There's something about bathing outside – surrounded by luscious plants underneath the beating sun – that I adore. But despite living on an island, I don’t get to take a dip as often as I’d like. A sentiment I think is shared by many in the UK. While there are some wonderful natural sites for swimming, the reality is it can be frightfully cold, and most of the time I have to rely on my bath for a dose of water-based me-time.
Natural bathing, for me, is a form of meditation. Much like the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku –bathing in the atmosphere of the forest – it makes me feel centred and part of the wider world. There’s something about the clean, fresh water rolling over my skin that washes away any tension, anxiety or negativity I’ve been harbouring. When I bathe outside I’m vulnerable, I don’t have clothes to hide behind, I’m away from my phone and left alone with my thoughts. Soaking in the glorious beauty of the natural world reminds me that the world is bigger than just me. That I am a small part of a very big universe.
There are natural bathing spots all over the world. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some of them, and the most magical stick in my mind – marvellous memories of throwing away my worries and immersing myself in a body of water. Now, I try to shape my travels around water, making sure to find all the natural wonders I can. It’s amazing what you discover when you open your eyes to a new tradition or ritual. You see that it’s not so new, that people have been doing it for centuries. Since I discovered natural bathing, I’ve caught a taxi boat over Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, climbed up the smooth rocks of Dunns River waterfall in Jamaica, and even gone dolphin watching off of the coast of Aberystwyth in Wales. One of my most cherished bathing experiences, though, was in the Cacheuta Hot Springs in Argentina.
The area of the Andes is known for its temperate springs, and the spas that harness the hot spring water from the Mendoza river have been popular since the 1900s. Floating in the spring water reminded me of having a hot bath back at home in the depths of a bleak winter. The air around me was biting cold and the water was so hot it almost stung at first – an odd but lovely juxtaposing sensation. Steam rose off my skin as the natural warm spring water heated my body. Sitting in hot water under the snowy peaks of the Andes was pretty surreal, and brought me so much tranquillity and stillness.
But natural bathing isn’t just about meditation, there is and always has been a very practical side to it –the ritual of cleansing. I recently came back from Jamaica – a country known as “the land of wood and water” and it was easy to see why. The Caribbean island has over 100 rivers and at least 15 waterfalls, not to mention its beautiful pearl-white beaches. It’s normal to see the locals bathing in the river and lakes, it’s a natural bath after all,with fresh running water rushing down from far up in the hills.
It’s not just the water I loved, there’s a whole host of bathing tools and products nature has to offer too. The national fruit of Jamaica, ackee, can actually be used as a soap. The unripened fruits crushed together create a lather perfect for washing clothes. But a good cleansing mud mask is a definite favourite of mine. During my trip, I visited the Blue Hole in Ocho Rios a town on the north coast of the island. The collection of rivers and pools get their name from the limestone in the water making it a shockingly bright blue. After diving under a waterfall and climbing into a cave in the Blue Hole, our own natural mud bath was waiting for us. By simply wetting the inside of the cave walls and rubbing the red clay, I had an incredible, moisturising mask.
Although I can’t be in natural water every day, I try and bring that meditative state I find from bathing outdoors into my own bathing routine. Living in a big city with so much air pollution and a large population can be suffocating. In London, encompassed by shiny grey buildings, I regularly feel disconnected from nature and the wider world. Bathing has become my antidote to that, my sacred alone time. I leave my phone out of the bathroom and sink into the bath, with the water running over me. Being immersed in water amongst my indoor ferns and succulent plants transports me back to my travels, and that sense of calm washes over me again. It might not be a massive waterfall, but relaxing in my bath always brings me peace and takes me back to happy memories on my travels. And when I get the opportunity to escape and be in nature? I take it!
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Illustration: Noa Snir