It is amazing the things you learn to appreciate when you are cut off from certain comforts of the world. When I was living and working on boats, the thing I missed most was hot water. More specifically, I missed soaking in a tub of hot water. Now that I am land based once more, I take a bath just about every morning.
It’s funny because I never used to really think much about baths. I thought they were juvenile; the sort of thing that was only meant for children. I can recall being very excited when I was six or seven and given permission to take my first shower. I thought, “this was what adults get to do”, and I was ready! And so it was ingrained in my head for some time—that baths were for babies and showers were for grown ups. I have since learned differently.
I reached a breaking point during one of those icy/windy/biting New York City winters and I suppose that this was the moment that the morning bath came and saved me. I had a dreary commute at the time; which involved a walk through a post-industrial wasteland of a neighborhood, onto an overcrowded city bus, to an underground train, and then another long walk, just to get to where I worked. This was before I had discovered wool and proper insulation as well, so you can imagine how uncomfortable of an experience this was in a frigid urban landscape. They say people harden up in the winter, and it’s true. The connective fascia of the body quite literally hardens when it is exposed to prolonged cold climate. This can lead to other problems down the road including seasonal affective disorder, winter pains, and crankiness... cut to me.
I woke up cold and cranky one morning, and I decided to draw a bath. I hadn’t felt warm for what felt like weeks; and felt that if I could just stew myself in hot water for a few moments, at least I would have a bit of peace in the day before going out into a world where Winter had forsaken me. And you know what, it changed my whole life. Now, my body had an internal surplus of heat within it. And I was as prepared as a camel who had stored up what he needed for the freezing desert that he was about to enter. That heat would last within me, all the way to my destination; and I since discovering this life-hack, I have never looked back.
Now, when the weather feels colder, I always give myself the gift of this internal heat bubble, and use some good wool layers to make it last. As always, it turns out there are other benefits from this warm feeling gained from the morning bath.
For starters, the warmth has a soothing effect on your joints, muscles, nerves, and fascia—putting your systems into a state of relaxation as you ease into the day. This can make you more lithe, limber, and flexible and supports healthy posture, gastrointestinal function, and reduces inflammation across the body. Incorporating epsom salt is an easy-add to further assist with soothing musculoskeletal body aches that are often more pronounced in the early hours of the morning.
Another added benefit is that putting the body in hot water will naturally elevate the heart rate. It stimulates positive blood flow and a lot of the same psychological benefits of exercise can be achieved from a reclined position in a tub. They say a good hot bath will burn the same amount of calories as a half-hour walk, so if you are immobile or injured, a hot bath can be a great way to stay in shape. The improved circulation, and reduced blood pressure helps to oxygenate the blood as well. In short, your lungs work more efficiently from the improved blood flow. As a bonus, you can make the simple addition of mint or eucalyptus to the bath to stimulate the mind as you open your airways. In addition, your skin opens its pores in the heat and activates its sweat glands to release dead skin, dirt, and oil. Just make sure to give yourself a quick cold rinse after the bath to clear all of the gunk you just scrubbed off yourself and close your pores back up.
The morning bath is also an opportunity. To do what? To meditate, to read, to light a candle, to do nothing. It is an opportunity to exist in the world for a moment with no obligations and have that be enough. Meditation has long been praised for its ability to offer clarity, improve the health of bodily cells, and reduce anxiety. And while you are soaking in this little womb of comfort you will be combating that ever pervasive stress hormone. The positive routine of the morning bath can have another seemingly unconnected benefit: a good night’s sleep.
Before you go to bed at night, the projected thought of giving yourself a comfortable gift in the morning can help you find a more restful sleep. For example, if all you have to look forward to in the morning is a buzzing alarm and a whoosh out the door, then you may not be sleeping as well. Your days may be more inclined to start with a spike of the stress hormone cortisol. Instead of anticipating the weight of the day’s upcoming obligations, anticipate the gift you will give yourself in the morning, and allow that pace to set the tone for your day.
A hot bath is a great gift that you should give yourself. It has great health benefits both physical and mental. It will make you warm and cozy on the inside…
…and a bit of wool will help you stay that way.