Hammam: The Perfect Way to Detox and RelaxNov, 29 2023
Discovering the Hammam
I'll let you in on a secret. One of the best parts of my trip to Istanbul a few years ago wasn't the renowned panoramic views from Galata Tower nor the historic feat of the Basilica Cistern. It was the time I spent in a hammam, a traditional Turkish bath. Before the trip, I thought that a bath was something you had in your home for a quick rinse or a lengthy soak with a good book or glass of wine. Yet there I was in a centuries-old building, being scrubbed, bathed, and feeling like quite the Ottoman royalty! What a treat it was!
What is a Hammam?
A hammam, for those unfamiliar, is a traditional public bath found in Middle Eastern cultures. Having its roots in Roman bathhouses, the hammam became a staple of Islamic societies. Why? Because cleanliness isn't merely a personal preference in Islam – it's a spiritual and social obligation. From this routined cleaning, the hammam evolved into a synthesis of hygiene, socialization and relaxation. Now isn't that the most powerful trifecta you've heard in a while?
The Anatomy of a Hammam
Each hammam is unique, determined by the time, place, and the architect's vision, but there's always some key elements. Typically, they consist of three rooms: the hot room, the warm room, and the cool room. The hot room is where you begin. Here, under a domed roof and heated marble, you sweat. The warm room, the next stop, is where the magic happens. In there, you're scrubbed vigorously by an attendant, known as a tellak. If you're uncomfortable with someone else scrubbing you down, don't worry, you can choose to do it yourself. After the scrub, you're rinsed off with cool water and then taken for a relaxing massage. Finally, in the cool room, you can rest and enjoy refreshments.
Benefits of a Hammam
It's not just about the historical curiosity and the sheer getting-pampered factor. A hammam is incredibly beneficial. The heat and humid atmosphere open up your pores, making it easier to exfoliate dead skin cells – thus leaving your skin glowing. Enhanced circulation, eased muscle tensions and the promotion of better sleep cycles are other notable benefits. It's also a therapeutic stress buster. Relax, unwind and let go of all your worries and stresses. Who doesn't love a spa session that feels like a therapeutic journey through time?
How to Hammam at Home
Okay, so not everyone has the luxury of hopping on a plane and embarking on a Turkish bath journey, including myself. But guess what? You can create your own hammam experience at home. Fill your bathroom with steam by running hot water, sit in the steam for a while and then exfoliate your skin with a traditional mitt called 'kessa.' Round off the journey with a relaxing warm bath afterwards. Congrats! You've at-home hammamed.
Tips for Your Hammam Experience
For those fortunate enough to make the trip and experience a hammam in its true form, here are a few tips. Firstly, don't rush! A hammam experience can last anywhere between one to two hours (or more if you want). So, fit it into a free day. Secondly, do remember to carry your own bathing suit. Hammams are clever at being simultaneously public and private. And lastly, go for it! It might be out of your comfort zone, but trust me, it's worth the experience.
The Hammam and the Modern Spa
The hammam kicked off the entire concept of a spa day, emphasizing relaxation and wellbeing before it was even a trend. More recently, hammam-inspired treatments are cropping up in modern spas worldwide, from the New York City skyline to the sunny Gold Coast here in Australia. So, whether in the Middle Eastern heat or the heart of the concrete jungle, the hammam experience isn't too far away from anyone.
Hammam as a Ritual
In the end, a hammam is more than just a bath. In a world that's always rushing, it's a time to slow down. It's a ritualistic commitment to looking after yourself, looking after your body. It's running your hands along ancient heated stones and slipping into a warm robe. It's demanding a moment for yourself, to detoxify and rejuvenate. It's laughing with strangers turned friends in a cool room in the heart of Istanbul or in the comfort of your bathroom at home, all the while nurturing the essential link between wellbeing and happiness.
A Hammam for Each of Us
I believe that the hammam is not only for the world traveler seeking an authentic Middle Eastern experience, or for the spa lover who craves an exotic treatment. It's for the stay-at-home mom seeking a moment of calm amidst the chaos. For the workaholic who needs to disconnect. For you. For me. For all of us. So, whether you're heading over to your local spa or redesigning your self-care day at home, remember the hammam. Let it inspire you, comfort you, and quite literally, cleanse you. After all, it's the perfect way to detox and relax.