To some, buried neck-deep in sand may sound more like a punishment than a relaxing rejuvenation. The reemergence of psammotherapy has seen the ancient therapy find a new home in luxury spa menus. While named for the Greek word for sand, psammotherapy – or hot sand therapy – has been used in a number of warmer climates in ancient cultures. In its most essential form, participants were buried or covered in warm sand inorder to slowly heat the body to reduce inflammation, induce relaxation, and ease a number of other physical complaints. The first record of hot sand therapy can be traced back to the Siwa Oasis area in Ancient Egypt. Performed as a form of medical treatment for muscular and arthritis pain, its benefits were noted by the 13th century Islamic physician Ibn al-Nafis. Healers and elders from Greece, Turkey, Morocco, and other desert locales would also dig long and deep holes in the early morning. After waiting for the sun to warm the dunes, people were buried up to the neck in the heat-conducting sands for up to 30 minutes, then removed and wrapped in hot towels to prevent the body from dropping its temperature too quickly.
This traditional form of hot sand therapy is still in rotation for the Ait Atta Berbers of Morocco’s Merzouga region as a tourist attraction. Now the centuries-old practice has undergone a modern day makeover. Emerging as a slick spa-ready treatment, psammotherapy aims to ease muscle aches and pains, and reduce symptoms of chronic inflammation and rheumatism, all without the nitty gritty awkwardness and mess of being buried deep within a sand dune. At Dubai’s Park Hyatt, the hotel’s luxurious Amara Spa offers a duo of Gharieni quartz treatment beds in its couple’s suite; worlds away from the traditional sand burying methods, yet retaining the same basic principles of malleable, warm pressure. By heating the body uniformly, the technique induces a sense of deep relaxation, with tight muscles releasing in unison. Instead of dune sands, the Gharieni method uses thicker grains of alpha quartz. A tectosilicate, the quartz conducts infrared energy, delivering a more intense warmth. “Quartz amplifies the effectiveness of the treatment by absorbing, storing, releasing, and regulating – and ultimately balancing our entire body functions,” believes Sammy Gharieni, CEO and founder of Gharieni. Lying prone on the treatment bed, the client is wrapped up then gently buried beneath the grains of quartz, which slide and flow around the body’s contours. While the patient is cocooned, a secondary therapy can be enjoyed to further enhance relaxation. At Park Hyatt Dubai, aromatherapy and sound therapy are offered in conjunction with massage, with small gongs struck in a relaxing sound bath to roll over the reclining client as part of a guided meditation.
With the brand’s treatment beds now offered in a rollcall of luxury spas across the Middle East and international markets, Gharieni says that psammotherapy has been embraced by the region as an extension of other desert-inspired treatments. “There is a connection to practices of Unani medicine and traditional Arabic and Islamic medicine therapies,” he points out. Specifically, psammotherapy relates to the Sufi belief of Lataif-e-Sitta, the six subtleties of action, experience, and perception, which believers say need to be awakened as one to make up a whole person. Driving a complete connection between body, mind, and soul, psammotherapy is an ancient spa treatment that has managed to retain its traditional heart.
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Originally published in the June 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia