Wellbeing 101: Hammam

The history and heat of the hammam...

It is impossible to walk into a gym or spa without finding a sauna, this water ritual plays an important part in many cultures. Public bathing began in the natural hot springs of the earth and has evolved into a communal, ritualistic act believed to have many benefits. Taking on various forms throughout the world, the experience of a Hammam in the Arabic and Islamic worlds is not to be overlooked.

Hammam, or Hamam, is an ancient ancestral ritual that dates back to the Roman and Ottoman empires and is preserved in many Arabic cultures to this day. By using water, steam and heat, the hammam was originally practiced for ablutions, the ritual purifications, cleansing the self in preparation for prayer. Communities also benefited from these public spaces, often more than just bathouses but spaces for people to gather and discuss life, preparing and celebrating life’s milestones such as marriage and births.

The warm Hammam room at the Amanjena hotel spa, Morocco

Hammams are featured in spas around the world, for the nourishing and restorative qualities. Many experiences incorporate the traditional exfoliation and natural bodycare products such as the black olive soap and kessa mitt for the traditional post-steam polish and radiant glow. Argan oil is applied to the hair and body for the ultimate hydrating treatment and can often include massage therapy.

Hammam at the Akasha Spa, Hotel Cafe Royal

What happens in a Hammam?

Usually a hammam is divided into gender seperated steam rooms, honouring the Islamic traditions and in many spas worldwide a hammam could be one steam sauna for private or mixed use. Traditionally three to four rooms occupy these spaces, a dry room to undress and prepare, a warm steam room to acclimatise and relax, followed by a hot steam room to open up the pores and cleanse. Nourishing soaps are liberally applied to the body and left to soak into the skin, before being doused with warm water. Whilst lying on a warm stone bed, the cleansed body is deeply exfoliated using the traditional woven glove, the kessa mitt, this is very thorough and draws out the oils and dirt in the pores and removes dead skin cells. Spending time in the warm room post cleanse is encouraged to relax and enjoy the benefits. Many spas offer massage therapy to compliment this rejuvenating bathing ritual.

Natural Black soap and clays in the Hammam at the Amanjena hotel, Morocco

Benefits Of A Hammam

Boosts Immunity

The heat of the water and steam in the hammam stimulates the blood vessels, increasing circulation and oxygenating the cells, organs and tissue. The temperature helps to speed up the natural detoxification of sweating, eliminating toxins from the body. The heat and steam also has decongesting effects opening up the airways and toning the respiratory system.

Rejuvenation And Repair

The natural olive soaps contain the skin loving antioxidant Vitamin E, helping to both clean and nourish the skin, whilst protecting the skin's natural barrier. By using the traditional woven kessa glove, or purifying scrubs, the exfoliation process removes dead skin cells whilst stimulating circulation for cellular repair and natural detoxification. Argan oil contains hydrating Linoleic Acid is used to moisturise the skin and hair and essential oils of verbena, rose and eucalyptus are often incorporated for myriad of benefits including aromatherapy and skin healing antioxidants.

Mind Body Connection

Dedicating time to therapeutically care for your body is a form of self love. A Hammam experience can be incredibly healing, by caring for one's body, the process strengthening the mind-body connection, ultimately improving your relationship with your body. Many find the shared experience of a traditional gendered hammam a safe space, where modesty is not essential and all shapes, sizes and ages bathe together. 

Relaxing and Restorative 

The hammam is an incredibly calming environment and the elements of stone and water can be very grounding. The therapeutic elements of heat reduces muscle tension and joint pain, relieving stress held in the body. In many hammam massages are also offered to relieve aches and pains and encourage long lasting relaxation.Expect to float home and be able to fall into a deep restorative sleep.

Hammam at home

Whilst we may not have a local bath or hammam to visit, we can take inspiration from this ancient cleansing ritual. With the use of hot water and steam, an exfoliating glove and black soap, you can replicate some of the benefits of the hammam rituals at home. 

1. Apply argan oil to the ends of you hair for deep condition, castor oil can be massaged into the scalp for rejuvenation

2. Run a shower or bath with hot water, allowing the space to fill with steam

3. Place a few drops of essential oil on a flannel and place in the shower or bath. We love eucalyptus oil, which helps to open up the respiratory system and has antiviral, antimicrobial and immune boosting properties. 

4. Under the shower allow your body to be warmed for a few minutes, preparing the skin for the soap, breathing deeply as you go.

5. With the water turned off, apply the black soap with care and compassion to your body, honouring how your body has carried you, held you and protected you. As you massage the skin, taking time to notice the beautiful and unique qualities of your body, without judgement, breathing in nourishing breaths as you go.

6. Whilst you are waiting for the soap to work it’s magic, wash the oils from your hair with a gentle shampoo. 

7. Using the Kessa Mitt, or exfoliating glove, move from your feet to your neck gently exfoliate. This can be done under the shower or after the soap has been washed off with warm water.

8. Massage your body with a few drops of argan oil, this can be used alongside your favourite moisturiser and enjoy the blissful effects of your bathing ritual.

9. To finish, enjoy a cup of fresh mint tea, sweetened with local honey to refresh and hydrate.

Mint tea served at the Amanjena hotel spa, Morocco

Otherness Recommends

We love everything about the brand Kahina Giving Beauty, stocked on Net-A-Porter, this female founded company offers financial independence for the Berber women of Morocco who produce the raw and certified organic materials in the traditional way. 

Kessa Mitt

Olive Bedli Soap

Argan oil

Star Child Eucalyptus oil

Poppy Roy

The work of writer, editor and creative Poppy Roy reflects her compassion and desire to share powerful modalities, for both collective and personal healing.

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