Soaking in Hot Springs – a Relaxing and Restorative Ritual

Without water, life can’t exist. Water is essential to life. In ancient times, humans rapidly learned this, and the first civilizations often settled near the ocean, rivers, or other bodies of water. Due to its importance, water was often believed to be sacred and in many cultures bathing in these holy waters could heal and purify one’s body and soul. For example, the Ganga river is very important in Hinduism and is a place where many people come together to bathe and meditate. We’ve done meditation practices in the Ganga river ourselves when we were in Rishikesh, a town in the foothills of the Himalayas, where the river just descends out of the mountains and where it is still crystal clear and ice cold. Those meditation exercises were up to this day still one of the most transcendental experiences we’ve ever had and the cold water energized our bodies and quieted our minds. 

The History of Healing with Water

 In both Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, hot and cold water (sometimes infused with herbs) are an essential part of many healing rituals. In ancient Egypt water was used for maintaining hygiene and beauty, and herbs were also often added to baths to infuse them with therapeutic components. The studying of the healing qualities of water began in ancient Greece, where philosophers like Plato and Hippocrates studied the benefits and called it hydrotherapy (water cure). Later, the ancient Romans followed in their footsteps, and bathing became of great importance to their culture too. Since the beginning of the Roman empire, they made use of baths which they called balnea. These could be private in their homes, which was mostly for the elite, or communal. After the building of aqueducts and gaining the ability to move water from the outside to the inside of the city, these baths became huge centers called thermae and these became a major destination for social gatherings, often having gardens, libraries, and so forth. These baths were not only meant as a place for a social or relaxing experience but were also used for their therapeutic benefits and served as a place where wounded soldiers could come and rest. In modern times, bathing in hot and cold water is a big part of all cultures around the world, both for hygienic and therapeutic purposes.

Hot Springs

On our journey through the mid-west and western United States, many things brought feelings of wonder and joy. The astounding views on the open road, the music, and of course, the numerous hot springs. From the Californian high desert to the magical Oregon forests, we visited as many hot springs as we could. They provided the warmth and relaxation that was often missed on a cold winter night, sleeping in a van. Many hot springs that we visited were secluded and quiet and we often had moments where we were soaking alone in sacred waters on a full moon night. 

Hot springs were of great significance to many Native American tribes, who thought of it as sacred grounds and often as a place where the Great Spirit lived. The healing waters were used by tribes as a place to retreat and rest. Tribes that were at war ceased fighting when entering these neutral grounds, honoring the sacredness of the land and the Earth.

Hot springs, picture by Matt Palmer.

Healing Abilities of Hot Springs

There are plenty of reasons why one enjoys being in a hot spring. It is a natural pool provided with warm mineral-rich water from the Earth. Relaxing and restorative. But it is not only the comfort or beauty of taking a hot bath, in the middle of a forest or desert, that makes it a wonderful experience. Many health benefits come with enjoying the waters of a hydrothermal spring. 

Soaking in hot springs can relax the body and mind and at the same time, (thanks to the heat) our pores open, and the minerals that are present in the water get absorbed. Calcium, sodium bicarbonate, sulfur, magnesium, silica, lithium are just a few of the minerals that can be found in natural hot springs.

The heat of the water, and the weightlessness the body has while in it, may relieve musculoskeletal problems such as tense and sore muscles, symptoms of arthritis, and more. Many of these minerals can improve blood circulation, carrying more nutrients and oxygen around, and eliminating toxins from the body. Minerals such as magnesium, potassium, sulfur and silica can help nurture the skin and relieve symptoms of skin issues such as eczema. The steam of the hot water may relieve nasal congestion.

If there is no natural hot spring to be found near your home, but you do have a bathtub, you can find many things to make your own healing bath at home. There are various herbs, salt, clay, or essential oils that all provide therapeutic effects and have the ability to soothe your body and mind, and unwind from your day. 

The Powers of Relaxation

In modern society, being able to relax is often a problem with work, school, or other obligations that worry the mind. Long-term stress can weaken the immune system and cause high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and more. It is essential to find a way to let go of these worries and unwind, and finding your way to do this can be different for each individual. You might want to listen to calming music, meditate, go for a walk in Nature, do breathing exercises, or soak in hot, healing water. Allow yourself to have these loving, quiet moments to tune in and be aware of your body and mind.  

