As I mentioned in my last post, I’m on holidays in Japan right now. We’re in Osaka at the moment and flying to Tokyo next Tuesday.
In order to stave off the ravages of jet-lag, I went down to the hotel’s sauna and bath last night for a soak and a sweat and it did me the world of good. While I only had about two hours of sleep on the twelve hour flight over, I managed to sleep from about 10pm to 4am this morning.
Even though I consider most saunas and Japanese onsens a kind of home-away-from-home, I had some second thoughts before getting in last night. Recent issues with my mental health and left me feeling less than ‘body confident’ and enjoying a Japanese spa requires full nudity.
I admit to hesitating for quite a few minutes in the empty locker room before actually getting undressed. I wondered how I’d be viewed by others, what the state of my body says about me and how my ‘foreign’ body would be viewed as different by the local sauna clientele.
This wasn’t all anxious paranoia – as true only westerner in an onsen on many previous occasions, I know exactly what it’s like to have a room full of Japanese men stare at my (hairy) naked form.
I needn’t have worried about that – the spa was practically empty! But even so, as I washed myself (thoroughly) and watched myself in the full-length mirror, I caught the glances of others already enjoying the bath and wondered what they thought of me. I soldiered on, abandoning the fleeting thoughts of leaving there and then, and made my way into the sauna.
It was mercifully empty and I enjoyed the solitude. I engaged with my thoughts and wondered where all this self-doubt had come from. As someone more than happy to strip off to get into the sunshine at the drop of a hat, why was I so reserved about getting naked in an onsen? A nearly empty one at that!
I think it’s a symptom of the anxiety and the way my self-image has been dented by the need to own up to mental health issues. Thinking it through as the sauna’s heater spat out various noises, I wondered how much the other guys in the bath thought about their own bodies and realised it was something I was creating in my own mind.
I was over-emphasising difference. I was doubling down on my muffin top. I was shining a spotlight on my lack of a six pack. I was once again becoming self-conscious about the large scar across my groin. I was making unhelpful comparisons with various Avengers!
After showering off my sweaty self, and then dropping into the freezing ‘cooling off’ bath, I sank into the very hot bath alongside those strangers and relaxed into the heat and a more self-accepting frame of mind.
No, the bath and sauna didn’t remove every ounce of anxiety from my mind, but going through with it made me realise just how much my own thoughts were grabbing my attention and demanding to be acknowledged. Like a noisy toddler! They didn’t represent reality. If anything, I’ve lost some weight this past month.
Body confidence is virtually all in the mind, so I acted like I was confident – hoping the mind would follow. After a very pleasant hour of cycling through heat and cold, sauna and bath, I had my final shower and headed back to our hotel room. I realised I’d almost forgotten all thoughts of how I looked and was instead focused on how good I felt.
Sleep followed very quickly and I woke feeling much, much better. In fact, I think I’ll do it all again this evening.