Hammam massage is a traditional cleansing ritual that originated in the Middle East and North Africa. It involves massage and body scrubbing in a steamy and relaxing environment.
The History and Tradition of Hammam
Hammam massage dates back to ancient times when public baths were part of daily community life. The word “hammam” comes from the Arabic word for “spreader of warmth.” Public baths served as gathering places where people socialized while enjoying a cleansing ritual. Over time, the traditional scrubs and massages of hammam evolved into a therapeutic practice.
In Morocco, Turkey, and other parts of the Islamic world, hammam remains an integral part of the culture. Visiting a hammam is considered essential for purification, either before prayers, special events, or just to pamper oneself. The traditional hammam experience begins by relaxing in a warm room to open pores and improve circulation. Then the skin is cleansed with a thorough scrub to remove dead skin and impurities. After rinsing off, a massage therapist applies soothing oils and performs a full body massage. The entire ritual leaves people feeling refreshed, cleansed, and rejuvenated.
The Industrial West eventually adopted versions of hammam in the form of steam rooms and saunas. But traditional hammam goes far beyond just steam; it is a full mind and body experience passed down through generations. The communal setting, signature scrubs, and massage techniques make hammam a quintessentially Middle Eastern tradition centered around holistic wellbeing.
The Purifying Hammam Ritual
A visit to a traditional hammam begins in a warm room heated by a wood-fired furnace to open pores and promote sweating. Here, patrons lie on a heated marble slab, known as a belly stone, or sit against the walls, allowing their bodies to relax. Some hammams also incorporate stretching to loosen muscles before scrubbing.
After sufficient sweating, patrons move to the scrub room for a thorough exfoliation from head to toe. A staff member lathers the body in a kessa mitt and rubs the skin using circular motions to slough off dead cells. Often black soap made from olive oil is used for its moisturizing properties. This vigorous scrub leaves the skin exceptionally clean, smooth, and soft.
After rinsing off the scrub, massages are performed to soothe sore muscles using fragrant argan, olive, or sesame oil. The massage therapists knead and stretch the muscles, catering to individual needs. Massage completes the hammam experience by promoting deep relaxation.
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