Whenever I move house – and I’ve moved a lot over the years – I have a few requirements: outside space, a place for all my books, a full-sized oven for baking, a separate bedroom and… a bath.
For someone who loves baths so much, I’m really not very good at them. I find it hard to sit still. My life as an avid ‘do-er’ has had its rhythms of fast and slow, its changes in pace, but it was only when I started taking my yoga seriously that I realised the important part pauses play in that rhythm.
However, in an ironic twist, and who says The Great Creator doesn’t have a sense of humour, it seems that pauses are easier to slip into after a period of exercise. So in order to successfully stop… we need to start. And here’s where my bathing ritual comes into play. Instead of just sitting there in the bath, wondering what else is going on in the world, I now do a few gentle stretches which signal to my body and mind that savasana – that Holy Grail of yoga – is on its way.
Here’s the little yogic bathtime routine I’ve developed. Try it for yourself… you might like it!
While the bath is running I now focus on creating a calm atmosphere in the bathroom, rather than running in and out, doing stuff in the other room. I’ve found – unsurprisingly – that this helps me keep an eye on the temperature of the water as I’m not a big fan of chilly bum and boiling toes (let alone the other way around!). I have a selection of homemade bath oils and remedies, which I’ll share more about here. But a couple of firm favourites are a handful of Epsom Salts to ease tired muscles and encourage detoxification, or a stocking filled with oats hanging below the faucet to soothe dry, itchy skin.
I turn off the lights, put some candles on the edge of the bath and choose a guided meditation. I’m a big fan of Marianne Williamson and find her On Health Meditation (from Meditations for a Miraculous Life) great for the bath. I also take some time to connect with my breath in Tadasana (mountain pose).
With feet hip-width apart and arms by my side I brace myself against gravity, elongating the entire body and feeling the link in my abdomen between the grounding pull of the earth on my lower body and the celestial pull of the stars on my spine. I close my eyes, turn my palms forward and spread my fingers, signalling my willingness to receive the coming experience. I focus on my breath, gently breathing in to the count of four and out to the count of six.
Once in the water I gently allow my hips to open while treating my feet and ankles to a massage in a posture that is similar to Shroni Chakra (hip rotation). Sitting in the bath, extend the right leg in front of you and bend the left at the knee. Open the left leg at the hip and hug the left knee into the chest, holding it firmly with the left arm, the knee in the crook of the elbow. Hold the left foot with the right hand, raise the lower leg towards the chest and sit-up straight. Interlace the fingers of the right hand with the toes of the left foot and gently make five ankle rotations in one direction, five in the other. Try to give all control to the right hand, relaxing the foot and allowing the ankle to move passively. Repeat on the other side.
Take a few moment to relax and recover. Next, extend the right leg in front of you and bend the left at the knee. Either leave the left foot to the left of the right knee, or – to increase the stretch – place it gently on the right side of the right knee. Hug the left knee into the chest with the right arm, extend your spine towards the sky and gently rotate your trunk to the left, continuing the twist into your neck. Hold for six gentle, deep breaths and release. Repeat on the other side. This is a gentle preparation for Ardha Matsyendrasana (half spinal twist).
Relax and recover once again before moving into Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend). I like to practice this pose in two stages, the first with the back straight and focus on extension, the second with a rounded back and sensation of folding. Extend both legs straight in front of you and hold together. Place the hands in prayer position and inhale as you extend the arms up to the sky. As you exhale, tilt the trunk forwards at the hips. Try to maintain a straight back, open the chest and rest the hands gently on the legs or feet. Stay here for six gentle breaths. Then, on the inhale, extend the arms ahead of you and re-straighten the back. As you exhale allow the bank to curve as you bend towards your legs, aiming for your chest on your thighs and face towards your ankles. Please be sensible here about the depth of the water!
And now, time for savasana. Before taking this position I like to press play on my guided meditation, then relax all tension from my body allowing the water to support my joints. Bliss!
Please note: in all these postures, the warmth of the water and relaxing atmosphere will allow your muscles to stretch further than normal. Please don’t push yourself in these poses, respect your body’s limits and don’t take advantage of your increased flexibility… it’ll be just as sore out of the bath if you over-extended in the bath.
Once out of the bath I like to give myself a gentle massage with an arnica-based oil which helps keep the sensation of warm to soothe the muscles. The brand I prefer is Weleda.
Om shanti. Enjoy.