The Global Wellness Summit (GWS) recently released its annual wellness trends report, looking at new directions in wellness that will have the most impact on the industry and people worldwide. The 110-page report goes in-depth to look at major shifts ahead in nutrition, wellness travel, wellness real estate, women’s health, men’s wellness, healthcare, technology, sustainability and spas.

Among the 10 wellness trends predicted for 2022 is one that caught our eye: Global Wellness TREND #7 – The Rise of Urban Bathhouses: Affordable wellness is coming to a city near you.

“If it’s always daunting to predict trends in the fast-moving wellness space, it’s especially so two years into a pandemic where the long-promised ‘post-pandemic world’ is becoming visible but is repeatedly delayed,” said Susie Ellis, GWS chair and CEO. “One thing that this forecast makes very clear is that the future of wellness will be anything but a ‘restart’ of 2019. What consumers need most, what they perceive as ‘true wellness,’ has profoundly changed.”

city dwelllers seek wellness

Several other themes emerge in the report. With new awareness of the fragility of life and the planet, a “survivalist wellness” is emerging: more people are seeking resilience and self-reliance and are aware that their own wellbeing is inextricable from the planet’s.

Another theme is tackling the gaps, missing links and underserved populations in both healthcare and wellness: from male body issues finally getting the attention that women’s have, to innovative technology closing the women’s health research gap to “senior living” getting a dramatic rethink, to the rise of professional wellness coaches helping people make behavior changes.

But let’s get back to the Bathhouse…
We were most curious about the urban bathhouse trend, so we dove into the report to find the elements behind it.  

Today, historic bathing culture is being celebrated — and updated — catering to locals and tourists alike, whether through renovating ancient bathhouses or creating new, modern, urban sauna and bathhouses. These new-styled social bathhouses have begun popping up in our urban landscapes, providing a new kind of “social wellness club” that not only brings urbanites together to relax, but also provides a gentle reboot of mind, body and soul through the discovery and sensory delight of traditional bathing rituals. 

Public Bathhouse Hungary

The need to congregate, gather and socialize around a communal pursuit can help combat isolation and loneliness. Urban bathhouses are part of the solution.

Though numerous projects were in development pre-COVID (and many spa openings were delayed due to the pandemic) it was partially the two years of restrictive, isolated city living that stoked the very real need for purpose-built, easy-to-access wellness sanctuaries, like a second location in Manhattan for Brooklyn’s popular Bathhouse. And indeed, the creation of BC’s first urban Nordic Spa — RITUAL — in downtown Victoria, BC.

At the same time, there has been a push of community support to save historical bathhouses. Sites like the UK’s Carlisle Turkish Baths are being saved from falling into disuse or disrepair and in San Francisco there is a group working to revitalize the old Sutra baths location.

“A revival and appreciation of historical communal bathing and swimming sites in locations around the world is taking place as people turn to authentic, traditional, and proven wellness practices,” said Don Genders, chair of the Global Wellness Institute’s Hydrothermal Initiative. 

Why the Sudden Wave of Interest?
Many factors are fueling the desire of city dwellers to hit the steambath or saunahouse:

  • Social feels good, coming out of COVID:  there is a pent-up demand to do things with other people in real life, rather than via screens. Putting on a bathing suit and doing a circuit with others is part of that.
  • Changing views for what is a “fun” night out: millennials are seeking lower cost, less-alcohol fueled social activities to do as a group. Hello to the Friday night sauna session.
  • Years of history! Bathing feels good and always has. Now, we are seeking this as a way to deal with stressful city lives.  Like the Romans did in their day.
  • Urban density in cities is going up, often without the services and public pools that used to go along with it. Bathhouses are being built in downtown locations to fill this gap.
  • Spas are nice, but communal sauna or bathhouses are affordable: this is an accessible wellness trend, compared to the luxury hotel spa market.

social sauna experiences

A Shift in Wellness
The report goes deep into related trends — like the rise of mobile saunas, event-sized saunas being built in Europe and the “aufguss” events happening — which we hope to cover soon here. It also covers the cool, new experiences rising in wellness: from pandemic-weary cities being reimagined as accessible “wellness playgrounds” to destinations answering the call of a new kind of purpose-seeking wellness traveler, with experiences that help them grow spiritually and creatively. And while the report is based on the insights of economists, doctors, investors, academics, global executives of wellness companies and technologists that gather each year at the GWS, we find it makes very good, elemental sense too.

See you in the sauna.

A Look at The Power of Ritual

The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices, Casper ter KuileLoneliness, anxiety, lack of connection — how does the average person deal with some of the unwanted side-effects of our technology-laden society? In his book The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices (HarperOne 2020), Casper ter Kuile, author and co-host of the popular podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, addresses what he believes is society’s crisis of social isolation. His book illuminates how seemingly mundane activities, such as reading or eating meals with others can, with the right intention, be transformed into soul-enriching rituals. 

Seemingly mundane activities can be transformed into soul-enriching rituals.

Ter Kuile uncovers research that shockingly reveals that social isolation may be worse for your health than being overweight or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. With these problems of modern society in mind, the author has discovered the many new and inventive ways that people are trying to combat loneliness and isolation.

cold water swim

Although there is a marked decline in those who consider themselves religious in the traditional sense, people are adapting ancient practices to suit our cultural landscape of mixed beliefs. Just because we’re not all flocking to traditional forms of religion, spirituality is, according to ter Kuile, still part of our lives. 

