March 24, 2011

The Bathing Ritual. ~ Corti Cooper

Cleansing from a Different Time.

Photo: Alun Salt

I flew in for a trip a bit early for some me time.

I’ve always enjoyed traveling alone. Although I am something of a social butterfly, I take pleasure in the enforced solitude of travel. I drove down the Florida coast and landed at the Nirvana Spa in North Miami Beach.

The Nirvana Spa has all the pleasures of any number of high end spas in glittering well-to-do neighborhoods all over the world. It has massage, body treatments and a salon. However, this is an original. Before $600 detox specials, there was the Russian Baths. For just $25 bucks, you can gain entrance and have access to all the tools you need to relax, detox and truly step out of the world and into yourself.

Depictions of bath houses date back to the 2nd century and have variations in use and ritual in different countries (Turkey, Finland, Korea). There is even a similarity to the sweat lodges of the Native Americans here in North America. For the purposes of this article, I will be referring to them as the Russian Baths. They are rock heated sauna’s with varying degrees of heat and humidity. The main Russian Sauna is a 160 degree dry sauna. The prescribed method of use is to take a cold shower before, sit in the sauna for 5-10 minutes and then relieve the heat by jumping in a freezing cold plunge pool, rinsing off in the cold shower again and then heading back into the sauna. The heat stimulates sweating, allowing for removing of unwanted toxins as well as opening the pores. Moving between the cold and the heat stimulates blood circulation, particularly on the surface which allows for increased flow of oxygen to the muscles, helping to remove excess lactic acid.

All of this is fabulously good for you. But one might ask, why submit yourself to such torture?

I see the Russian Baths just like any other wellness practice I do to cleanse, to clear and to be more myself. It is a practice. It isn’t something that can be done all at once; time and care must be taken to reach a state of happiness and health of mind, body and breath.

I like to change into my suit and head first to the jacuzzi, not so much for the heat but to ease my mind and drop into myself, away from the fast paced world. It is also a time to acclimate to the diversity of the baths, men and women of all ages and shapes and nationalities. It is interesting to know that with all the focus on image and weight-loss in todays society that this is a place where the focus is on the cleansing of the saunas rather than the shape of one’s bum. Once you head into the sauna, all self-image insecurities melt away.

After some time relaxing in the jacuzzi, I’m ready for my sauna experience. Taking a cold shower is never a great time so I often skip it for a quick rinse before I enter the hot sauna. Eight minutes in and then I take a long walk to cold plunge pool. The cold moves through your skin quickly and every inch of your body wants to get out and breath. But with practice and patience with your natural instinct to not be in freezing cold water, even the submersion can be a moment of calm, quiet and of course, cold. Then right back into the hot room. The moment of clarity comes after full cold submersion has happened.

As your body returns from cold to its natural temp and pauses there even though the room is hot, time suspends, breath is expansive and life is singular, that moment.

Back and forth three or four times becomes a ritual between cold and hot, finding a relief in both, time stops and there is only your body and you. This meditation of course, does not come easy at first as the vital systems are fighting. But with observation, one can begin to move away from fear into simple being in one’s own skin, no matter how hot or cold. Just as yoga gives us the tools to breath in moments of distress and emotion, so can the Russian Baths teach us to be mindful, present and calm, regardless of our environment.

Photo: Justin Griffiths

As for the experience of the place, it is basic and perfect. Fresh fruits, juices and water. Hammocks and lounge chairs for relaxing, fully equipped locker rooms for keeping your things and shower. The Nirvana Spa even has a pool and beach access so once you have cleansed, you can head out onto the shore to gaze at the dynamic and cleansing qualities of the vast ocean. Unlike spas with pastel walls and free Pelligrino, this spa experience is not about perfect manicures and $300 massages.

It is simply a place to connect with your body, your skin and yourself.

Spa and bathing, including Russian Baths, is a ritual that should be a staple in our lives.


Corti is a yogini and a designer; a traveler of the world and a determined seeker of learning. Through art and yoga, Corti explores the planes of reality, deconstructs the rhetoric of cultures and looks for the essence of happiness. Here are a few of her adventures, out of context, out of bounds, for humans. When home, Corti runs a small design studio and teaches vinyasa flow yoga in the well manicured and always mannerly, Connecticut USA. Her personal practice consists of breath work and a daily walking meditation with her sweet pup, Amarella.

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