For Oprah, the most refreshing reset is as simple as taking a bath. "It's my ritual," Oprah says. “It’s where I go to get ideas. To be inspired. To calm myself.”
In fact, Oprah describes herself as a “bathing connoisseur.” So much so that she once had a tub hand-carved in Italy from a single piece of onyx to fit the precise mold of her body. That tub—made from stone originally sourced from queens—had to be lifted through the window when it was installed in her Montecito home (or as she calls it, "The Promised Land"), during a 2004 renovation. At the time, it was her most “prized possession," she says.
Oprah's love affair with bathing, which she refers to as her "sacred thing," stems from her upbringing. Raised with her father in an 1,100-square-foot home, it was her job to regularly scrub the small tub the family shared, even though the permanent rings were unrelenting. During those scrubbing sessions, Oprah promised herself that if she ever owned her own house, it would be home to a truly superior place to bathe. “The tub was my way of saying, ‘I have made it.’ Other people have degrees, shoes, handbags, and cars. I had that tub."
But Oprah will tell you it’s not about the tub itself, but what goes in the tub that matters most. With the right mood-boosting essential oils, skin lathering bombs, and relaxing reads, anyone—in any vessel—can recreate the experience Oprah appreciates. Because the art of bathing has little to do with the basin: The transportive power comes from the water itself.
What’s happening when you submerge is a deep evolutionary response to water.
“When we step up to the bath, a neurochemical switch begins—stress hormones like cortisol decrease, our breathing and our heart rate slows, and we move into a more relaxed, clear state of mind, resembling what occurs in our brains during meditation,” explains marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D., author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.
“What’s happening when you submerge is a deep evolutionary response to water that all mammals have. It’s a signal that you’re safe and secure, that you’re in the right place. All life needs water, and the signal that water is near gives us the emotional feeling of wellbeing,” he tells Oprah Daily.
If, like Oprah, you also find that some of your greatest ideas happen in the shower or bath, Nichols says that it’s because you’re not overloaded by processing information others are dictating. That said, it’s key that you don’t bring your phone or a laptop into the bath with you (unless you happen to be using them to stream ocean sounds, which he approves of). Instead, Nichols suggests getting a soap crayon, so if insight does strike, you can jot it down on the side of your tub.
Deborah Hanekamp, a.k.a Mama Medicine, author of Ritual Baths: Be Your Own Healer further explains why we have such a visceral reaction to witnessing the tub fill. “We are born from womb waters. There’s a connection to the source that we’re experiencing when we bathe, and every time we submerge ourselves, there’s a sort of rebirth."
To enhance the experience, the New York-based healer and medicine reader suggests pouring a pot of chamomile tea into your bath water, which she explains is a natural nervine that's said to help with sleep. Or, if you’re in the market for some activating energy (read: a way to clear all that Zoom fatigue), she proposes adding a sprig of fresh rosemary and eucalyptus.
However, the most important thing to put in the bath? Intention.
“Go into the bath with an understanding of what you’d like to leave behind and release—and what you want the water to clear,” Hanekamp insists. “Even before you submerge, check in with an intention of health and happiness. That’ll change the entire experience for you.”
While Oprah certainly wouldn’t disagree with this notion—“Intention is the foundation of everything I do,” she’s often said—there are a few tangible things she does reach for at bath time.
“I love truly great bath items. The perfect pair of cashmere slippers for when I step out of the tub, the most wonderful robe to wrap up in, bath bombs that foam in just the right way...and wonderful scents.”
While there's nothing like a hot bath—with no devices in reach—to soothe a weary soul, if you happen to like company in your clawfoot, these reads, handpicked by our Books Editor, Leigh Haber, are every bit as restorative as a luxurious soak.
Feeling ready to take the, err, plunge with a new mindset? If you’re reading this, you’re probably already in possession of a tub. But if hearing about Oprah’s sanctuary has you fantasizing about something a bit more custom, Matt Meunster, interior designer, production manager, and former host of HGTV’s Bath Crashers shares his advice.
“Go to a showroom and literally climb into the models,” Muenster, who is partial to Victoria + Albert’s line, says. "Next, try to get a feel for the height of the tub. Where do your arms rest when you’re in it? Is it deep enough?”
Consider the material, too. Copper and crushed volcanic limestone are some of the best insulators, meaning they’ll keep your bath warmer longer, perfect for folks like Oprah who delight in a good pruning.
Finally, he says, there’s a wide spectrum of price points, so zero in on what you're drawn to visually first, and then you can drill down to find one in your budget. For a far more cost effective upgrade, though, Meunster, who has remodeled over 200 bathrooms, suggests getting a portable speaker. (Oprah loves this affordable mini Sony bluetooth.) “Adding music to the space will make your bath a multi-sensory experience.”
Ultimately, whether you have an hour to embrace the somatic experience of water enveloping you like a big, wet hug, or just 15 minutes to mask the sounds of whatever’s waiting beyond the bathroom door, remember: what you put into the bath is what you’ll get out of it. Think of the bath as a reset button. And, as Oprah does, allow the water to invite you to “come back to center.”
Brie Schwartz is an editor, writer, and content strategist. She’s covered beauty, fashion, relationships, health, travel, Disney, decorating, DIYs, food, booze, and everything in between. She was most recently the deputy editor of Oprah Daily, where she helped bring the mission of guiding readers to live their best life to the (virtual) pages. Her writing has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Delish, Country Living, Esquire, Elle, Marie Claire, Seventeen, The Spruce, Woman’s Day, Women’s Health, and Men’s Health.