It's not as dull as you might think, and there are some ancient bathing rituals that we could benefit from today!
The history of daily bathing is traced back to ancient India. They used elaborate practices for personal hygiene, having 3 baths a day! The first of these occurred at 4am – a cold water bath taken before the sun rose, to revitalise the body and start a positive, productive day. Many of today’s great movers and shakers of the world advocate getting up at this time and starting the day with a clear routine. Could you get up this early?
Water is a purifying force in the Ayurveda and bathing is associated with cleansing not only the body but also the mind and the soul. It’s why millions of Hindus from all parts of India still take a dip in the River Ganges during the holy days of the Kumbha Mela.
Ancient Egyptians had many rituals around washing and bathing as they believed that the cleaner you were, the closer you were to the Gods. For most Egyptians bathing took place in the River Nile, using a scented paste made of clay and ash. Though there is also evidence that they used hot tubs, heated by placing red hot stones in the water. And if you were Cleopatra, of course, you bathed in ass’s milk! Apparently she kept 700 donkeys to provide her with enough of this skin-beautifying bath soak.
Ancient Greeks used small bathtubs and foot baths for personal cleanliness. The earliest findings of baths are from the palace complex at Knossos. Many of the Greek public baths were celebrated in fancy buildings. Bathing was a ritual to care for your body so it was kept in good shape to pay tribute to the Gods. Hippocrates recommended daily bathing and massage with fragrant oils. The Greeks used mineral baths, using clay or Epsom salt to help cleanse toxins from their bodies, and also liked to scent the water with lavender to soothe their nerves. Something many of us do today.
Ancient Rome developed a network of aqueducts to supply water for their public baths. Private baths in Rome were very rare. Most people enjoyed the social aspect of the public baths. Roman public baths included places to eat, debate rooms and libraries. I do love reading a book in the bath, it must be said. The bathing ritual consisted of exercising to work up a sweat (I’m not so fond of that part!), scraping off the sweat with a special tool called a strigil, then moving from cold to lukewarm up to hot baths, then a plunge in a cold pool.
In Japan, the public bath houses had a barrier to separate men and women. Once they had cleansed themselves at taps, people sat in large baths together to talk and share emotional intimacy. Now, however, everyone that goes to a public bathhouse bathes together. Naked.
Public bathing didn’t seem to catch on so much in Britain though. Possibly because of the church’s moral viewpoint that public bathhouses were places of sin and degradation! The Bubonic Plague also led to concern as it was thought that open pores allowed diseases to enter the body, therefore a dirty body was preferred as it blocked disease!
In the 18th century, English doctors advocated frequent bathing for health purposes. One English doctor published a book about the benefits of bathing after witnessing local peasants bathing in springs to remedy their ills.
In the 1900s, British factory workers were allowed a Saturday afternoon off to prepare for their weekly bath. The weekly bath was a bit of a work out - you had to collect, carry and heat tub upon tub of water, fill the bath, wait until every member of the family had used it (starting with the husband, then laboriously empty it using the bucket again. No wonder they bathed just once a week.
Thankfully bathing is a little easier these days! I’d recommend a Salt & Oil bath more regularly than these members of Royalty:
Queen Elizabeth I is known for never marrying, and announcing: ‘I take a bath once a month, whether I need to or not.’
Queen Isabella I of Spain famously only bathed twice in her life — once when she was born, and once before she married.
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