Besides our three liters a day, there’s an ocean of water-based therapies championing better wellness and intuitive health. One of the Middle East’s natural wonders – the Dead Sea – has an entire hydrotherapy industry built around the high-salinity waters, with bathers soaking in for relaxation and repair. Known as thalassotherapy, named for the Greek word for ‘sea,’ submerging in its waters has benefits for the full body. For the Dead Sea, it’s not just the elevated salt content that helps repair skin, but the movements unlocked for the body suspended weightless in the water. Stretching, twisting, extending, and relaxing, muscles shed tension and strain in a way that’s unattainable on dry land.
In cooler climes, the same is true for hot springs like Iceland’s geothermal Blue Lagoon, and Japan’s onsen baths, where water naturally heated to about 35 degrees has been used for hundreds of years as an organic wellness enhancer. For babies, a soundtrack of gently gurgling ocean waves is recommended as the optimal white noise to lull newborns into a secure sleep, with a similar aural immersion helping an adult into their own deep relaxation. Enter floating therapy, where the participant lies prone in the pool – or ocean – and is gently supported to keep their face above the water in the practitioner’s arms. At the One&Only Reethi Rah, the practice is known as Watsu Therapy, which aims to “quiet the sympathetic and enhance the parasympathetic nervous system” with a barely-there massage performed while floating in a tropical pool. Used as a complementary treatment alongside other mental wellbeing aids, floating therapy can help release tightness in the body, reduce stress, and improve sleep.
For those seeking more of a sharp shock to the system, ice baths have trended on Instagram and TikTok, with celebrities including Bella Hadid, Lady Gaga, Harry Styles, Kendall Jenner, and Hailey Bieber all promoting the body freezing method for its anti-inflammatory benefits and immunity-boosting response. Made famous by Dutch extreme athlete and motivational speaker Wim Hof, his eponymous method combines structured breathing techniques with full body submersion in an ice water tank. Taking this to the next level, contrast bath therapy combines the polar opposites of heat and cold. A typical session involves submersing the body in hot water, followed by icy cold water. The heat first dilates blood vessels and relaxes the lymph nodes. The burst of cold then constricts, encouraging increased blood circulation.
At Contrast Wellness, on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah, the concept substitutes hot water for the infrared sauna, or a traditional Finnish sauna. Visitors are encouraged to relax with some hot yoga stretches, before being dunked in their own icy tub. A weekly 90-minute session (from AED225) boasts benefits including improved circulation and faster muscle recovery, say co-founders Layla Kardan and Hamdan Al Khafaji. “Contrast therapy is amazing for reducing inflammation and breaking down lactic acid to help with joint pain and muscle recovery, as well as blood circulation and lymph flowing drainage,” says Kardan. “After the session you feel so revived, you’re literally glowing. I do it before a big event to reduce puffiness and tighten my skin.” The co-founder says the technique delivers benefits across body and mind. “It’s been said that after a session, you have mental clarity and resilience by enduring the cold temperatures, and it helps in regulation of life stressors. Being able to withstand the cold exposure also helps reduce sensitivity to stress,” she adds. “I think people are realizing the power of ancient healing practices and going back to basics, as a bio hack in increasing life expectancy and anti-aging.”
Originally published in the November 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia.