I was first introduced to the Korean spa, jjimjilbang, by my friend Sarah as a birthday gift several years ago. I am fairly sure my level of comfort then was minimized by my prior Austrian naked sauna experience years before and so in relocating to South Korea, I have been looking forward to going again (and again). As well as the realities of not having a bathtub at home . . . Finally, on my recent spring break excursion to Busan, I found one!
Jjimjilbangs are large bathhouses, separated by gender, furnished with all kinds of goodies from snack bars to saunas and salt to sleeping rooms. For the mere price of 10000 Won (the equivalent of 9.28 USD) I spent almost three hours in a state of most necessary heavenly zen. Although more apprehensive than ever before, I got naked.
In the locker room I encountered a first timer with her swimsuit in hand asking me about the nakedness. I told her although I was unsure about the swimsuit rules, in my experience everyone just goes naked. A little more reassured myself, I got naked, showered and headed straight for the high temperature tubs. Shortly thereafter, as we met again in the bath, properly introducing ourselves and chatted, our now nakedness started being less of a concern for me. Maybe no concern as my next stop took me to the outdoor open space bath.
From there, as I transitioned to the sauna and steam rooms, I began to fully embrace the experience. Each room is unique in both theme and healing properties. Depending on the characteristics of the room, I purposefully proceeded to be both reflective and intentional. Under the pink Scorpio full moon, I got really real naked with myself. I started releasing shit that no longer serves me. I made vows and set intentions to things that serve only my highest good, from people to places. I got honest with myself about the last six months – the parts where I was contributing to me own misery and stunting my own growth. Without pen and paper or Apple Notes, in prayer and invocation, I conjured up plenty of things.
Ultimately, I realized that you do no have to bare it all for people to “see you” My nakedness became a metaphor for uncovering the parts I do not want anybody to see and know. Nevertheless, similar to not needing to step on a scale to gauge weight gain, you also do not have to take off you clothes either. Similar to the realization that clothes in your closet are no longer fitting “right” can be cause for concern; the changes in your voice, demeanor, body language, etc also ring the alarm. Just a little over six months into my relocation, I do not believe my clothes have fit right since arrival, but neither has my attitude. Since then a lethal combination of stress and apathy have packed on the pounds, literally and figuratively. My locker room conundrum mirrored my concerns around not just getting naked, but legit concern about how I looked naked. And yet, I think that is the thing about traditional bathhouse – nobody cares, but you.
After over two hours of bliss and reckoning, I finally weighed in. The scale merely confirmed what I already knew – shit has got to change. I am in no position to continue gaining weight physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually without dire consequences – not interested. Furthermore, being more comfortable in my own skin is personal, not about anybody else. I believe it Nakedness begins in the locker room as you change from your street to sauna clothes. In retrospect, I suppose one could go to the washroom to change, however everybody’s doing it, so when in Korea 😊 First I was nervous about my tattoos, as culturally there association with crime gangs (and who else knows), are frowned upon in the bathhouse. I may have to chalk this one up to my darker hue of melanin actually giving me a pass. However even more significant than my maybe objectionable body art was the current physical state of my body genuinely all starts mentally first, so I am grateful for the jjimjilbang initiating the necessary change to not only get naked, but take full advantage of it!
To be continued . . .