
While Roman bathhouses are now an architectural heritage, thermal bathing continues to be enjoyed as a luxury across the globe. Japan’s onsen and Iceland’s geothermal pools use naturally hot water from geothermally-heated springs in these volcanic regions to create unique bathing experiences.
Japanese Onsen Spa
In Japan, onsen are defined by natural hot mineral water above 25 °C – the perfect place to reconnect to oneself, a spiritual cleansing of the day’s concerns. In fact, the cleaning part of this bathing ritual occurs before you can enter the spring, where you must be free of all dirt – and soap! By focusing on the relaxing, nourishing comfort of hot water, thermal bathing in Japan – a country where water is believed to provide spiritual purification - cleanses the soul too.
Iceland Geothermal Bath, Photo ©Breslavtsev Oleg
The view in Iceland would be very different, of course – long stretches of ice and snow – while you reinvigorate yourself in one of the countries famous hot springs. Here, naturally occurring minerals enhance the experience, relieving symptoms of inflammatory conditions and chronic pain.
Water is purifying, and these moments to unwind are a powerful antidote to physical and mental human suffering. Bathing outside creates an intimate experience with nature, becoming one with the wilderness and the wild nature of the human spirit. This entire sensory encounter is one of sacred healing that goes beyond modern self-care habits to become a return to a far simpler, almost primal renaissance.
Turkish Hammam Steam Bath, Photo (left) iStock.com/Ahmetgul (right) ©Aleksandar Todorovic
Water is not just liquid – it can be solid and vapor too. An essential element, ‘Due to the supernatural power attributed to the warm waters and their vapors, it’s not surprising how the first Thermal arose near the temples and natural hot springs.’ Ancient bathing rituals recognized the importance of water to our health.
Steam baths are a soothing steam-filled room that cleanses and relaxes, long used to add to the therapeutic practice of bathing. Made famous by Roman Thermae, whose bathhouses inspired many modern-day spas, the ritual of steam bathing was adopted by many other countries, including Russia and Turkey.
Middle Eastern hammams, or Turkish baths, are a particularly unique example of the exhilaration of bathing as purification. Turkish bathhouses were very similar to the Romans but emphasized the religious role of bathing, creating a holistic spiritual tradition that lasted centuries. Ritual purification was central to such deep cleansing practices, combining steam rooms with vigorous massages to truly realign the body.
Steam baths are different from saunas, although their purpose in shifting toxins from the body is similar. While saunas create steam by adding water to a hot stove, steam baths use the natural evaporation of water at higher temperatures. A truly luxurious experience, steam baths cause the body to sweat, removing toxins as you relax in the heat. This active healing of the body can create immediate effects that rejuvenate the skin, improve circulation and contribute to better sleep.
Mud Bathing, Photo ©DreamArchitect
It’s not just water we look to for cleansing. Mud bathing rituals have existed for thousands of years and are lauded for their ability to relax the muscles, energize the skin and soothe the mind. These properties have made them an increasingly popular beauty and spa treatment.
Like other ancient bathing rituals, mud baths use natural resources. Most mud baths are created by mixing hot spring water, peat, and volcanic ash. This detoxing therapy has been used by many cultures, including Ancient Greeks, Native Americans, and Eastern Europeans, especially by Lake Techirghiol, Romania, and Kaina Bay, Estonia. Recognizing the anti-inflammatory properties of mud bath therapy must consider the geological conditions from where the mud is harvested. Natural elements and minerals, such as magnesium, sodium, and sulphur, should be present to ensure the maximum exfoliating and anti-inflammatory benefits are experienced.
Modern mud bath treatments are a calming indulgence. As with traditional mud baths, the mud’s high temperature allows impurities from the skin to be released. Submerging yourself in mud may seem the antithesis to cleanliness, but you will emerge with nourished skin and alleviated aches and pains.
Woman Performing Spiritual Bathing Ceremony, Varanasi, India Photo ©Henk Bogaard
Have you ever wondered what ablutions means? Its original meaning is ‘a ceremonial act of washing parts of the body.’ Spiritual, or sacred, bathing rituals are derived from several regions and philosophies and can take many forms – some of which, like Japanese shinrin yoku (forest bathing), don’t even require water. Instead, spiritual bathing rituals focus on your energy, allowing the negative to pass out from you and the positive to be drawn in, cleansing us from a different type of impurity. In India, thousands of Hindus make daily pilgrimages to the many ghats (river front steps) of the River Ganges each day to bath in its sacred water and perform puja (ritual prayer), making offerings to Mother Ganga.
Most ancient bathing rituals are rooted in this acceptance of the inner and outer self as one. Bathing is symbolic of more than dirt-free skin; it is spiritual purification, bringing balance to the many forces that affect the body and mind on any given day. It is why, even now, on days where we need to restore a tired, busy mind after a long and emotional day, we turn on the water, add our favorite scents either through bathing products or candles, turn down the lights and simply submerge, rising again refreshed and with clearer energy than before.
Ancient cultures recognized the spiritual importance of bathing, welcoming the senses into the ritual of cleansing. The soothing sensation of entering water, the comforting sound as it moves around us and the stimulation of scents we choose to add ground the experience of bathing, swirling together to contribute to a positive state of mind.
Moving from bathing routine to bathing ritual is easier than you think. Here’s how to recreate a Japanese onsen experience at home:
1. Cleanse your body.
At a traditional onsen, the showers include stools to sit upon while cleansing. Use a loofah to ensure you exfoliate thoroughly, removing the dead skin cells as well as your chosen soap.
2. Draw a very hot bath
Onsen temperatures are between 50 and 80 °C – almost twice the average household bath – so run your bath a little hotter than usual (but not so hot you risk burns). Ensure you keep the door closed to ensure you recreate the slowly rising vapors of natural thermal springs.
3. Add minerals
For the most authentic bath, add natural bath salts to mimic the same beneficial powers of onsen waters. This adds their potency to the water while remaining clear.
4. Bring scent to the room
Light a candle or incense in a scent that brings you a sense of peace and calm. Earthy aromas, such as wood or botanicals, work well to recreate a sense of the outdoors.
5. Settle into soak
Once you’ve checked the temperature is comfortable for you, submerge yourself slowly into the bath allowing your senses to take it all in. Relax for around twenty minutes (the same amount of time spent in an authentic onsen) in silent gratitude, allowing the water to cleanse your skin and soul. Carefully pour water over your head to clean the hair.
6. Rinse and rest
Once your bath is complete, delicately rinse your skin (but not so much that you risk removing the benefits from the added mineral salts). Wrap yourself in a soft towel and gently dry yourself. Once you are ready, dress in something light and comfortable and continue to rest, soothed by the sacred healing of your onsen bath. Explore our luxurious towel collection inspired by the power of water.
Photo (left) by Yaroslav Shuraev from Pexels
Bathing Rituals, Ancient Bathing, Modern Bathing, History of Bathing, Creating Bathing Rituals at Home