Resources:

History of the Baths and Thermal Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5535692/#ref1

John W. Lund – Historical Impacts of Geothermal Resources on The People of North America https://oregontechsfstatic.azureedge.net/sitefinity-production/docs/default-source/geoheat-center-documents/quarterly-bulletin/vol-16/art2.pdf?sfvrsn=4b3f8d60_4


White Sage – a Sacred, Purifying Herb

While driving down the steep roads of San Francisco, our van started making strange sounds. We did not want to spend the night somewhere parked on a busy city street, so we drove on, towards Monterey. The next day, the culprit turned out to be the front brakes, which had to be replaced. It cost us a good amount of money, but all was well with our little home so we were happy. Our day was spend strolling down the coastal pathway, up to Lovers Point, and enjoying the serenity of a sunny November day by the seashore. A street vendor, selling crystals at the Old Fishermen’s Wharf, had gifted us two Oregon sun stones he had found himself, two Rose Quartz (the stone of Love – because we had told him that it was our anniversary) and a bundle of White Sage. This bundle lasted us for the rest of our journey, and became an important part of our little daily rituals. We could turn to it to cleanse our mind and space of negative energy, and to give thanks to the Universe for guiding us on our path.

As mentioned in the previous post, there were many sacred plants that were used in Native American culture, and that are still used up to this day. These plants were used for various reasons, from herbal remedies, to ceremonies – where they were smoked or burned (smudging) – or to cook or bathe with.

White Sage (Salvia Apiana)

Even if you have never studied herbs, you probably have heard of sage. An herb that is well-known to people all around the world, and used for culinary or medicinal purposes. Many cultures use their local variety of sage, as there are more than 900 hundred different kinds to be found on our planet. The one that is most commonly used in Europe is Salvia Officinalis or common sage, native to the Mediterranean. 

White sage, or Salvia Apiana, is a variety of sage that is very important to many Native American tribes. It is a perennial, evergreen shrub, and is native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It was used by tribes in this region, however, thanks to its wide variety of medicinal, spiritual, and practical uses, it quickly spread to other tribes across North America, and became an important part of Native American culture.

Traditional Use 

White sage purifies, cleanses, and strengthens the connection to the spirit world, and the Creator. The herb was ceremoniously harvested, dried, and burned afterward. The smoke was believed to carry up prayers to the Creator while cleansing the space and the people participating of negative energies, emotions, spirits. It was also used to enhance mental clarity and heighten one’s sense of awareness during these rituals, while inviting positive spirits and harmony. The burning of white sage was often offered to the Creator, or the Spirit World while calling upon them to support them in the healing or purifying ritual.

Culinary, some tribes enjoyed the nutritious benefits by including the leaves and stems of the white sage shrub in their diets, while other used the seeds. The seeds were ground up together with different ingredients to create a nutrient-rich powder that was the base of many different meals such as porridge.

Some native tribes used this versatile plant as an herbal hair or body wash. They did this by rubbing the leaves, together with water, in the palms of their hands.

Medicinal Powers

White sage is believed to be very powerful, supporting the overall health and vitality of the body. It balances, and soothes the body and soul. Known to have a positive effect on the nervous system, white sage can ease anxiety issues, sleep disorders, and other problems that can come forth out of an imbalance of the nervous system. It is also known to have strong antimicrobial properties, and therefore it was applied topically to heal wounds. The seeds were used to treat problems with the eyes, by inserting seeds underneath the eyelids throughout the night. In the morning they would remove the seeds, and the eyes would be cleansed of contaminants.

As a tea, it was often drunk by Native women to ease the painful symptoms connected to childbirth, or their moon time (menstruation). White sage was also used for relieving a sore throat, respiratory problems, digestive issues, or treating a cold or fever.

The Present Day Use of White Sage

Nowadays, white sage has become an important part of many rituals, for healing and spiritual purposes. There is nothing wrong with honoring all things that nature has gifted us, but sadly, as with many things that became popular (such as Palo Santo), white sage has been over harvested (due to non-ethical, non-sustainable harvesting methods). Therefore, if you would like to use white sage in your own rituals, it is wise to always get it from a source that ethically cultivates it, or grow it yourself if your climate allows it. When wild-harvesting, it is important to never take more than 20 % of any shrub in order to not damage the plant and its change to survive. It is good to be conscious about the scarcity of the plant, give thanks while harvesting, and not burn too much at once while using it during a ritual.

Sage is a mystical, powerful plant. With her ancient wisdom and healing powers, she’s a beautiful gift of Nature, important to many of our ancestors, and she continues to be important to many people today.

For burning/smudging, there are plenty of alternative herbs that you can use such as cedar, sweet grass, mugwort, lavender, and so much more. Chances are big that a post about all of these, and our experiences with it, will follow in the future!

Resources:

Sarah Outlaw – Sage throughout the ages

 Evan Sylliaasen – White Sage: Wisdom, Clarity, Cleansing

Robin DiPasquale – The Many Faces of Sage

https://ndnr.com/botanical-medicine/the-many-faces-of-salvia/


Our American Adventure and Why We Started This Blog

We both grew up in Flanders, the northern and most populated part of Belgium, a tiny country in Western Europe. Our views were filled with fields, farms and a lot of houses everywhere, with not too much space for wild nature in between.

