Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Monday, March 9, 2015

the healing power of dirt.

Have you ever covered yourself in dirt? I mean, really rubbed dirt all over your body from head to toe - in your hair, on your face, across your chest, down your arms and legs, covering every inch of skin? Have you ever eaten dirt - and, I don't mean when you were three, but as an adult, intentionally, because it's good for you? Well, I just did.


Recently, I was given the gift of a heilerde dampfbad experience (literally translated: healing dirt steam bath) at a glorious spa located on the River Nahe (one of the rivers ending in the Rhine).  I really had no idea what a dirt steambath looks like. And honestly, I didn’t know why dirt needed to be involved in a spa experience at all. But, part of moving to a new place and beginning to feel comfortable means saying yes to people and places and experiences, even if you’re not sure what to expect. So, I said, "bring on the dirt!"


At this particular spa, and many others I soon found out, dirt plays a very important role in all-around wellness. It is one of the oldest pharmaceuticals in the world! Using dirt in and outside of the body has been prescribed for thousands of years as a kind of homeopathic cleanser because of its full spectrum of minerals and ultra-fine crystals. The German translation of dirt's consistency is 'mineral dust' which I like to think must be closely akin to 'fairy dust'.

As early as 3000 BC Egyptians were using dirt to draw out poison from insect bites and to heal open wounds. Throughout the centuries, doctors have given dirt to pregnant women by the spoonfuls to hinder mineral deficiencies or to people dealing with all types of digestion issues. It is also used on the skin to decrease swollen joints, increase circulation and metabolism, ease symptoms of rheumatism and arthritis and to tighten skin and lessen cellulite. Dirt, it turns out really is magical.


To truly reap the benefits, dirt purists will book a week of dirt therapy au naturelle. That means, every morning going outside and burrowing yourself in a freshly-dug-for-you mud pit; rubbing mud into every skin cell, slowly and meticulously, almost meditatively. This is done in constant rhythm ensuring that you keep the dirt and your skin warm. Just think: sitting in a wet hole, outside on the shores of a river, isn’t exactly warm – it's not like we’re in Hawaii.

Source: Bild Zeitung
Many dirt lovers also use the convenience of natural mud holes that occur along beaches, as the tide rolls out. On my holiday in southern Spain, I desperately wanted to take photos of all the dirty people I saw strolling or jogging along the beach in the morning hours. But, at least I managed to capture one of the holes.


After the process of rubbing dirt into the skin, the next step is to get out of your hole and let the sun and air slowly work their magic. The drying mud sucks impurities out of the skin, cleansing it just like a sucker fish cleaning aquarium glass – I love those handy little guys (I hate cleaning windows!).

Earth and water can't get away from each other, so the next step is no surprise. At Bollants Spa im Park, the dirt worshipers wander into the Nahe River to clean off, while the sun worshipers on the beach, well, just take a step or two into the waves. Followed by a relaxing and rejuvenating swim in your water hole of choice, every skin cell feels invigorated and alive. Just make sure to moisturize afterwards.


Ingesting dirt might seem like an unpleasant thought, but here in Germany it is a very old, very effective homeopathic solution to acid reflux, indigestion, constipation, stomach ache, diarrhea, and heartburn. Needless to say, the clay or loam used for these purposes has been dug from deep quarries where it is free from chemicals and other impurities. Luvos, the finest of pure dirt, is what I have in my home - it's gritty, but it works better than any Tums!


In the Middle Ages, Hildegard von Bingen was one of the true believers of dirt therapy, but she went one step further. She wrote tomes on the effectiveness of the mineral-rich dirt found at the roots of plants and trees. She went as far as noticing that the dirt at the root of Apple trees is especially potent in easing shoulder and stomach aches when applied directly to that part of the body. And that people suffering from gout should bathe in a mixture of hot water and the dirt surrounding Linden tree roots in order to ease discomfort. 


As for me, my healing dirt steam bath used good old dirt from the edges of the Nahe River. Luckily, I was paired with an elderly woman as I had absolutely no idea what to do with the bowl of mud I was handed. We rubbed ourselves in from head to toe - the strangest feeling was massaging mud through my hair and all over my scalp. After sitting and chit-chatting in the herb-enfused steam, all covered in mud for about 20 minutes, soft water started pouring down from the ceiling like a warm, summer's rain. We then meticulously rinsed ourselves off, and while still damp were given grape seed oil (also courtesy of the Nahe River's vineyards) to moisturize with from head to toe.


But, the most interesting dirt experience I’ve had in Germany, was landing unexpectedly at the Kristall Therme in the Alp village of Schwangau. Nestled below the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein, this spa has various outdoor terraces to lounge on, hot and cold mineral pools, a cafĂ© where each table is set in a warm foot pool (sounds strange, but is actually very lovely), and a bavarian-themed outdoor sauna.

As I opened the steamed-up glass doors to head outside onto the sauna terrace, I was immediately greeted by streaming sunshine and a whole bunch of nakedness. Such is Deutschland. I know this and I’m used to it, but I wasn’t used to seeing a whole outdoor pool full of naked people - with mountains and a castle in the background - it actually looked kind of funny.

Like wandering into a beer commercial set in the Swiss Alps people were steadily streaming in and out of seven small chalets each with its own theme: the Eisnebelgrotto (ice fog grotto – a cold sauna!), the Berg (Mountain) sauna at 100°C (super hot), or the Crystal sauna with a mountain crystal the size of a turkey seeping good energy into your every pore.
As I stood trying to decide where to go first, the wooden door of the Venus Grotto, which is set lower into the ground than the rest, swung open. Really dirty people, literally faces and bodies completely brown, started streaming out into the bright sun. I have never seen anything like it. They were covered in mud from the top of their heads to the bottom of their feet. They made their way, talking and laughing, towards nearby log benches to soak up the rays and let the mud dry, while others went straight to the rows of showerheads around the corner to rinse off. I really need to invest in a hidden camera to capture these kodak moments!

If you have the opportunity to pamper yourself with relaxing treatments at a spa, a trip to the beach or even just a hole in your backyard, try out the healing qualities of good, clean dirt-y fun. Let your kids play in the dirt, and heck, even eat it! Or if your stomach is in need of some TLC, then give dirt a try. Dirt, it does a body good.
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