Water for Therapy and RelaxationThe ancient Romans, who created the original bathhouses, would probably not be surprised at the enduring popularity of hot spring baths even in this age of the Internet and space travel. Given the stress of day-to-day modern living, longing to find primal comfort in a hot soak seems only natural.
On weekends in Korea, many of the well-known hot springs are brimming with bathers relaxing and the inflicted seeking a cure. The history of hot springs in Korea goes back to the Three Kingdoms period when Onyang Oncheon (hot spring) near Asan, South Chungchong province, one of the oldest hot springs in Korea, was first visited by people seeking cures for various physical ailments. While most of the hot springs scattered about the country are quaint little facilities that offer little more than hot and cold mineral water baths in tubs, there are a number of facilities featuring modern Western-style spa treatments. The recently opened Spavis, in Asan, can accommodate 3,000 bathers.
Not all hot spring water is alike. At Cheoksan Hot Springs in Kangwon province, the alkaline water contains fluoride and radium. This water type is recommended for eye diseases and is greenish in color. Osaek Hot Springs in Kangwon province has an alkaline based water containing sulfur. Known also as the "spring of beauty," this place has long been a favorite with those seeking cures for skin problems. Togo Hot Springs, also in South Chungchong province, can be misleading since the naturally occurring spring water is relatively cool at 27 degrees Centigrade. Containing high levels of sulfur, the water has a distinctive pungent smell. According to written records, Suanbo Hot Springs in North Chungchong province was frequented as early as 1018. True to the name, the alkaline mineral water of this hot spring registers at 53 degrees Celsius. The bathhouses here cool the water to about 45 degrees Celsius.
Hot springs aficionados swear they feel as light as a feather after a good soak. While that feeling stems mostly from the psychological effects of being relaxed, there are in fact some physiological changes that can be measured. "The blood, which is slightly acidic under stressful conditions, becomes alkaline when circulation is stimulated by soaking in hot water," said Kim Jong-hoon, director of the Hana East West Medical Clinic at Spavis. The Oriental medicine clinic offers spa prescriptions after evaluating a person's body type. This is important because, although Koreans prefer to "sweat it out" and spend hours in the neighborhood bathhouses, some body types should avoid excessive perspiration. "Tailor-made spa programs that guide the patient through a specific regimen and provide liquid herbal concentrates, which are dissolved in the tub, can enhance the benefits of a hot spring," Dr. Kim said. To gain medical benefits from hot spring therapy the treatment should last for at least one week, with no more than one hour per day spent in the water since it can be exhausting, he cautioned.
Common sense dictates that you enter the tub at least an hour after a meal. Starting from below the knees, warm water should be splashed above the knees and gradually up to the shoulders before entering the tub. This warms your body in preparation for the change in temperature and is important for people with high blood pressure.
Each soak should last no more than 10-15 minutes in hot water, followed by a 30-minute rest. While many people believe that the longer you soak the better, entering the tub more than four times a day is more likely to do harm than good. After the bath, it is preferable to let your body air-dry naturally rather than drying off with a towel so that the minerals from the water are not wiped away. "Even in trace amounts, these minerals can be absorbed through the skin and do your body good," Dr. Kim said.
In addition to the therapeutic powers of a hot spring, there are a number of popular "bath therapies." The half-bath, which involves soaking from the waist down in warm water (37-38 degrees Celsius), is a traditional remedy that for treating the common cold and preventing premenstrual syndrome. Splash water on your feet before entering the tub. Immerse only from the waist down, making sure that your arms stay above the water. Rest 3-4 minutes after soaking for 3-4 minutes in the water. Repeat this several times. After about 20 minutes, you will feel the upper body warming and begin to perspire. When the soak is over, put on your socks before any other clothing to maintain the heat that you have generated.
Alternating between a hot tub and a cold tub has traditionally been credited with promoting blood circulation. Start with a five-minute soak in a hot tub, preferably at 45 degrees Celsius, followed by a soak in a cold tub, about 16 degrees Centigrade, for approximately three minutes. Repeat this about three times, making sure to start and end with a hot soak.
by Kim Hoo-ran