Feeling disconnected from the world? Perhaps an age old pastime could be the answer to bringing you back to the here and now.
Ancient civilisations such as the Greeks, Romans and Arabians have understood the healing properties and wellness benefits of daily bathing – not only the power of water, but the importance that bath houses played socially. ‘In Morocco, the origin of the hammam stems from the instructions on hygiene and the prescribed ablutions within the Islamic faith,’ says Aude Koch, spadirector at La Mamounia in Marrakech.
Besides any religious beliefs, as humans we have an affinity with water – we ourselves are made up of around 70 per cent of it and without it, we wouldn’t be able to survive, which makes H2O so incredibly precious and powerful. The West also has a history of communal bathing, but Western bath houses had less of a ritualistic element to them and were more of a necessity, as washing facilities within houses were rare. That said, friendships were forged and a sense of community was strengthened as time spent together became a welcome respite and bonding experience.
Today, we have many new methods of communication, but a text or Instagram ‘like’ can’t make up for real-time physical contact. So it comes as no surprise to me that for those of us living in the West, the idea of visiting a hammam has become more intriguing and appealing. ‘Touch is fundamental to who we are as social animals,’ says psychologist Sophie Boss. ‘It’s our first language, used by mothers to bond with their babies and is, in fact, an incredibly sophisticated language that is near impossible to misinterpret. When we don’t experience regular touch we feel bereft of love, care, support, tenderness and kindness, even if we are told verbally we are loved.’
Up and away
So I headed to the iconic La Mamounia Marrakech, a three-and-a- half-hour plane ride away from London, but a world away from the stress and chaos of my life. Greeted on arrival with a warm welcome and the most delicious orange blossom-infused almond milk I’d ever tasted, I felt instantly transported to another time pre-email, mobiles and social media – the decadent Middle Eastern surroundings of marble pillars, rich red and white lanterns, and blooms in abundance helped cement the feeling.
A tour of my digs revealed a luxurious suite, beautifully furnished with warm woods, hand-painted doors, thick rugs and throws from the Atlas Mountains. My marble bathroom, with nods to traditional Moroccan archways and tiling, was an indicator of what was to be found below at the underground spa. The softest lighting, mosaics that sparkle and arches galore set the tone for total relaxation, so when introduced to my kassala (therapist) I felt ready to succumb, and do exactly as she said for the next hour.
A hammam experience starts with heat. Here, it comes in the form of a 15-minute steam (traditional hammams have heated rooms and floors). The heat helps relieve muscle tension, open pores and get the mind in a state of relaxation. Post-steam, my kassala collected me and led me through to a marble bed with a beautifully ornate shower neighbouring it. This is where the treatment really began. I was massaged from head to toe with a traditional black soap made from olive oil, that softens the skin and aids the removal of dead cells, thus facilitating a deeper exfoliation. Once rinsed, my body was scrubbed profusely with a traditional kessel glove. I was shocked by the sheer amount of dead skin and dirt that was sloughed off my body – a normal shower just won’t cut it after this. Next, I was given another rinse and cleanse using an orange blossom shower gel. Then came the rhassoul, a mineral clay that works in tandem with the heat to draw out toxins, with the added benefit of tightening the pores, too. I was left on the bed to relax while the clay worked its magic. On my kassala’s return, she led me to the shower for a final rinse and I felt like a baby being washed, scrubbed and taken care of, cocooned in the heat. This was a profound experience for me. My body was so lovingly looked after that it helped me let go of ‘emotional dirt’, too. Somehow, I was able to reconnect with myself and regain that sense of self-love that can often be lost when you go days, weeks or months without physical connection.
PS. For somewhere closer to home, try the Hammam at Urban Retreat, Harrods. Inspired by ancient customs and fused with luxury spa rituals; my therapist handled my body with such care and attention that I felt at total peace throughout the treatmet.