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Exploring Spa Culture Around the World with Kari Molvar

BWB speaks with Kari Molvar to walk us through why self-care rituals have and always will be so crucial to our overall well-being.

From Turkish hammams to Japanese onsens to Finish saunas, self-care is hardly a novel concept around the globe. For centuries, various cultures have interpreted well-being in their own practices. What makes them unique? What are the common threads? We ask author of Be Well: New Spa and Bath Culture and the Art of Being Well, Kari Molvar, to walk us through why self-care rituals have and always will be so crucial to our overall well-being.

You explore wellness interpretations from a variety of countries and cultures. What’s the one thing that ties them all together?

Water! Most ancient treatments centered around the benefits of bathing, whether it’s soaking in an onsen in Japan or thermal hot springs in Europe, or pouring water over your skin a hammam in the Middle East. Even the Finnish sauna involves water—in the form of steam that gives you a “bath.” There’s something intrinsically healing and relaxing about water that different cultures have been drawn to for centuries.

Well-being has certainly gained more traction among Americans recently. In your perspective, why is self-care so crucial for us in regard to our mental health?

I think self-care is often considered trendy and modern, but what I learned from my research is that concept of wellness, of inner and outer balance, really originated with the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates believed in eating well, exercising the body and staying mentally fit as well. Today, the relentless pace of life means that we don’t often slow down and live by these simple principles. So, wellness activities and rituals that fully immerse us and require us to be present in the moment—whether it’s doing a gua sha facial massage at home or qigong in your backyard—offer both physical and mental release. I think that’s part of the appeal of wellness today.

Do you have a preference for traditional or modern rituals and techniques?

I think a mix of both is ideal. At the Thermae Bath Spa in Bath, England, for example, you can have a soak in the thermal waters (the source of which was first discovered in 863 BCE!) and then hop in a high-tech infrared sauna to bathe yourself in red light to rejuvenate your skin. What could be better?

What are some of your favorite wellness products or equipment that we can use at home but will still mimic the effects of a visit to a luxurious spa?

Joanna Czech’s Facial Massager mimics the effects of a facialist’s expert hands to sculpt and tone your face. I also love my Dermaflash to exfoliate my face and remove that dull layer of skin—it’s the next best thing to a professional treatment. At home, I scent the air with the Aera Diffuser, which makes me feel like I’m living in a field of flowers. Also, Le Labo’s Basil Hand Pomade: spas always have the nicest hand creams in their bathrooms, and this one really does it for me. I wasn’t sure about the basil scent, but it’s heavenly!

What about intangible wellness favorites? What do you do yourself to maintain a clear, healthy and balanced state of mind?

With two kids at home, the pandemic has been a challenge! Daily walks have been amazingly helpful to reset and recalibrate my mood and mental state. I also have a light therapy box that really helps me feel happy—it emits this warm, positive glow.

The pandemic has induced anxiety in so many of us. What advice can you offer on how to cope with our own anxiety, and how we can be helpful to our friends and family who may be struggling as well?

I think keeping up social connections is so important. There have been many days where I’ve felt too tired to meet up with friends—while staying socially distanced—but every time I do, I feel so much better. Being around others forces you to think beyond your own problems. A phone call to my mom is also good therapy. For me, I find that anxiety really stems from the fear of the unknown or feeling mentally stuck in a situation that I can’t see a clear path out of. Talking it out with someone really helps!

Where can we find you and your book?


@Rutine_Matters (soothing wellness spaces and skincare products to match!)

Be Well: New Spa and Bath Culture and the Art of Being Well here and here.

Feature Image Credit: Alex Bertha

Alicia Zhang

Originally from Los Angeles, Alicia lived in Shanghai for 11 years before moving back to the states to attend the University of Miami, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and minors in art and philosophy. Currently residing in New York City, Alicia applies her knowledge of strategic communication and design in her career. She enjoys painting, rugby, exploring, and more often than not, you’ll find her petting someone’s dog.

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