The term ‘self-care’ has become a hashtag and trend in the last decade or so, but Hammam, the ancient and traditional art and practice of self-care, has been popular in the Arab culture since the late 1400s where therapeutic bathhouses were commonly found in every town.
Recently, I experienced this ancient practice in Sydney’s Moroccan Hammam and was immediately drawn to a sense of tranquillity that transcended the physical and journeyed me into a momentary escape where my mind and spirit tasted metaphysical bliss like never before.
Visits to hammams (Arabic word meaning bathhouses) are a regular practice among women and men in the Arab culture where they experience, lying on a large slab of marble, a thorough cleanse of the body through perspiration that invigorates and opens the pores of the skin, followed by a thorough full body exfoliation polish using the traditional kese glove that rids the body off all dead skin, then a full body and hair mask using freshly prepared organic herbs and clay, next, a rosewater body wrap, followed by an invigorating shower, and then a peaceful solitary soak in an oversized marble tub filled with viscous organic, aromatic pure oils and floating rose petals.
The lights are dimmed, and one is left to experience this bath in silence and solitude while inhaling the aroma of roses, frankincense, jasmine, patchouli, among other exotic fragrances, all the while enjoying a glass of fresh juice. Afterwards, a full body oil massage to fully relax the muscles, followed by a thorough shower. This experience truly alleviates all stresses from one’s mind and body and makes the soul smile.
It made me realise that this ancient art of self-care is proof that self-care was never conceived as a selfish act in the times of our Prophet (s), but today, for some unfortunate reason, self-care is no longer a priority in people’s busy, hectic, gadget-glued lives.
The Western paradigm of celebrating love is usually confined to 14 February, but as Laila Abzaoui, owner of Moroccan Hammam, a women-only day spa in Sydney, aptly puts it, “Love shouldn’t be for one day and it shouldn’t be only about roses and chocolates. Love is to care for your body, mind, and soul. The Hammams are the way to connect with yourself by showing care and love for the body that God has given you. If you look after your body in this sunnah way, using the traditional fresh herbs and clay, then your mind will also be stress-free. Being stress-free means you can be a better person in your home and community.”
Seems to me Laila has hit the nail on the head with how we perceive self-care and self-love. If we could just reframe the whole concept of self-care and remove the self-imposed guilt associated with caring for one’s own self, then we could potentially better appreciate self-care through the lens of our 15th century Arab ancestors who made these therapeutic baths a priority to experience wholistic bliss.