Underneath the Surface: The Healing Benefits of Bathing

Featured image by Virgylia Soosaar. Words and all other images by Raisa Tolchinsky

Greetings from South of Iceland, where I have spent the last month!

  While here, I have witnessed how the Laugarvatn hot spring is a source of deep nourishment, rest, and community for those that live here amidst the cold and darkness. In Iceland, hot springs aren’t seen as a “spa,” or a place for the wealthy. Bathing is built into the fabric of daily life. Enter any hot spring, and you see couples, teenagers, and children swimming in neon floaties, as older folk gossip about who is marrying who in the next village over. What I hope to take back to New York is not only the sacredness of making time to rest, but also the importance of the communal space which the hot springs foster. They are sacred spaces where multiple generations come together in nature to make time for stillness.
Aside from the stillness and community hot springs foster, they have incredibly healing physical benefits.
This might be something that is difficult to recreate completely in say, a bustling city like New York, where we don’t always have hot springs mere steps from our homes, but the idea of making time for a consistent community, one that revolves around a source of nourishment, is one I will hold onto. After all, in the depths of winter, it is so easy to withdraw into our isolated hobbit holes, emerging only for the occasional carton of milk. When we do come together, our places of community are often bustling and loud (bars, birthday parties, etc.). These spaces can be full of joy and celebration, but for some of us, they can also be a little bit draining. Aside from the stillness and community hot springs foster, they have incredibly healing physical benefits. For a while I wondered why the hot springs smelled like rotten eggs (not your typical relaxing scent), but it turns out the water contains sulfur, along with calcium, sulfate, magnesium, iron, chloride, potassium, and zinc. Sulfur, as well as these other minerals, promotes cellular communication and relaxation. Magnesium in particular can have a soothing effect on the joints and muscles.
And yes, there’s actually a name for the health benefits of bathing in hot springs— balneotherapy, otherwise known as “treatment for disease from bathing.” It can be helpful for many different kinds of skin conditions, and can provide pain relief from fibromyalgia and arthritis. And while on the topic of bathing, let’s not forget “sensory deprivation tanks,” otherwise known as “float tanks.” Last summer, I floated in a dark, soundproof pod filled with salt water the temperature of my skin. After watching the way my monkey mind jumped around, I settled into an extreme feeling of the stillness the Icelandic hot springs naturally cultivate. The reality is, most of us have busy, complicated lives and won’t make it to the hot springs or to a sensory deprivation tank any time soon. At Brooklyn Herborium, we’re interested in passing along ancient traditions and healing rituals into your hands, and there are definitely ways to incorporate these teachings into a life far from Iceland. You probably have hot water in your home, and maybe a tub or basin. One of the most therapeutic parts of the hot springs are its minerals, which can be found in our Herbal Sitz Bath and Soak Your Wild Oats. If you don’t have a bathtub, there’s also Instant Alchemy which can be sprayed directly on the body!

A last note: besides literally submerging in the hot spring, I have observed it carefully while on my daily walk. What a crazy miracle that warm water bubbles up from the frozen ground in the midst of winter! And has been doing so for thousands and thousands of years. It is a powerful reminder for me that sometimes, what is most nourishing and beautiful runs underneath the surface of what seems cold and hard. Sometimes you just have to dig a little. Sending love from the north!
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