Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hamman - A truly Indulgent Experience

Photo credit: Morocco Tourist Office

In Arabic "hamman" means spreader of warmth". Before steam baths were introduced to Arab societies, men and women bathed in cold water. In 630 AD, the prophet Mohammed observed the Roman inspired baths in Syria and recommended the "sweat baths" to his followers as a way to improve fertility. (It is known that the prophet wanted to expand the religion).
As the Islamic faith spread, so did Hamman baths. At first they were common practice among nomadic groups, and later spread to towns throughout Iran, Turkey, North Africa, Greece and eve to Southern Spain. Most of them, connected to the local Mosque, as a center to keep the hygienic standards of the religion. Very much likely the original Roman baths before them, hammams became both a place of rest, as well as an important social site in early Muslim culture. This was especially the case for women, who in many regions were discouraged from socializing outside the home. Hammams were a place where members of all levels of society came together, their low entrance fees making them accessible to the majority of the population. Even wealthy men and women with private baths in their homes would visit the hammam for its social appeal, and by some accounts, to show off their superior cleanliness.
Decidedly less decadent than their Roman predecessors, the first hammams were composed of three chambers with domed white roofs, the design best suited to trap their steam. Heated from the floor, each had hot and cold water for washing, and attendants present for massage and exfoliation treatments.
Scent has always been an important part of the hammam experience. Massage attendants were forbidden to consume garlic for its strong odor, and would rub their hands with fragrant pomegranate peel before treating clients.

A Hammam (or public bath), is a time-honored cleansing ritual practiced in Eastern Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. Traditional Hammam services begin with relaxation in large steam rooms to open the pores. You are then covered with a coat of an olive oil product followed by "gommage" (another name for a full-body exfoliation). A heavy clay mask is applied to help release impurities and is then removed with a cold cloth mask to close pores. To complete the treatment, you are given a full body massage.

The original and real experience is a public bath, which can be found in many Middle Eastern countries, Africa, etc... Now, a traditional communal bath is frequented by locals, and if you are paranoid by germs and diseases, dermatological pathologies...forget it. If you are not comfortable with a crowd of half naked strangers scrubbing themselves...forget it.

The second option is to find a Hamman in a spa. Hamman services in high-end spas are a truly luxurious relaxing experience, but do not expect low prices, as Hamman has also a full body scrub, facial clean and full body massage + the baths, and all the towels, robes, slippers, etc etc...included.

When I began to write this blog, I made an article in Portuguese about Hamman. In that article I described a Hamman experience, and taught my readers how to bring Hamman to their very own bathroom.  I decided to introduce the culture in a more personal way. The idea was that, any person wanting to give her/himself a indulgent treatment of hamman, can adapt it to hers/his reality, and perform a hamman at home.

So, if you can not enjoy a real Hammam bath, either because you won't find one in your region, or can't afford a spa right now, here I suggest a very pleasant experience home.


The Hamam is very similar to the sauna, and you can live this experience will be necessary to follow the following steps:

1. This step is the most important one in order to achieve a truly indulgent experience. Please stick to the rules as if you were not at home:

1.a)Take some time to turn off/hang up the phone, the cellphone, the intercom, computer, ipad, iphone and all the "Is" you have at home and any devices that can take the peace out of your mind. You are now going to travel to a distant land, where nobody or nothing can take out the peace of you. So, do not bake anything while experiencing Hamman, do take care of your children, or watch TV while in the process of Taking this bath. Any, and here I am not flexible with you, any action that is not directly connected to hamman will spoil the entire experience for you. If you are not capable of getting away of facebook for a couple of hours, I suggest you pay a spa, otherwise it is a lost of precious time.

1.b)If you don't have one, buy a CD of instrumental music of the Middle East. something soothing and relaxing.

2. Once the mind is clear of all the technological apparatus, separate all the necessary utensils for bathing. That must be towels, slippers, robes, sponges, washcloth, the oils you will use in your bath, the gommage products (home made or purchased), etc...

3. Prepare the drink that will you take after a bath: a herbal tea, a lemonade, water with sicilian lemon rinds, mint leafs and cucumber slices is very refreshing, or just water. Alcoholic or soft beverages are totally forbidden.

4. Prepare your body by taking a warm shower to refresh and cleanse the body. Here I recommend that you don't take a cold shower, even if you like it. But don't take to long.

5. Prepare the bathroom: Close the window(s) and door(s). The room must be warm. If you are in a winter season, I suggest you heat the room first. Fill the tub with warm to hot temperature.

6. Place your feet in the tub with hot water and relax, feeling the steam cleanse the body. Add a few drops of essential oils in water. (Hint: floral to sensual atmosphere; rosemary and eucalyptus for a truly Middle Eastern aroma bath; lavender oil + chamomile  for a relaxing bath). Soak a washcloth in water and cover the shoulders and back. Re-wet the towel every time it starts to cool. If necessary refill the tub with hot water.

4. Make a body scrub with exfoliating loofah or vegetable of your choice - starting with the feet and up toward the trunk.

5. Enter the water, but do not exceed more than 05 minutes - remember you are in a steamy hot room and it has been a while now.

6. Take a warm shower, and then immediately switch jets of hot water with cold water.

7. Soon after, lay down to relax, and enjoy the refreshments or the herbal tea that you have prepared in advance, to revitalize and hydrate the body. 

Before venturing in the delights of this extremely hot bath, make sure you are fit. Pregnant women, heart disease patients, high blood pressure sufferers, patients with diabetes and varicose, or someone with a history of fainting usually can not experience HAMMMAN. When in doubt, consult a physician.

I suggest a perfect Hamman experience with Ritual Hamman line.

I have already tried the following products they have:

Heavenly Hamman relaxing bath oil - the fragrance is outstanding. A real treat to the senses. The skin feels soft and nourished after using it. The product is really gentle. The combination of argan oil, eucalyptus and rosemary is simply outstanding!

Hamman Olive Secret - it is a paste with an olive oil base, to exfoliate and remove dead cells. The fragrance is less intense and less luxurious than the Heavenly Hamman, but still a treat for the body. I am applying for a month and I see the difference. 

Hamman Delight Foam Shower Gel - it is as goos as the bath oil - the scent is the same. It feel nice to use the foam.

Hamman Happiness - it is a conditioner with the same scent of the heavenly Hamman. I confess I bought it just because of the scent. Later i found out that it gives a refreshing sensation and shine to the hair. I like it.

If you wish to explore the Hamman experience of Rituals, please click HERE to learn about the line. But you are free to use the beauty products of your choice. There are many recommended products to use while experience Hamman, especially Aleppo soaps.

Final Observation: This article is independent, and this blogger did not receive any financial or beneficial encouragement by Rituals to mention the products, or even to write about Hamman. This article is a result of my true love for Middle Eastern culture and rituals, and I do LOVE the products I listed here.
Baths are one of my favorite ways of discovering scents, after wearing perfumes. it is fantastic how the scents spread in the bathroom, on the skin and hair. I close my eyes and I travel in time and space. I go back to the forests of Israel, the lavender fields of Provence...the beaches of Brazil...

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