Apparently summer really IS around the corner (the weather people are promising it will perk up soon – whether we believe them is, of course, something else entirely). However, hope springs eternal and so I’m doing a little sympathetic magic here and assuming it will be gorgeous, gorgeous enough to think about getting wet. Whether you’re on holiday by the most blissful beach or stuck in the steamy city, water can be your best friend over the summer.
We all know drinking water is good for us (even though the scientists still can’t decide how much we should drink) but there are a myriad other ways to enjoy the watery element. So, if the temperature starts to soar (anything’s possible) get out and get wet. If it doesn’t (ho hum), there are plenty of indoor options that pack a feelgood punch too. Here are fifteen of the best….
1. Paddle. It’s not only fun, it’s positively wonderful for your wellbeing. ‘Immersion of the feet up to the ankles or calves causes reflex contractions in many other parts of the body,’ says Dr Dian Dincin Buchman, author of The Complete Book of Water Therapy (Keats). If the water’s cold (most likely), you’ll be boosting your circulation and strengthening your constitution. Dr Buchman also says you could be helping prevent insomnia, chilblains and varicose veins and might even soothe depression and fatigue.
2. Get scrubbing. ‘For a Japanese woman the skin-scrubbing ritual is one of the primary elements in beauty and health,’ says Michelle Dominique Leigh, author of The New Beauty (Newleaf), ‘The result is smoother, softer, more glowing skin.’ She recommends you choose a variety of scrubbing implements – from a soft cloth for the face to a solid brush for the body (and a pumice stone for knees, elbows and heels). Ideally, have a soak in a warm bath then get out and scrub (always use a circular motion, working towards the heart and avoiding moles, varicose veins etc). If you want to apply a treatment pack (such as mud or seaweed) this is the time to do it for maximum penetration. Then get back in your bath for another soak. Rinse with (if you can bear it) cool water. ‘You will feel brand new,’ assures Michelle.
3. Body boards are a great way to brave the surf. You don’t need balance or fancy surf skills – just a highly-developed sense of humour and a tough constitution. Britain has some great beaches for beginners – the best are in North Devon (Croyde Bay, Woolacombe) and Cornwall (Fistral, Towan etc). If you want something more extreme check out skimboarding and kitesurfing (see http://www.surf-wax.co.uk/ for information).
4. Taking the waters at a thalassotherapy (sea water therapy) spa is undoubtedly divine but can leave a hefty dent in your pocket. You can garner some of the benefits without leaving your own bathroom, says Dr Keith Souter, author of Not Just a Room with a Bath (C W Daniel). ‘Salt baths can easily be taken at home without the necessity of obtaining seawater,’ he says, ‘they are good for detoxification and perspiration induction. They are also very good for various types of skin problems and chronic infections.’
Run a comfortably hot bath just before your bedtime. Dissolve 500 grams of salt in just enough water to make a paste. Take a handful or two and slowly rub the mixture over your body from the neck downwards. Use sweeping circular movements in the direction of the heart (avoid face and genitals). Now put the rest of the mixture in the bath and stir with your hands. Sit down and gently wash the salt off. Now lie down and increase the temperature to as hot as you can stand. Stay for up to ten minutes. Drink some water, pat yourself dry and go to bed. Caution: do not use if you have blood pressure problems, heart conditions or broken skin.
5. Don’t just swim in the sea during the day – take a moon or starlit dip. There’s nothing to beat floating in velvety water on a balmy night. This tends to be a foreign holiday option but hardy souls might brave the British seas. Don’t swim after a meal or alcohol and always have someone watching out for you.
6. Brave a stimulating sitz bath. ‘Remember how cold showers were supposed to dampen the ardour of young men? Well, they got it all wrong,’ says Alice Kavounas, author of Water – Pure Therapy (Kyle Cathie). ‘Cold water is actually very stimulating.’ This bath is said to rejuvenate you – it’s been called the ‘youth bath’ and could possibly give your love life a bit of a boost. Youth and pleasure comes at a price though – this one’s tough and should only be tried if you’re in rude good health.
- Wear a t-shirt or wrap your top half in a towel. Make sure the bathroom is warm.
- Fill the bath with 8 inches of cold water straight from the tap and sit in it. Raise your feet so they are out of the water (rest them on the edge of the bath or on an inverted bowl. Keep your top covered.
