From East to West, every culture loves a good spa day, and we took a bit of inspiration from all of them in designing our legendary hamam and hydrotherapy playground at The Standard Spa, Miami Beach. Here are some of the heavy hitters who do it especially well.
For the Turks, bathing is a semi-religious ritual in which purifying the body goes hand-in-hand with purifying the soul. Mohammed himself enthusiastically endorsed sweat baths around 600 AD, and hamams (as Turkish baths are known) are a kind of annex to the mosque, often featuring elaborate domes and ornate architectural elements that emphasize an atmosphere of sanctity and reflection. The centerpiece of the hamam is a hot stone slab where bathers loosen up and undergo a five-step purifying ritual: the warming of the body, an extremely vigorous massage, the scraping of skin and hair, soaping, and finally, relaxation.
Tellak - bathing attendant
Kese - rough natural washcloth
Peshtemal - large towel with tassels for covering the body
Nalin - wooden clogs
Tas - bowl for pouring water over the body
Tozu - the process of removing auxiliary hair
The bath of choice for Finns is not a bath at all, it’s a sauna. Finland is the sauna’s homeland, and “sweat baths” are fundamental to Finnish life—a means of mitigating the brutally harsh climate and preventing colds, relieving muscle aches, alleviating depression, and cleansing the skin. It’s said that the sauna is the Finnish pharmacy, but it’s more than that. Many important aspects of Finnish life happen here: birth, marriage, death, politics, and business deals. Finland has 5 million people and 3 million saunas, including ones at the Finnish Parliament and many businesses, and almost every Finn takes at least one a week. The Finnish sauna ritual begins by warming up and breaking into a sweat while inhaling löyly (birch vapor) and “whisking” one’s body with birch branches. The bather uses the whisk to beat himself lightly, raising blood circulation in the skin and upping perspiration. After an extended sweat, the bather may take a soapless, lukewarm shower; cool off in the open air; roll in the snow; or take a dip in frigid waters.
Savusauna: smoke sauna
Kiuas: sauna stove
Löyly: birch vapor
Pukuhuone: dressing room
Lauteet: elevated platform in sauna
Kippo: ladle for throwing water on stove
Japan’s storied bathing culture originates in its topography. The country’s 25,000 natural hot springs, called onsen, led to bathing customs that go back thousands of years. Soaking, steaming, dry heat—the same attention, care, and consideration applied to food, tea, and transportation are brought to bathing, which is treated as a leisurely, meditative, and sensual daily ritual, generally taking place in the evening before dinner. This respect for the rituals of bathing is seen in Japanese homes, which have dedicated rooms exclusively for bathing (toilets are separate). A typical bathing room has a deep cypress tub; a window for contemplation of nature; a handheld, wall mounted “shower”; and wooden buckets and stools. Japanese bathing is unique in that the bather is clean before dipping a toe in the tub. The bathing ritual begins with a soapy scrub while sitting on a wooden stool to rinse away dirt, followed by immersion in the tub for a leisurely soak to open pores, followed by another rinse and a final, longer soak.
Yukata - simple belted cotton robe
Geta - wooden platform slippers
Mizuburo - cold bath Rotenburo: outdoor bath
Furo - bathtub Onsen: hot spring
Sento - public bath house
Gokuraku - expression of divine bathing pleasure
What the sauna is to Finns, the banya is to Russians. Pushkin, the Russian writer and patriarch of Russian culture, described the banya as a Russian’s “second mother”: “He goes to his second mother for rejuvenation, warmth, and a bath. She restores him to state of glowing health.” In Russia, sweating and health are virtually synonymous, and unlike the semi-religious purification of the hamam, or the stoic calm of Finnish saunas, Russian banyas are loud, boisterous, steamy affairs. Yes, the Russian’s bath of choice is a steam bath—and they like it extremely hot. The steam is produced by pouring water over a massive heater filled with hot rocks. Patrons disrobe and don felt hats dipped in cold water to protect them from the extreme heat. Once they’ve got a good sweat going, out come veniki—birch switches with leaves dipped in icy water with which Russian men and women take turns beating each other to stimulate the sweat glands. The experience is capped off with a nice long shower and a shot (or two) of vodka before trudging out into the cold Moscow air.
Predbannik: pre-bathing area
Parilka: washing room and steam room
Chapka: felt hat worn to protect against heat
Padjopnik: specially-designed seating pads
Black banya: wood-burning steam sauna in which smoke escapes through the ceiling
Pokhodnaya: rudimentary outdoor banya constructed in nature
Korea’s bathing culture bears a resemblance to Japan’s, which some attribute to Japanese rule in the 20th century, while others point to an earlier migration from China through Korea to Japan. Where Japan’s bathing rituals are notable for their austerity and emphasis on simplicity, Korea’s bathhouses—mogyoktang (in their more traditional form) or jimjilbang (in their modern incarnation)—are sprawling, casual, and social, allowing visitors to wander through steam rooms, saunas, herbal pools, charcoal cold “saunas,” ice rooms, and jade rooms, with breaks for eating and socializing. Bathing areas are separated by gender and full nudity is the norm. One’s only accompaniment into the baths is a “lamb head,” a small hand towel used to wipe sweat from one’s eyes. It’s totally normal for friends and even strangers to scrub each other’s hard-to-reach-places—hence, the old Korean maxim: “You’re not really friends with someone until you’ve bathed naked together in a jimjilbang.” Perhaps the most iconic feature of Korea’s bathing culture is sesshin, extremely vigorous exfoliating body scrubs administered by ajummas—middle-aged women who pummel, slap, scour, and cover bathers in hot towels, leaving skin glowing and soft.
Jjimjilbang: massive, modern spa and recreation center with extensive offerings
Mogyoktang: traditional Korean bathhouse
Ondol: communal room with heated floor
Yangmeori: cleverly fashioned hand towel used to wipe away sweat
Korean Italy towel: coarse towel used in sesshin