Taking the Waters

by | Jul 31, 2013 | Environmental health, Tales from my life, Travel | 5 comments

Hello! I have re-entered the blogosphere! Had a bit of a hiatus while travelling and whatnot, but now I’m well and truly back home… and back in the swing once more.

Upside Down

Wheeeeee! Don’t worry, my feet are planted firmly back on the ground now.

While we were away, my husband and I did a lot of soaking. We, literally, got in a lot of hot water. Apart from having the unusual luxury of time to sit, soak and relax, we also visited many places rich in mineral and thermal springs. The two of us have a keen interest in the therapeutic value of water.

In Australia, many of us are familiar with hydrotherapy pools: a rehabilitation tool for people recovering physical mobility after injury, or a therapy imposed on old folk who are trying to sustain mobility.* And although these are commonly used and highly effective hydrotherapy practices, there are many variations of hydro/water/balneo therapy that can provide immense benefit and enjoyment.

Mineral spring bathing

Mineral springs are naturally occurring bodies of, usually warm, water that contain a range of (you guessed it) minerals. The water’s mineral content can vary depending on location and source, but might include sulfur compounds, sodium, silica, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and much more…

This rich combination of minerals are soaked up by your body when you bathe in these waters (be it an actual spring, or a pool created to capture the water). These have a wide range of health benefits, with reported improvements in everything from heart conditions, to metabolic disturbances, to skin inflammation, to rheumatic complaints.

Our first mineral bath-stop was Baden Baden, in Southern Germany, and what a glorious beginning that was. The thermal springs found in and around this part of the world are drawn from 1800m below the ground and are rich in sodium chloride and trace minerals. Unfortunately, during our visit the famous and historic Friedrichsbad was closed for refurbishment – shutting its doors just days before we arrived! Easily remedied, as the town’s other dedicated bathing option – Caracalla Spa – was open for business and we happily cleansed, soaked  and steamed there for several hours.

Baden Baden

Even the outside of the bathhouse in Baden Baden makes you feel good!

Geothermal soaking

Thermal waters, hot springs, call them what you like – what I’m talking about is warm water springing from under the ground. Warmed by the earth’s molten core… or, more accurately, by the warm bits under its crust. Whatever. Warm water. Sometimes hot. Also tends to be mineral-rich… bonus!

Throughout Iceland, Jon and I soaked every day, no matter where we were. This was sometimes in natural ‘hotpots’ (literally, holes in the ground full of steaming, mostly clear water), other times in municipal pool complexes (most with warm water WATER SLIDES!), and once in the obscenely expensive and touristy (but still enjoyable) Blue Lagoon. After each day of hiking and driving, particularly when combined with chilly weather (we didn’t experience a day above 10°C), a warm water soak was bliss.

Similar curative qualities are attributed to geothermal waters as to mineral springs – namely because of the complete overlap between the two.  Soaking can help to slough off layers of dead skin and promote better circulation, leaving you feeling all loosey goosey and totally relaxed.

icelandic bathing

Honestly. In Iceland, even sitting in a concrete box of water is amazing.

Hot and cold splashing

Contrast hydrotherapy, or hot/cold immersion, is pretty self explanatory: alternating the temperature you immerse or douse yourself in, several times within one session. The theory behind this is that stimulating vasodilation with heat and vasoconscriction with cold improves circulation throughout the body and to the extremities. It is also said to improve the lymphatic system, reduce inflammation and boost immunity. And, is excellent for the constitution.

Everywhere we went on this trip, our warm water soaks and sweaty sauna sits were punctuated with dips in freezing plunge pools or a cold shower blast. Invigorating!

Jons glacial swim

That husband of mine will never say no to a *fresh* swim! I am not always as courageous. VERY invigorating and an excellent stimulant for thermogenesis!

I try to do this at home also – particularly in winter when it’s easy to indulge in extra hot showers. Alternating hot and cold is a great practice to get into if you can push through the inevitable resistance to cold water on your neck and back. Word from the wise: don’t over think it (or you’ll talk yourself out of it).

Anyone else have a penchant for water?

Regularly indulge in a homemade mineral bath (epsom salts count)?

Been to any of Australia’s excellent mineral springs, thermal pools or bath houses?


* This may just be me, as hydrotherapy was an ongoing topic of conversation with my much-loved late grandmother and has no doubt influenced my perception!