Thermal baths derive from hot springs, which are the result of groundwater that has been geothermally heated straight from the Earth’s crust. You have probably seen plenty of these as popular tourist destinations in countries like Iceland and Budapest, but these experiences are also available in numerous spas and rehabilitation clinics.
What are thermal baths?
Thermal baths are pools of water with mineral properties at various extreme temperatures that aim to recalibrate your body, relax your mind and recharge your spirit. To define the therapeutic action of a bath, two important qualities are considered: temperature and chemical composition of the water. Depending on the desired effect, several uses for thermal baths have been developed, which fall under the category of hydrotherapy.
• Thermal hydrotherapy
Thermal hydrotherapy is the use of water at various temperatures to elicit specific physiological responses in the body. Water is known to have important and medicinal properties which, along with the enhanced effects of temperature, aid in improving digestion, blood circulation and muscle toning.
• Physical hydrotherapy
Physical hydrotherapy is the practice of physical exercises inside a pool. It helps physically injured patients to execute these exercises with less pain by using the buoyancy of water to decrease their physical impact.
• Chemical hydrotherapy
Chemical hydrotherapy consists of adding certain minerals or chemicals that are normally found on natural hot springs, such as iron, lithium, sulphates, potassium, bicarbonic acid and calcium. Dissolved in high temperature water, the water’s therapeutic effects increase, causing chemical reactions in the body that enhance the healing and relaxing effects of hydrotherapy.
• Balneotherapy (mineral-medicinal water)
Historically performed in mineral hot springs, balneotherapy is the practice of bathing in mineral infused water to treat certain illnesses and ailments. It is believed to promote healing by aiding in circulation, accelerating detox and alleviating stress, and also treats various health conditions such as respiratory disorders, high blood pressure and arthritis.
• Spa (non-mineral)
The word spa is an acronym for the Latin phrase Sanus Per Aquam, which translates to health through water. Spa is also a small village in Belgium that is well known for its mineral hot springs, which is probably where the concept originated from. A spa offers numerous alternative healing and relaxation services such as hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, saunas and various types of massages.
A little bit of history
Water has been considered sacred, magical and medicinal since the beginning of mankind. Incorporated by women in their beauty routines as well as numerous religions in their ceremonial practices and rituals, water has been an important aspect of private and everyday life that can be traced to ancient civilizations.
The first thermal baths were developed by the Greeks near natural hot springs and temples. They believed in the supernatural properties of high temperature waters and its vapors, and prominent philosophers such as Plato and Hippocrates praised the restorative effects of these waters in health, based on the premise that illnesses and diseases were caused by imbalances of bodily fluids.
The Romans, however, are responsible for popularizing thermal baths and making it a social activity that everybody could experience. Numerous public and private baths, known as balnae, were built all throughout the Roman empire, making it a part of everyday life. Wounded soldiers benefited greatly from thermal baths too, as they would often use them to treat wounds, relax and recover.
Benefits of thermal baths
Numerous studies have discovered multiple curative properties of thermal baths, which can help in preventing and treating diseases related to muscles and joints, as well as post-traumatic and orthopedic conditions. Hot water is a great muscle relaxant and can also hold much more dissolved solids than cold and tepid water. On the other hand, cold water refreshes and reinvigorates the body, acts as a great skin toner and aids in reactivation of blood circulation. They also help eliminate toxins and stimulate the immune system, which is crucial for healing.
The AIRE Experience: relax mind and body
AIRE is an elegant candlelit spa tucked away in a 19th century textile factory building in Tribeca that invites you to escape the hectic daily bustle to experience the healing and restorative effects of ancient thermal baths. Inspired by Ottoman and Greco-Roman rituals, AIRE has numerous pools at varying extreme and mild temperatures in their glowing underground chamber, a relaxation area, massages, steam rooms and many other amenities, offering you an exquisite luxury for mind, body and soul like no other spa does.
If you are up for the challenge, you can melt your stress and worries away in the Caladium (102ºF), then invigorate yourself in the Frigidarium, with options of a Cold Bath (57ºF) or an Ice Bath (50ºF). For the less adventurous, there is the warm yet relaxing Tepedarium (97ºF), which will still give you a soothing and refreshing relaxation session. There is also the Balneum, which is propelled by a thousand jets, the Laconicum steam room, where you can enjoy a marvelous session of aromatherapy, and the Flotarium, which will give you a salty, levitating taste of bathing in the Dead Sea, followed by an exquisite massage. AIRE also offers specialized baths for an extra luxurious experience: private baths enhanced in your choice of cava or red wine (which you can also drink), olive oil, citrus juice or milk.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, you should read Aromatherapy: Benefits & uses.