(Caro) I spend my entire childhood in the city of Antwerp. This meant I had a limited connection with nature growing up, but the memories I treasure the most were the ones from the park I spend a lot of time, or the family vacations to Luxembourg, where my cousins and I explored the forests, played games and were almost constantly outside. Getting older, that connection with nature got a little bit lost, being in the city constantly. But it immediately returned once we both decided to quit with what we were doing and embark on our big adventure, exploring the world.

(Tim) Growing up in the countryside, I could play and walk in the forest whenever I pleased. From a young age, I started sensing the wonders nature had to offer. The beauty of Autumn leaves falling from the trees, or the colors of the sky on a clear Summer morning or a warm Winter evening was something I truly loved as a child. Growing older, there were other things that had to be thought about, there had to be an answer to society’s call. Good grades, getting a job, and behaving appropriately became more important, and so the magic of nature slowly faded away as I grew into my teenage years. After dropping out of college and tuning back in with my inner self, by which I mean, growing up and becoming a child again, made me realize what I was missing out all this time. I opened up again, and before me was everything I never knew, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be explored.

Our American Adventure

Since a young age, there has been a fascination with American culture. When we were growing up, things often seemed to be a little bit dull, because you know what they say, the grass is always greener on the other side, definitely when you are a teenager. As a result, the whole Hollywood culture, and everything we saw in movies was very exciting to our young minds. Our interests shifted as we grew older, and we dove deeper into American culture. Jazz, blues, Beatnik literature and more …

For a few years, a special connection with the United States had been building up. The movies we watched, the music we listened to, the books we read, they all seemed to have come to life in this mystical continent, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. And one thing that was described in all of it was the American Open Road … A lonesome road, going on for miles, with a never-ending yellow stripe in the middle. White mountain peaks on one side, a high-desert on the other.

So, a few years back, we got the idea of embarking on our Great American Adventure, a road-trip, which we did in the summer of 2019. On August 14th (exactly six months after Valentine’s day, the day we returned to Europe from Asia), we left for North America.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.”

Song of the Open Road, Walt Witman.


After we flew to Canada, we bought a van in Montréal, which we named Lazy Lightnin’. We visited family in Ontario, where we spend a week converting our van into our tiny, cozy home, and we left for the United States at the end of August. There was a strong feeling that we had been called to the United States and when we arrived, we felt home immediately. The people we met, the nature we explored, the music we danced to. It all felt like a part of a bigger picture as if it were all little miracles being send our way, the universe telling us we were on the right path.

The natural environment of North America (especially the west, which we mostly explored) is one of the most diverse, most beautiful ones we have ever encountered. You can go from a lonesome desert to the mountains, to a wild coastline, all in one day. A lot of people live close to nature and wildlife is everywhere, even in bigger towns. Growing up, the only “big” wildlife we could see (if we were lucky) was deer, while in Ashland, a town in Oregon where we lived for a while, every day they could be found in someone’s front yard. Bears (and sometimes even moose) visited towns too. It was one of the most incredible things we noticed in the States, the thin boundary between human society and The Wild.

Our first time camping in nature with Lazy Lightnin’.


Discovering a New World

(Caro) We have been interested in alternative forms of medicine since our first travel to India, where we found out about Ayurveda, an ancient healing system. It opened our eyes to the wonders of holistic and traditional medicine, and we learned that there were a lot of alternatives to the western medicine system we had known all of our lives. These were ways of healing that were aware of the person as a whole, not just to a particular disease, and that worked together in harmony with our body, mind and spirit. The spark was there, in India, but the realization that this was something that I wanted to pursue came to me in the United States. A dear friend of mine in Oregon had told me that she thought of me as a healer, and those words gave me a very special feeling inside. I knew then that I wanted to learn more about all the wonderful, healing gifts of nature, and that I wanted to share this knowledge with my friends, and hopefully be able to help people along the way.

Tim and our van that just broke down, on a full moon evening in Wyoming.

We have traveled to different places, where we connect with different cultures and their ways to maintain a balanced life, and it would be nice to explore this further and deepen our knowledge about traditional medicine while sharing this with the people who are interested. And so, here we are, on our own blog, and we are very excited to start!

We want to highlight the fact that our aim for this blog is to share the knowledge which we acquire on our journey around this planet and from our own experiences. We don’t know the ultimate truth and believe that each body is unique and different, and what will work for somebody, is not guaranteed to work for somebody else. We want to share our own personal stories and ideas, and advise everybody to do their own research. That being said, I hope we can inspire people to learn more about everything that Nature has gifted us and all the different forms of traditional medicine.