The term “thalassotherapy” stems from the Greek word “thalassa,” and the ritual hails from many different cultures. The practice can be traced back to France, ancient Egypt, the Maya civilization, and Rome as a source of healing for the skin, muscles, and general disease.
Regardless of who originally observed the therapeutic benefits of hanging out in saltwater, the custom has survived—and a growing body of research indicates that thalassotherapy does, indeed, hold water. The use of seawater therapy has been recognized as a treatment for conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and it may also assist in muscle recovery by stimulating blood flow.
This growing list of wellness wins is a big reason why thalassotherapy has scored a spot on the spa menu of luxury resorts across Cancún, including Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya and Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita Riviera Maya (the two resorts I visited on my trip).
While the treatments don’t take place in the ocean itself, the resorts pipe seawater into the pools. They re-filter it and return it to the ocean several days later, but not before treating guests to some of the most relaxing waterborne experiences you can think of.
My first stop was the resort at Zoëtry, which features a breathtaking saltwater pool right on the edge of the beach. Here, I received several water-powered treatments—including an icy, Wim Hof-style plunge followed by a nice soak in the Jacuzzi. The focus of many of the treatments at the spa is to drastically alter your body temperature over short periods of time (this is called “contrast water therapy”). This supposedly increases your blood flow and helps with circulation, but I found that the practice creates a sense of invigorating calm (I know, it sounds like an oxymoron) that I enjoyed for the rest of the day.
For my last little burst of thalassotherapy, I experienced hydromassage, a type of therapy that involved a guide pulling me gently through the water, spinning me, and gently stretching my arms, legs, and neck. The 30-minute session was a lesson in trusting someone else to keep me afloat and care for me. Although I felt myself resist the process at first, I was eventually able to let my body go limp and relax into a meditative, trance-like state.
I wrapped up my thalassotherapy session at Zoëtry, but the seawater experience wasn’t over yet. I headed back to Secrets Akumal to continue the journey in the resort’s full thalasso center and spa.
If you’re having trouble picturing this, think of a water park for adults. Before hopping in the sauna and steam room for a few minutes, I waded into the pool and moved from station to station of various pressurizing water treatments. First, I laid down on a lounge chair built into the pool that shot water up and down my spinal cord. Then I moved onto similar stations that released steady streams of water on my neck, scalp, and shoulders. To end, I luxuriated in a hot tub.
All in all, the thalassotherapy left me feeling more serene than I can remember feeling in a while. As a (somewhat) new freelance journalist, a lot of my life happens off the cuff—and that can lead to stress. The freedom in my schedule sometimes means that I have the wonderful experience of going to Mexico in the middle of a random work week for a press trip, but it also means that I sometimes don’t know how I’m going to pay for my health care this month. It’s a lucky roller coaster to be on, but it’s a roller coaster nonetheless.
With all I’ve learned about seawater in mind, I went for one final dip in the ocean. This felt like the perfect cherry on top of my thalassotherapy—and it made me realize that, subconsciously, I’ve been turning to the sea for healing for a long time. Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, the beach was my backyard. But I decide there’s something to the act of actively seeking out the sea as a source of healing. Something about making it intentional feels like an ideal form of self care, and I vowed to continue practicing thalassotherapy even once I returned to my new home near the Pacific Ocean.