Emulating Ancient Greek Beauty Wisdom
From inconceivably demanding fitness routines to intricate beauty rituals and sophisticated holistic therapies and psychological approaches, the ancient Greeks were progressive when it came to self-care. In fact, many top experts globally are increasingly now basing their practice on (now often scientifically-proven) truths about wellness and beauty that originate in Greece circa 2000-3000 years ago.
From books advocating the crucial importance of gut health to acclaimed Cognitive Behaviour Therapists teaching A’list business, sports and entertainment figures the Stoical thinking of Aristotle and Plato, to sound healing and spa therapies using hot-springs and steam as well as specific massage techniques and ingredients, contemporary gurus, brands and therapists are undoubtedly influenced by classical Hellenic culture and philosophy.
The Greeks believed that a balanced and strong mind-body connection was essential for wellbeing, and honored external perfection as much as intellectual thought. Athletes were considered superior beings and it was taken for granted that their external strength and beauty was exactly the same internally. The word ‘kalosagathos‘ means that someone who is beautiful to look at is good inside too. The mind and body was thought to be the most powerful and purest instrument that needed to be treated with the ultimate care.
If you were serious about your wellbeing, you would spend at least eight hours per day exercising. Self-discipline was a de facto part of a Greek’s existence, and “sports science”, as athletic training was referred, to was broken into three phases, starting with warm-up, followed by working out (running, jumping, wrestling or lifting weights and more) and then cooling down. Hippocrates advocated walking as a huge health and mood-booster as well: “If you are in a bad mood go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood go for another walk.”
Much like today, a good workout at the gymnasium was commonly followed by a relaxing session at the spa, (the word in Latin stands for salute per aqua, or health by water), enjoying the steamy water that would further detoxify the body and create a sense of euphoria and rejuvenation. After this, a massage.
Also popular in that era were Asclepions, which were sprawling healing centers that people traveled to from far and wide to receive treatment for everything from nervous ailments to chronic pains. At Asclepions guests (or patients) would stay and follow therapies that included music and sound (which is why amphitheaters such as that at Epidaurus were built on-site), bathing in the hot springs or river, dream therapy (called oneiro-mandia, which involved drinking a potion before bed and seeing the answers to one’s ailment in dreams that would then be interpreted by an in-house oracle), special dietary courses, physical therapy like exercises and massage.
Throughout Greece and in several countries worldwide today, Ancient Greek Massage is practiced at leading spas. This technique, created by holistic therapist Elly Tsouknaki, is the re-imagined result of in-depth research of Hippocrates‘ teachings on massage techniques as well as texts describing therapies in classical times, rather than a literal version of what the ancient Greeks practiced.
Food As Medicine
Hippocrates wrote and taught a great deal about the direct connection between the digestive system and the state of the body-mind. He believed in moderation and in developing one’s inner holistic wisdom in relation to food, which he believed to be a form of medicine if chosen appropriately, in recognizing that everything is interconnected and that every action has a result.
Grains were the base of the ancient Greek diet, together with fruit and vegetables. Olive oil and honey were already recognized for their medicinal qualities, as were many herbs and flowers. Milk-drinking was frowned upon as a barbaric habit although cheese was enjoyed, as was fish and less so, meat. Wine was consumed with measure, and commonly mixed half-half or two parts -to -one with water.
Standards of beauty were considerably different for women when compared to today - as in ancient Greece ample, wide-hipped, curvaceous, alabaster-skinned and especially red-head or blonde, long-haired women were considered the ultimate symbols of beauty. White skin (horrifyingly, sometimes created by the application of white lead) exemplified that women stayed indoors rather than needing to work out in the sun, and were thus wealthy; their fleshiness represented abundance.
Makeup was as important then as it is today. Women used pigments for their cheeks made from crushed fruits, vegetables, and roots, and pastes on their lips made either from ingredients like beetroot pigment or red clay or red iron oxide. Olive oil was mixed with powdered charcoal, carbon or ash to make eyeliner, brow powder and eyeshadow. Interestingly, the ‘unibrow‘ was a big trend at the time.
Olive oil was also used as a hair mask to make locks soft while vinegar was used to lighten hair and give it shine. DIY face masks were made with yogurt, honey and olive oil mixed with herbs and fruits.
Scent of a Woman
Perfume was a key component of the ancient Greek grooming ritual, and herbs like oregano, mint, sage and marjoram as well as flowers like rose and almond blossom were popular ingredients, as were overpowering aromas like myrrh and wine and sweet odors like honey. Walking into a Greek church today or even strolling the Greek countryside reminds one of these natural heady smells worn for pleasure in ancient times.
By Alexia Amvrazi