How to run a therapeutic, healing bath

From ancient times, in cultures all around the world, baths have been used to treat everything from kidney stones to snake bites and for a host of minor discomforts, it’s still hard to beat a relaxing soak…

The warm water of a relaxing bath subtly massages tired muscles and stimulates blood circulation, speeding up delivery of healing nutrients to the tissues while helping to remove lactic acid and other waste products that contribute to soreness. A hot bath can even help you to burn a few extra calories by temporarily boosting your metabolism a little.

Avoid prolonged soaks in very hot baths, though. While the heat may feel good, it can promote inflammation. A technique that has been practised around the world for centuries is contrast hydrotherapy. Alternating between hot and cold water causes blood vessels to alternately dilate and constrict. This translates into a sort of pumping action that increases blood circulation and is said to reduce congestion and inflammation, enhance digestion and stimulate the activity of the organs. Natural healers believe that it also boosts immune function.

To try this at home, you need a large basin to act as the second bath, or you can simply sit in a warm bath and use a handheld shower nozzle to douse yourself now and then with cold water. Always start with hot water and finish with cold.


Relieve itching

add oatmeal to your bath

If itching is your problem, a bath—with certain ingredients added—may be just what the doctor ordered. Here are some soothers to add to the water:

  • Bicarbonate of soda. Bicarb is an excellent remedy for itchy skin, as you may already know. If your child has chickenpox, add 1⁄2 cup of bicarb to a shallow bath or one full cup to a deep bath to soothe itching.
  • Oatmeal. For relief from skin rashes or itchy sunburn, run a lukewarm bath and add a few tablespoons of colloidal oatmeal (which is finely powdered so it remains suspended in the water), such as Aveeno, sold in pharmacies. If you don’t have colloidal oatmeal to hand, simply tip a cupful or so of plain porridge oatmeal in an old nylon stocking, tie the top, and float it in the bath water while you soak. Oatmeal makes the bath very slippery, so be extra careful when getting out.
  • Vinegar. Vinegar is another substance that can tame itching. It works by acidifying the skin. To relieve itchy sunburn or psoriasis, have a cool bath, to which you have added about 2 cups of vinegar before getting in.


Aches and sprains

add epsom salts to your bath

For minor sprains, a bath with Epsom salts added can bring rapid relief. The salts draw fluid out of the body and help to shrink swollen tissues. Add 2 cups to a warm bath, and soak.

An Epsom salts bath also draws out lactic acid, the build-up of which contributes to muscle aches. After a vigorous exercise session, add 1 or 2 cups of the salts to a hot bath and enjoy a relaxing soak.


Adding essential oils

essential oils for bath

A wonderful way to enhance the medicinal value of a bath is to add essential oils, which are available from chemists and health stores. Each has its own healing profile.

After a long, hard day, a few drops of pine oil added to the water can be wonderfully invigorating. Eucalyptus oil promotes alertness and breaks up congestion. Geranium oil reduces anxiety. Lavender fights depression. Rosemary is said to stimulate memory.

Essential oil combinations can also be beneficial. If prone to allergies, test your reaction to essential oils before using them. Dab a little of the diluted oil on the inside of your arm. If you don’t have a reaction within 12 hours, it’s safe to add them to your bath.


Arthritis treatment 

Try combining 4 drops of juniper oil and 2 drops each of lavender oil, cypress oil and rosemary oil, along with half a cup of Epsom salts.

For a simpler soak, use 3 drops of lavender oil and 3 drops of cypress oil.


Soothing sleep soak

how to make bath sleepy

Use 2 to 4 tablespoons of sea salt, 4 drops of lavender oil, 3 drops of marjoram oil and 3 drops of lemon oil.

Other oils that help to promote sleep include lime tree flower, Roman camomile, frankincense, neroli and rose.


Tension-easing bath

Add 3 drops of ylang-ylang oil, 5 drops of lavender oil, 2 drops of bergamot oil and 1⁄2 cup of Epsom salts. You can also use dried herbs, instead.

Add chamomile along with other calming herbs, such as lavender and valerian to bathwater for an anxiety-soothing soak. For maximum benefit, tie them in a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and hold this under the running tap while you fill the bath.


Basin baths

basin bath for feet

You don’t have to immerse your whole body in the water to reap the benefits of a bath. A footbath or sitz bath (a bath or basin you sit in) can provide a fast, simple solution to everything from headaches to haemorrhoids.

For fever, congestion or a headache, soak your feet in warm water plus a sprinkling of mustard powder. This draws blood to the feet, which boosts circulation and also eases pressure on the blood vessels in your head.

For haemorrhoid pain and itching, prepare a bath or basin with warm water and a handful of Epsom salts and have a seat. For a soothing foot soak, add 2 drops of peppermint oil and 4 drops of rosemary oil to warm water.