5 Wellness Rituals From Around The World—From Cupping To Hammam
I travel the world for a living and being away from home has exposed me to an array of different health practices. Every country has its own unique approach to well-being, built over centuries of culture and tradition. Here are a few healing rituals from around the world that have really stuck with me:
Thailand: Releasing of souls
Used for: Spiritual liberation
Rooted in the spiritual context of Buddhism, this Thai tradition of doing a good deed got its start centuries ago in the rice fields. During the dry season as the wet areas would dry out, fish, turtles, and other aquatic animals would become trapped. To spare the creature's life and protect the food supply, the animals would be carried to the nearest river and released.
If you visit a wet market in Thailand today, you'll see people purchase fish or other live animals and release them back into the river. Tradition dictates that, because you spared thier life, you're not allowed to eat this animal for the remainder of your days.
India, Israel & Thailand: Feeding the poor daily
Used for: Spiritual well-being
Feeding the poor daily is often a religious practice associated with self-purification and self-improvement. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism all embrace this practice in various ways. I've seen it firsthand working in the Langar, a communal kitchen in Indian Sikh temples responsible for offering vegetarian food to anyone who asks. And in Jerusalem, for the past 450 years, children have come to Khasiki Sultan in the heart of the old city to collect food for their entire family.
Egypt, Morocco & Turkey: Hammam
Used for: Purification, relaxation, skin exfoliation, socialization
Islamic hammams have their roots in religious purification rituals. A traditional hammam is constructed of three interconnected rooms: a large domed room with glass windows and a central slab of marble with running water, a warm room, and a cool room.
Separated into men's and women's quarters, hammams start with a full-body exfoliation, then move into a hair and body wash in the second room, then treatment in the cool room with tea and relaxation. Many spas in the U.S. have opened areas that resemble traditional hammams, but for the real thing, you'll need to book a flight across the pond.
China, Egypt & Vietnam: Fire Cupping Therapy
Used for: Allergies, common cold, inflammation, muscle tension, respiratory issues
Cupping, an ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine practice, has shown up in Western spa treatments lately. A back body therapy, the practitioner lights a piece of cotton and places it inside a small glass container to remove all the oxygen. The container is then applied to your bare skin, where suction is created as the air cools. I was first introduced to cupping after contracting a cough while traveling during the winter season in Vietnam. After one intense treatment, my cough started to subside.
Used for: Inflammatory issues
Jamu's history has been traced back to the Indonesian island of Java. Influenced by Ayurveda, this anti-inflammatory herbal medicine is made from roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves, and honey, along with ginger and turmeric for their antioxidant benefits. Served hot and passed down through generations, you can find women selling Jamu throughout the streets of Indonesia.
Linden Schaffer is a wellness travel expert and consultant. She founded Pravassa, a wellness tourism company, in 2009.
Linden is a winner of the prestigious British Airways Face of Opportunity contest and the author of Living Well on the Road: Health and Wellness for Travelers. She has spoken at The New York Times and Los Angeles Times travel shows.
When Linden is not traveling the world, she is based in New York City.