Rising Tide: The Bathhouse Revival

Humans have long sought relief and renewal – physical, emotional, and even spiritual  – by immersing themselves in water and sweating intensely in heated enclosures.

Water connects. Water nourishes. Water heals.

Inspired by many ancient traditions, we see the bathhouse as a place for collective nourishment where we can celebrate the naturalness of being together. And we aren’t alone. In fact, the global tide of interest in bathhouses is rising rapidly.

Public bathing – in cold or hot water, dry or humid saunas – became a cultural norm in some countries, a community practice most often housed in town centers. As a gathering place, these communal baths were efficient and effective for everything from shared water use to negotiating business deals to spreading relevant news.

In the U.S., we’re commonly taught baths are to be taken privately, secretly, alone – a belief often rooted in bodily shame.

Rarely are the words “medicine” or “healing” associated with bathing and water in mainstream U.S. culture. This is in huge contrast to the early 20th century, where at least two hot springs were commissioned as military hospitals and “ordinary Americans traveled to curative springs” regularly.

For a brief stint in the 1980s-1990s, the word “bathhouse” was uttered more frequently yet surreptitiously. Bathhouses popped up across the nation as spaces for gay and sexually liberated subculture, then many closed during the era of widespread fear around HIV and AIDS.

Today, we are ready for a new story – or perhaps it’s a return to old wisdom: that bathhouses are spaces where we can be embodied and engaged, even while undressed. 

We believe in this shared vulnerability, there’s the opportunity for profound acceptance, safety and—despite the option to wear clothes—modesty. We can find our way back to honoring our bodies and shed the judgment, comparisons and anxiety that typically bubble up.

When you add the emotional benefits to the physical results of feeling buoyant, limber and expansive, there is a sense of being more free.

It should come as no surprise, then that people are increasingly seeking out mineral baths, hot springs and other water-centric experiences/ treatments, according to the Global Wellness Institute’s report from January 2017.

In fact, the industry just began collecting data specifically about mineral/thermal bathing in 2014 because of the surge in interest and, now with three years of data, the industry is projecting solid growth into the future.

Though conclusions still vary significantly, the study of balneotherapy—bathing in mineral water to treat disease—has also advanced, lending support beyond the feel-good vibes to the validity of these practices. As Dr Bruce Becker, a clinical professor of rehabilitation medicine at Washington State University, puts it: “warm-water immersion balances our autonomic nervous system, allowing the brain to make free-form associations, improve working memory, and foster creative thinking.”

In other words, bathing increases our capacity physically and cognitively, in large part because it is relaxing.

Soak Boulder is our contribution to the “bathhouse revival.”

Riding a huge wave of interest in the incredible health benefits of traditional soak and sauna practices, we also bring a fresh, innovative and contemporary approach to public bathing spaces and rituals. 

We are thrilled to be a part of this resurgence. It’s time for the bathhouse, steeped in ancient wisdom, to nourish North America.

We hope you’ll join us. See you at Soak!

Note: Quotes throughout this article are cited from the article “The Healing Power of Water” (Spirituality & Health, Dec 2013) found here.


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