Therapeutic Baths - You're Doing It Wrong
Ok, so there really is no wrong way to take a bath. I have been so impressed lately with the bath resurgence as a form of #selfcare. I have also heard and seen some things that makes the doctor in me cringe, so I wanted to share some tips to help you up your bath game.
Balneotherapy, or bathing therapy, is one of our oldest medicines. Hyperthermic (really hot) baths, can be used like a sauna session, to sweat out toxins, which is great for all of us. Hyperthermic bath protocols have been prescribed for those with autoimmune and neurologic diseases, which often have toxicity as part of an underlying cause.
During a bath, the warm water causes the blood vessels and pores in our skin to open. This is great for helping to absorb the minerals or herbs we add into our baths. The warm water itself is soothing to our nervous systems and allows us a chance to be fully present and connected with our bodies, which is one reason I love to recommend therapeutic bath regimens to my patients with history of trauma, anxiety and depression.
With the majority of our blood hanging out in our muscles and skin during baths, not enough is left in our gastrointestinal tract to properly digest food. So, even if you are just enjoying a warm bath to unwind, baths are not the best times to eat, and definitely not the time to enjoy treats, or alcoholic beverages. I do like to recommend people have a well-balanced meal (contains some protein and fat) 2-3 hours before, or at least 30 minutes after a bath. It is important drink water with electrolytes, or herbal teas. You can even add a dash of sea salt to your water, and sip throughout your bath. Adding in extra electrolytes prevents dehydration, and headaches that can occur during hyperthermic baths.
I mentioned adding goodies to the baths, but this has been another huge source of concern for me due to the toxicity of commercially available bath products. I advise all of my patients avoid all products with fragrance, phthalates, parabens and triclosan ingredients, and any products that claim to be all natural, but do not disclose all of their ingredients. A great resource for learning more about the toxicity of these ingredients and how to avoid them is madesafe.org.
That brings me to my spiel on essential oils. Essential oils are extremely potent and powerful plant medicines. They are antimicrobial to the point of being toxic to our own cells as well. The majority of essential oils are not produced from organic plants, which is a problem since oils themselves are fats, and like us, plants store all of their toxins within their fats. This means that sourcing is extremely important. Look for bath products that use certified organic oils and herbs, as this is the only way to be sure extra pesticides aren't hanging out in your bath with you. I also recommend against adding essential oils directly into baths, as they can cause skin irritation called dermatitis. Even small amounts of essential oils added directly to bath water can cause nausea or headaches in some people, so better not to risk it. Don't worry though, I have included some ratios so that you can make your own bath products using essential oils that you trust. Diffusing organic, sustainably produced essential oils during a bath is always a great to use essential oils and incorporate aromatherapy into your self-care.
Up your bath game: Add ins to increase the therapeutic effect of your bath:
Epsom salts are the classic therapeutic bath add in. I love recommending Epsom salt soaks 1-2 hours before bed for anyone who had a recent injury, is having muscle pain and tension, stress, or trouble sleeping. The magnesium from the Epsom salts is well absorbed through the skin in your bath and is soothing to the nervous system. It also helps with hydration and blood flow, since you are absorbing the minerals/electrolytes righting into your skin and superficial blood vessels. Add enough mineral salt so that the tub is saturated, or when you can still feel some salt grit on the bottom of the tub, usually about 2 cups.
Herbs and Flowers
Dried herbs are a great addition to baths. For a therapeutic bath you will 3-4 ounces of bulk herbs. You can also just throw some teabags in, though you will need 3-4 boxes of tea bags, but you could always use less and have a slightly less potent bath. Place the herbs in a reusable tea infuser, muslin or cheesecloth bags, and run them under the faucet as you run the bath. You can also infuse an extra strong batch of tea, and add it to your bath. Caution if using individual tea bags, as they can open slightly as they break down in the water or after you wring them out.
Oats are a great herb to add to baths which can help moisturize, soothe and decrease itchy, irritated skin. Fill a clean sock, cheesecloth or muslin bag with oats and steep in your tub as you bathe. You can also wring it out and apply it as a compress, pressed directly to your skin and face which is anti-inflammatory for your skin. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, lavender, sage and eucalyptus can be hung as a bunch using some twine or string from the shower head. The steam from you bath or shower will vaporize the essential oils in these herbs giving you an aroma therapeutic effect that can last for weeks.
Adding oils to your baths helps deeply moisturize skin, which is great for those with eczema and psoriasis. Add oils such as jojoba, sesame, argan, coconut or almond to your bath. If you do want to use essential oils, add just 5 drops per each ounce of carrier oil. Be extra careful getting out, as the tub will be slick, and make sure to wipe out the tub well with a dry cloth so the tub won't be a slip and slide for whoever gets in next.
Adding in 1-3 drops of flower or gem essences to baths is a great way to boost relaxation. Essences aid in emotional healing and are soothing during times of increased stress, trauma and grief. Less is more here, since they are energetic medicines and are thought to become more potent in larger amounts of water. To learn more about flower essences check out this blog.
Try playing some soothing music, nature sounds, or doing a guided meditation during a bath. When you are through, rinse off with some cool, or cold water to really help boost the blood and lymph movement. Avoid getting your neck and head wet with cold water, and be sure to wrap up in sweats or warm pajama pants, big sweater and socks and a hat after, especially if you do a cool rinse. Try to take a nap or head right to bed after a therapeutic bath, as the relaxation and warmth can help foster a deep, restorative sleep.