Turkish baths or hammams have so many benefits for mind, body and soul, but I don’t have a trip to Turkey planned. With everything going on in the world, I could definitely benefit from some relaxation, so I set out to recreate a Turkish bathing experience in my own bathroom.
It’s entirely possible to recreate the Turkish bathing experience in your home. With a few products such as a peştemal or Turkish towel, olive oil soap and a keşe, or exfoliating glove, you can enjoy the benefits of a Hammam, also spelled hamam. These benefits include reduced stress and anxiety, decreased muscle pain and improved sleep.
In case you’re not familiar with a Turkish bath, let’s take a look at what it is. Then we’ll explore how to recreate it in your own bathroom.
What is a Hammam or Turkish Bath?
Hammam (also spelled hamam) means “bathhouse” in Arabic. The hammam or Turkish bath is used to warm up and purify both the mind and body. Unlike an American bath full of water, the Turkish bath is really more akin to a steam bath.
No Longer a Religious Ritual
Though it has roots in religious ritual, today the hammam is visited to reduce anxiety and derive other benefits, much the same way you would visit a spa. The one connection to a religious ritual that remains strong is that often brides in Turkey will still visit the hammam before a wedding ceremony.
How the Hammam Looks
Today, you can visit a hammam across Turkey, as well as in other Middle Eastern and Arab countries. You will find these ornate bathhouses in hotels, spas and massage centers. You might be lucky enough to visit an ancient hammam that has been restored. The hammam are often gorgeous and ornate featuring bold colors, stone and marble, and gold accents.
Three Steps in Three Rooms
Typically, when you visit a Turkish bathhouse, you’ll progress through three steps. Each step occurs in a different room with a different temperature, humidity and purpose. By moving through the rooms, the changing temperature and humidity jumpstarts the detoxification process in the body. Usually hammams are single sex and visitors progress through in the buff, or wrapped in a Turkish towel.
The Warm Room
Here you’ll find cold and hot water faucets. Bathers will wash themselves to prepare for the massage. They will also rest in the steam and allow their skin to soften in the moist heat.
The Hot Room
Here the bather will lay on a hot stone or marble slab called the göbek taşı, or belly stone. The attendant called the tellak scrubs the bather’s skin. The tellak then fills a pouch with bubbly soap and squeezes foam from the pouch onto the bather.
The Cool Room
After the massage, the bather can relax in a cooler room. Often the lights are dim, as the bather lets the benefits of the Turkish massage sink in, before heading back out into the world.
Top 8 Turkish Bath Benefits
The tradition of the Turkish bath has endured for centuries because of the many health benefits the bather feels on mind, body and soul. Visitors to the hammam will experience the benefits of a hot bath combined with the benefits of a deep-tissue massage.
If you’ve ever practiced hot yoga or visited a sauna, you may be familiar with how steam is an excellent rejuvenator:
1. Reduced Stress & Anxiety
Visitors often cite their top reason for visiting a Turkish bathhouse is to reduce stress and anxiety. The benefits of a massage alone on stress reduction are well documented. Combined with the effects of the steam, the hammam produces an incredible sense of calm and well being.
2. Increased Circulation
The hands-on techniques of the tellak, or masseuse, in the Turkish bath increases the bathers circulation through a high-pressure, deep tissue massage. This increased circulation in the heat helps increase the body’s ability to sweat and detoxify.
The hammam was originally used to purify bathers before religious rituals. The moist heat of the hammam causes a bather’s pores to open and the visitors to sweat profusely. The sweating process is the body’s way to eliminate heavy metals and other toxins via the skin.
4. Improved Skin Tone
I know from doing hot yoga how much sweating can improve skin tone. Well, imagine the intense sweating of a sauna combined with a rub down with the keşe glove, which was originally made of horsehair. The attendant will stimulate your skin to shed the dead layer of cells and welcome regeneration of new ones.
5. Balanced Energy
Researchers find that visitors to the hammam experience a sense of well-being long after their visit ends. My personal theory is that this has to do with an evening out of blood sugar. Though this hasn’t been studied in the hammam, the positive effects on blood sugar were found in a study of men who took a very hot bath of 104 degrees fahrenheit for one hour.
6. Open Sinuses & Reduced Congestion
Many people report that a regular hot bath can help with the congestion they feel from a common cold. The hammam works the same way. The hot steam loosens mucus, dilates blood vessels in the face and opens sinuses. Good stuff!
7. Decreased Muscle Pain
One study looked at 15 subjects without any underlying health conditions who visited a hammam in Istanbul for about 45 minutes. After the experience, bathers reported decreased muscle pain. This is consistent with the researchers expectations for subjects who undergo hydrotherapy.
8. Better Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation reports that when someone is exposed to hot temperatures and then cool, the heart rate slows and this can help with sleep. When the bather leaves the hammam, especially if visiting 90 minutes prior to bedtime, the visitor is likely to fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly through the night.
How to Enjoy the Benefits of a Turkish Bath at Home
You may not be planning a trip to Turkey or Morocco anytime soon. But you may want to experience all the great health effects of a Turkish bath at home. This is entirely possible with just a few products. Here is what you’ll need:
Turkish Bath Supplies
The following products will help you reproduce a hamam in your bathroom at home. You’ll need just a bit of equipment:
Yoga Mat – You’ll lay this across your bathroom floor and rest on this in the steam.
Black Soap – Use this 100% organic soap made with olive paste after softening your skin in the steam.
Keşe Glove – You’ll use this to exfoliate your skin, sloughing off the dead cells so that a new layer of skin cells can grow.
