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Types of steam rooms

Water is the essence of a spa and steam baths are obviously a big part of that. Traditionally, whether Turkish, North African, Scandinavian or Roman, spas included some element of steam - its soothing and muscle-relaxing properties have always been valued. Generally speaking, steam rooms originated in hot countries such as Turkey and Greece, and are often associated with ancient civilizations.

What is a steam room?

A steam room is exactly what it sounds like - a room full of steam. From the suite of grotto-like chambers and steaming pools of a full-size Turkish hammam to an in-your-own-home facility, steam rooms vary a great deal.

In some smaller steam rooms, you will sit down in a tiled chamber/room and relax whilst the hot wet steam oozes over you; you're wise only to stay for about 15 minutes as the heat is quite intense.

In others, the term refers to suites of steam rooms and hydrotherapy pools where you can stay all day in warehouse-sized baths with lots of rooms and pools, offering different temperatures and types of water and steam, promising different benefits. You might have a massage whilst you are there to loosen up joints and soothe muscles. The heat is very wet and sensuous.

Some steam rooms are more like saunas really, in that the heat is not so wet. Aroma grottos or Tropicariums are mildly-heated tiled steam rooms in which a scented oil such as eucalyptus or lavender is added to the steam to help you breathe more easily, say, or soothe you.

In many steam rooms you will have a degree of control over the temperature and intensity of the steam by using a panel or tap in the room. You can usually sit or lie down in a steam room in tiled alcoves.

What is a steam room good for?

Steam rooms offer a wet heat; saunas, dry. All heat treatments offer health and relaxation benefits and a steam room - like a sauna - is particularly good for your skin and muscles. Most people seem to have a preference for dry or wet heat.

Once your skin has sweated out its toxins and your muscles have warmed and relaxed, you'll feel much better in yourself too. Many people believe that having regular heat treatments helps them to fight off infection as well, as the boost in circulation helps to keep your immune system in good order. It can also help you sweat out a cold, and clear out your airways so you can breathe more easily.

A steam room has a similar effect to a fever in some ways, except it's not at all unpleasant - a fever is the way your body gets rid of its toxins. This is what you're doing in a steam room.

Some of its many benefits include deep relaxation, relief from muscular aches and pains, improved sleep and a calmer spirit generally.

Before you go

Some spas recommend that you avoid facials or waxing after any heat treatment as it may leave your skin feeling very tender.

If you're going to use the steam rooms it's worth finding out beforehand what you're expected to wear; some spas offer single-sex facilities and you're encouraged or welcome to be naked; in others you'll be expected to wear a swimming costume; some spas will provide towels for you to wear.

Precautions

You should avoid using the steam room if you:

  • are, or think you might be, pregnant
  • have a history of heart or respiratory problems
  • have problems with your circulation
  • have diabetes or an infection
  • have any other medical condition, or are receiving treatment of any kind
  • have had any alcohol
  • have a fever.

It may also not suit older people or young children.

Drink plenty of water; you'll sweat a lot, and at the same time as you're sweating out toxins you'll also be losing fluid. Drink plenty of water to avoid being dehydrated; this will make sure you really flush your system.

Watch the time! Fifteen minutes is the maximum time advised for some steam rooms, particularly if you're going in as part of a mud treatment. If you don't drink water or listen to your body when it says it wants a bit of cool air, you could be in difficulties. Only stay as long as you are comfortable.

Different kinds of steam room

Modern residential and hotel spa facilities are likely to include at least one, or as much as a set of steam rooms, alongside some pools; the bottom line is a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi. Top spas will offer up to ten different kinds of pool and steam rooms. So you might find several of the following versions in the same place. Try them out one at a time, and in the order advised (if there is one!) and see which you prefer.

You'll often come across steam rooms as part of a mud-based treatment - these are great fun and deeply sensual and relaxing treatments.

Aroma room

Usually a feature of a thermal suite of steam rooms, saunas and other heat facilities, an aroma room or aroma grotto is a warm tiled, or rock-lined room with seating for a few people. Aromatic steam from essential oils is wafted into the room.

Caldarium

This is very similar to an Aroma room - a warm room piping aromatic steam to whoever comes in.

Balinese multi-steam bath

This is a gentle, sensual and very relaxing experience. Steam is infused with subtle aromas of jasmine oil, which is believed to soothe the spirit.

Hammam

A hammam can be either one tiled steam room, or a suite of steam rooms and pools for communal use. In UK spa-terms, "hammam" usually describes a single room, with central water taps, and recessed bench-seats, decorated in blue, silver and gold-tinged tiles in the style of the Turkish Ottoman bath. They are often referred to as "chambers" (serail mud chamber, for example) but don't be alarmed; they are more like exotic luxurious grottos.

Japanese salt-steam bath

The steam in this treatment comes from gently-heated mineral water which has been infused with herbs and plants. The gentle heating of this salty water produces a really bracing, salty, aromatic mist.

Rasul / Serail / Mud chamber

A traditional Arabian body treatment involving steam and mud. Slathered in mineral-rich muds of various colours, you sit in a tiled steam room for around 15 minutes. Afterwards you are either douched by a therapist or else shower yourself down in cool water. This is an unusual, deeply sensual treatment, often followed by an aromatherapy massage with essential oils.

Sweat lodge

Similar to a steam room, a sweat lodge forms part of an ancient Native American ceremony of purification. The intense heat draws out toxins and also brings a clear head.

Courtesy of the Good Spa Guide

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