Nudity Is Natural, Like the Springs
My first week in Sofia I went on a Remote Year organized event and had no idea what I was in for! About 15 people that signed up for the event met in a parking lot outside Vasil Levski stadium at 7:30 AM. We drove about 30 minutes outside of Sofia to get to our destination: Pancharevo Lake. Our adventure began with a 30-minute silent meditation hike that took us to a viewpoint with stunning views of the lake and the city of Sofia. The hike was a beautiful and energizing way to start the morning and was a great accompaniment to my fledgling meditation practice this month. After taking in the view at the top, we hiked down to the lake and our guide presented us with our next challenge (as if walking in silence wasn't enough for us): it was time to refresh ourselves in the natural hot mineral springs. Nude. As the Bulgarians do.
After silent contemplation (maybe panic is a better word) and several awkward glances around the group, we all decided, well, when in Bulgaria! Fortunately the males and females have their own pools. So 7 of my fellow female Remotes and I headed into the locker room, hesitantly stripped down, showered off and dipped into the first pool which was a cozy 37- degrees Celsius. We were instructed to soak for 10-15 minutes, hop back in the shower, scrub down with a loofah type cloth and then spend another 5 minutes in the next pool which was a much warmer 42-degrees Celsius. Gradually feeling more comfortable in our group nakedness, we stayed in that one a bit too long and emerged when some light headedness kicked in to scrub down and rinse off once more. The facility was surprisingly clean and the Bulgarian women around us seemed happy and relaxed.
Back in the locker rooms, we met this lovely older Bulgarian professor of 'spas and wellness' who promptly schooled us on the proper way to Bulgarian bathe which included slathering your body in Bulgarian honey. Oh, and a honey douche. She went on to tell us that she had been coming to the baths several times a week for the last 14 years and it completely cured all of her medical ailments. She talked about the baths in complete revereance for a good 15 minutes and although we had all dressed before the start of the conversation, she stood there amongst her audience of eight COMPLETELY NAKED. The whole time. Europe, you have so much more body love! We could learn a thing or two from you in the U.S.
While one trip to the bath certainly won't cure all that ails me, my skin was noticeably much softer and I left feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. Inspired by the deep spiritual connection Bulgarians seem to have with their mineral baths, I decided to do a little digging into the history and science.
Bulgaria is said to boast over 500 hot springs and in the first millennium BC, Thracian tribes settled around present day Sofia - attracted by the thermal mineral water. Later these lands were conquered by the Romans, who continued the Thracian tradition and built their Roman baths. The mineral water was used for treatment of various diseases. The tradition of thermal bathing has continued in Europe and many other parts of the world and is now known as balneology (or balneotherapy), which is the treatment of disease by bathing (usually in mineral water). Reportedly hot springs can provide relief from arthritis, fibromyalgia, skin conditions (such as psoriasis), and high blood pressure. There aren't many medical studies to back up these claims, but heat certainly does provide pain relief and increases circulation and water takes pressure off of the joints, so it makes sense that the springs would temporarily relieve muscle tension and joint pain. The springs are also supremely relaxing and since stress can manifest in the body in many different ways, it makes sense that treating yourself to relaxation several times a week would ease some of the physical manifestations of stress. So although your body may not be soaking up all the minerals around you, regular relaxation and the sense of community these baths tend to provide would contribute to overall wellness.
My marathon training is in full swing and I plan to run my peak week 20-miles around Pancharevo Lake and follow it up with a soak in the springs. I'll probably skip the honey douche though...
The good news is you don't have to live near a European hot spring to reap the benefits of balneology! You can create your own mineral bath, without the public nudity (or with it- the choice is yours!). Here's how:
- Fill your tub with hot (but not scalding) water
- Add epsom salts with magnesium to help relax sore muscles and joints
- Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to help relieve stress
- Add a tablespoon of baking soda to help neutralize any chlorine in the water and soothe the skin
- Sit back, relax and enjoy for about 15 minutes!