Instead of meeting in churches and synagogues, people are seeking out new and surprising venues to meet like-minded souls. People want to connect with people who share similar values, whether it’s a passion for cold plunge, a shared love of art, working out, a propensity for helping others, or making gourmet meals. 

There is a growing network of get-togethers such as dinner clubs and exercise groups like CrossFit and Soulcycle that feed our innate desire to gather. And like we’ve seen since opening the doors at RITUAL, friends setting up a recurring monthly sauna night booking with friends. (Recently overheard, a guest leaving the Nordic Circuit: “This TOTALLY beats bookclub.”) 

Like a monthly bookclub. But in your bathing suit.

Ter Kuile’s podcast series, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text delves into how words from this popular series are able to help uplift people, so it is no surprise that the Power of Ritual devotes a whole chapter devoted to the power of reading. “Stories can be a mirror in which we reflect on our lives,” says ter Kuile. Reading can become sacred because humans are able to glean or get personal meaning from a fictional character’s actions. (The author explains how the art of sacred reading doesn’t need to involve the Bible or the Quran: even re-reading one sentence from a favorite text, albeit repetitively, can help soothe the soul.)

Ter Kuile expertly uses examples from his own experience. He suggests carving out tech-free days to reset and reconnect to self. The author has been practicing tech-free Fridays since 2014 and looks forward to his own personal rituals, although he stresses that “a practice isn’t a practice without commitment.” Working on your spiritual practice is likened to a workout rather than a day at the beach. It’s important to set aside time every day for that hour of meditation or fill in the blank and don’t sway from it.

The Power of Ritual touches on many ways to find connection with not only others but with ourselves, such as immersing in nature. ‘When was the last time you felt deeply connected to something bigger than yourself?’ the author asks us. Connecting to the transcendent can be a powerful practice. Anyone can take the time with the right intention to adapt activities into something deeper, through ritual. A morning dip in the ocean. Five minutes in the cold plunge. Even walking the dog every night and peering into the star-filled sky can become a meaningful ritual.

Amen to that. 

Dogs pant, seals pee on their fins to cool down, but it is human’s unique ability to sweat from our biggest organ that sets us apart from other species. Journalism professor and author, Sarah Everts‘ recent book The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration ( W.W. Norton & Company) explores the complex and fascinating science behind sweating, an adaptive evolutionary tool that gave us humans a competitive edge. Is sweating healthy? Our ability to run long distances on two feet while keeping cool made us better equipped to hunt down prey or gather food under the hot sun. While some may deem sweating as an unsavoury topic, Everts’ excitement over the topic is evident, each chapter includes an in-depth look at the historic and scientific findings along with interesting anecdotes.

But have you ever wondered, what is sweat, exactly? Sweat is made up of almost 99 percent water with trace amounts of salt, sugar, ammonia and urea. Everts explains “the human body is inherently leaky.” Food and drugs percolate from what’s currently in our blood stream. Basically anything in your blood that’s small can percolate out of your sweat, such as nicotine, alcohol and traces of that strong espresso you just drank. Everts gives a unique visual that is guaranteed to stay with you; imagine 8 billion citizens of planet earth stepping out of a sauna at the same time, according to her calculations, it could produce enough fluid to power Niagara Falls.

Sweat, also called perspiration, comes from (mostly) two kinds of glands; the eccrine glands which are found all over your body, (normally clear and odourless), and the stronger smelling sweat that comes from our apocrine glands (found in our armpits and other places). Everts describes our sweat glands as tiny elongated tubas running along our skin. Humans are born with between 2-5 million sweat pores. “Collectively, our species’ sweat glands number in the quadrillions — more than there are stars in the Milky Way,” says Everts. And there is evidence that both genetics and the climate may have an effect on how much we sweat. So if you live in a hot place, your body may become more efficient at regulating your temperature.

Besides regulating our body temperature, there is some evidence that healthy sweating from saunas can improve heart health. Everts describes one particular study with Finnish men who regularly used saunas four times a week. Therapeutic sweating in saunas increases blood flow to vital organs and some studies indicate this may help excrete toxins like bisphenol A (BPA) and other heavy metals like cadmium, arsenic, mercury and lead. Although it is yet to be determined on how this effects human health. Everts stresses it is primarily our excretory organs like our kidneys and liver that are involved in detoxification of waste from our systems.

sweating in sauna remove toxins

The average person can sweat out a pint (0.5 liters) of water during a short stint in a sauna. One study indicates that the removal of toxins by heavy sweating has the ability to improve overall health in individuals and can even help with some diseases. Regular sweating in saunas can also benefit some skin conditions. Sweating can cleanse pores by pushing out impurities like bacteria which can improve acne and other skin problems. Although it’s important to wash your face both before and after with cool water and hydrate well with fresh water after a visit to the sauna.

Everts book delves into the history of sweat and the many unique aspects of how other species regulate their body temperature, (many in very bizarre ways). And although Everts doesn’t believe that sweating is important for detoxification – she still purports that healthy sweating is a superpower in its own right. Our ability to regulate body temperature, this magical cooling effect on our skin is the main function of sweat. “Our cooling down system is as critical to our continued existence as breathing,” says Everts.

Study: Mahlouji, Mahboubeh et al. “Sweating as a Preventive Care and Treatment Strategy in Traditional Persian Medicine.” Galen medical journal vol. 9 e2003. 25 Dec. 2020, doi:10.31661/gmj.v9i0.2003