- Stay for one whole minute. Counting helps keep your mind off the cold…say out loud, slowly and rhythmically – ‘One and two and three’ etc.
- When you get out, quickly rub yourself dry, get into something comfortable and head for bed. As you get used to this bath, you can increase the time to two and then three minutes.
7. Try watsu, a form of shiatsu which is carried out in a warm pool. The therapist cradles your head and moves your body through an extraordinary series of manipulations (you can do things in water you’d never manage on dry land). You come out feeling wonderful – stretched, supple and curiously light. For more information and a list of practitioners around the world check out www.watsu.com
8. Wake yourself up with contrast hydrotherapy. Beloved of naturopaths, this tough shower supposedly stimulates the entire body – it revitalises the skin and improves circulation. ‘It’s very easy to do at home,’ says Alice Kavounas, ‘but it does take a bit of willpower.’ Don’t do this if you suffer from high blood pressure, are diabetic, weak or have a nervous disorder.
- Make sure your bathroom is warm. Have ready a large thick towel and a terry towelling bathrobe.
- Take a hot shower for two or three minutes. Follow with a cold shower lasting twenty seconds. Repeat this procedure three times, ending with a cold shower.
- Rub yourself dry and wrap up in the robe.
9. Join an aqua aerobics class or try a DIY version in your local swimming pool. Water’s buoyancy reduces your body weight by 90 per cent so it’s an almost zero impact form of exercise. Check out your local swimming pool – most have classes. Or, if you’re fit and healthy, try these exercises after you’ve warmed up with your usual swim. Try walking through the water, pushing your arms forward and round as you walk for a full body workout. Then move to deeper water and pretend you’re running or cycling using your hands (or some form of float) to keep you afloat. This is great cardio-vascular exercise and a proven fat-buster. one arms and legs by doing arm and leg lifts through the water (hold onto the side of the pool if you need to).
10. Book yourself into a day spa and indulge in some fancy hydrotherapy treatments. Experiment with exotic rituals like the Moroccan rasoul in which you coat yourself in three different muds and then await what feels like tropical rain showering down from the ceiling. Check out Spa Seekers for advice on your nearest (or best) day spa – http://www.spaseekers.com/
11. Visit a sacred spring. Historians believe a water cult may have originated in Britain over 5,000 years ago with our ancestors flocking to springs, wells and lakes believed to have healing powers. They would venerate the local water gods and goddesses with gifts, prayers and pilgrimage. Many of these places still exist and often have a curiously peaceful, healing atmosphere – worth checking out whatever you may think of their origins. Look them up on local ordinance survey maps – they are often found near churches. Often there are intriguing local legends which build up around them – ask at the local post office, library or down the pub.
12. Float. If you’re feeling remotely stressed – or just fancy the deepest form of relaxation you’ll ever experience, try a floatation tank. Floating has a host of benefits: it’s claimed you can accelerate learning and increase creativity merely by lying suspended in 18 inches of water. But above all, it’s just divinely peaceful. http://www.floattankassociation.net has more information and a register of tanks around the country.
13. Get some seaweed in your hair. The minerals in seaweed leave hair glossy, sleek and in ‘sublime condition,’ says Michelle Dominique Leigh. Make your own hair pack with a packet of dried wakame or kombu seaweed (available from health stores). Grind the seaweed in a pestle and mortar and then stir about 4 tablespoons into a cup of very hot water and leave it for half an hour. Once it has thickened massage it into your hair and leave for ten to fifteen minutes before rinsing very thoroughly. Add a little vinegar to the last rinse to take away the seaweedy smell.
14. If you must sunbathe, have a bath afterwards. Beauty expert Pratima Raichur, author of Absolute Beauty (Bantam) advises you take a cool bath, adding a few drops of rose, sandalwood or vetiver essential oil to the water. ‘Afterwards, pat the skin dry and when it is still moist, massage all over with body oil.’ ‘Afterwards, pat the skin dry and when it is still moist, massage all over with body oil.’
15. Turn your paddling pool into a home spa. Turf out the children and fill with warm water. Add some slices of orange and lemon and scatter petals over the surface. Sit in and relax. Note: this is even nicer on a warm summer evening – sip a glass of chilled champagne for even deeper relaxation.
There are plenty of ideas for using water in my books – try The Holistic Therapy File (read more about hydrotherapy, watsu, floating etc) and The Detox Plan also gives lots of advice on the therapeutic powers of water.