Foaming Milk Bath – Just like in the hammam where the attendant covers the bather in nourishing bubbles, you’ll indulge in the same from the comfort of your home. Any bubble bath will do, but I like this one because it’s inexpensive, paraben-free, and has lots of good nourishment for your skin.
You may also want to use aromatherapy essential oils to create your at-home hammam.
And if you really want to capture the spirit of the Turkish bath, you can wrap yourself in a traditional Turkish towel called a Peştemal. Use it as you’re preparing the bath and after to dry yourself.
Additional Items from Your Home
You’ll need the following items, which you probably can find around the house:
- A few bath towels
- A large plastic or metal jug or bowl
- A thermos of ice water
Steps for At-Home Hammam
Use the smallest bathroom with a tub that you have. This will allow for more build-up of steam.
- Turn up the temperature on your home’s water heater. This is very important or you won’t get the full effect. Just remember to turn it back after your Turkish bath, and keep children and pets out of the bathroom for safety.
- Bring your supplies into the bathroom. Close the bathroom door, and then remove your clothing, either wrapping yourself in a towel or peştemal.
- Roll up additional bath towels. Place one along the crack of the door to prevent any draft. Do the same if you have a bathroom window that has any air breezing in. You can cover the whole window with a towel or roll one up and put it on the window ledge.
- Unroll your yoga mat beside the tub. If you’d like, you can place a towel on top of your mat.
Begin Your At-Home Turkish Bath Experience
1. Open the shower door or curtain. Then run the hot shower water. Lay on your mat for 10 minutes as you enjoy the steam. Be sure to sip from your cold water thermos to prevent dehydration.
2. Next, turn off the shower water. Stand in the tub and run some warm water from the faucet. Lather your body with black soap. Fill the jug or bowl with warm water and rinse the soap from your entire body.
3. Put on the keşe glove and exfoliate from head to toe, using rapid strokes to increase circulation.
4. Your skin is now ready to absorb the power of the foaming milk. Step out of the tub, plug the drain. You will fill the tub just a few inches with warm water as you add the foaming milk to produce bubbles. Sit on your yoga mat and use your empty jug to scoop the bubbles onto your body. (Pour out the water–you just need the bubbles.) If you prefer, you can lie in the bubbles in the tub. Then give yourself a massage or just lay down and relax beneath the bubbles. If you have a willing partner willing to act as your tellak, now would be a good time to request a partner massage. Be sure to continue drinking from your thermos.
5. After 15 minutes of massage or relaxation, get back into the tub and rinse yourself off with cool water.
6. Wrap yourself in a towel. Then open the bathroom door and go lay down to let your body drink in the bliss.
Optional: If you want to use essential oils during your Turkish bath, plug the sink and fill it with warm water. Add 10-20 drops of your favorite essential oil.
And if you want to use a face mask to hydrate your skin while you bathe, read expert advice here.
Pregnant women, children, and anyone with cardiovascular issues should refrain from a steam bath, either at home or in an actual hamam. Consult a doctor if you’re unsure.
Humidity in the Bathroom
Once you’re through with your at-home hamam, be sure to dry out the bathroom thoroughly in order to prevent any mold or mildew from developing. If you have a good bathroom fan, turn it on for 15 minutes. Or if you have a dehumidifier, you can run that as well. If you don’t have either, simply open any windows and doors. Then dry the floors and walls with a cloth.
Turkish Bath vs Sauna
There are several differences between a hammam and a sauna, although they both use steam.
The hammam, or Turkish bath, is a wet experience with high humidity and a lower room temperature. The steam is diffused throughout the room. Aesthetically, a Turkish bath or hammam is likely to be ornate, featuring stone, marble, and gold.
A sauna, however, uses a higher temperature, lower humidity, and the steam comes from one centralized location where water is poured on hot stones. The Turkish hamam has its roots in ritual, while the sauna originated in Finland for the functional purpose of keeping people warm. A sauna has a Scandinavian aesthetic with warm tones and lots of bare wood.
Benefits of Turkish Bath vs Finnish Sauna
Both high-humidity Turkish baths and dry saunas offer bathers many benefits. But a strict comparison of these still necessitates additional research.
A review of the medical literature on the impact of dry saunas looked at 40 studies with 3,855 participants. Researchers wrote that the benefits of the dry Finnish sauna were especially pronounced for people with cardiovascular issues, rheumatological diseases and for athletes who wanted to improve performance. However, they said that more study is needed to differentiate between the benefits of high-humidity and low-humidity.
Why the Ottoman Turks Loved the Turkish Bath
The benefits of the Turkish bath became widespread 600 AD during the Ottoman Empire. Before this time, what is now known as the Turkish bath existed in parts of Arabia. The Turkish bath used practices from the Roman bath house mixed with their own unique cultural flair.
Since only the extremely wealthy Turks had a bath in their homes, the Turkish bath was used by most people to get clean and socialize. It was a place where a person went to socialize, and since everyone was naked, all class distinctions were dropped in the bathhouse. (This is quite similar to the Japanese philosophy of “naked friendship” followed in Japanese bath houses.)
In addition to providing a place to socialize and get clean, the Turkish bath was historically linked to religious ritual and the concept of spiritual as well as bodily purification. The bath houses were used before prayer. Also, the bride and groom would enter the Turkish bath, each separately, before the wedding ceremony.
Enjoy the Awesome Benefits of a Turkish Bath at Home
With a few inexpensive supplies, you certainly can get the benefits of a hammam right in your own home. The practice combines the benefits of a steam bath with those of massage. You can not only reduce stress and decrease pain, but you can also increase the appearance of your skin and improve the quality of your sleep.
The benefits of the hammam, as they say in Turkish, are “Olağanüstü” or “Wonderful!”