Hydrotherapy, which was first known as water curer, involves the use of hot and cold water in various forms, pressures, and durations to treat diseases and to maintain health. Bathing has been traditionally used by many cultures, countries, and holistic healing systems throughout history as a spiritual activity and as a way to care for the body and mind. Countries such as Turkey, Russia, Germany, Japan, and ancient Greece, and holistic healing systems like Naturopathic Medicine, Traditional Jewish Medicine, and Ayurvedic Medicine all have some variation of water therapy practices to promote healing and cleansing.
It's thought that water in any of its’ three forms, that is liquid, steam, or ice, has healing abilities that produce therapeutic benefits. The water is used to stimulate thermal receptor within the body to return body systems to a balanced state. Hydrotherapy can be used to treat illnesses and conditions such as acne, arthritis, depression, headaches, digestive complaints, joint pain, muscle pain, nerve problems, sleep disorders, and stress. There are several different forms and applications of hydrotherapy, a qualified hydrotherapist can create a treatment plan tailored to an individuals’ condition and vitality to optimise the treatment experience and therapeutic benefits.
One major goal of naturopathic hydrotherapy is to positively influence blood flow. Depending on the application and required outcome the benefits of hydrotherapy can be:
•Decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and promote overall relaxation
•Decreased respiratory rate, and encourage deeper breathing
•Muscle relaxation and loosening of connective tissue
•Pain relief and decreased inflammation
•Relieves congestion and swelling
•Increased metabolic rate and vagal tone
•Increased blood flow to vital organs of digestion and elimination
•Improved digestion and absorption of nutrients via improved organ function
•Improved delivery of those nutrients to and improved oxygenation of all body tissues
•Improved removal of metabolic wastes from vital organs and body
•Generally tonifying and invigorating
Several consistent treatments over time aim to balance the two arms of our autonomic nervous system (ANS), that is the sympathetic ‘flight or fight’ and parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ nervous systems. This helps the body to easily transition between these two nervous systems so that once a stressor has resolved our body can easily return to our preferred rest and digest state.
Daily Practices at Home
Contrast showers are the easiest form of hydrotherapy to practice at home as they can easily be incorporated into our daily routines. Contrast showers tonify our autonomic nervous system (ANS) to help support our immune systems, increase circulation, and improve digestion and elimination.
A contrast shower is essentially a full-body hot rinse followed by a cold rinse. The hot application will be 3-4 times as long as the cold, a cycle would be 5 minutes of hot water followed by 1-2 minutes of cold water.
Tips to Remember
•You can slowly build up the cold application both in temperature and duration (see the water temperature intensity guide below)
•Hot is always first, and you must always end on cold
•Afterwards, dry off and dress immediately to ensure your body does not get chilled
•Short applications (<5 minutes for hot, <1 minute for cold) have a stimulating effect, whereas longer applications will generally have a relaxing effect
Dew walking otherwise known as “Kneipping” involves short durations of walking barefoot in cold wet grass. The cold grass coming into contact with our feet will help strengthen the immune system, and reflexively strengthen the pelvic organs, intestines, and lungs. It also helps to strengthen the muscles of the feet, tendons and ligaments, helps relieve stress, and helps combat foot perspiration and prevents athlete's foot.
Dew walking is best done in the morning before the dew burns off, immediately after rising from bed. Walk slowly around in cold wet grass for two to three minutes, once finished dry between the toes only, then put on warm socks and shoes or slippers and go on with your day.
Tips to Remember:
•If possible start dew-walking in the summer
•If dew walking in winter, walking barefoot in fresh snow for a few seconds up to a maximum of 30 seconds is sufficient
•Grass needs to be soft and without prickers or burrs
•Dress appropriately to the weather, have bare feet with pants rolled up a bit to keep them dry
Water Temperature Intensity Guide
Lesley O’Connor, BHSc is a certified senior herbalist at Finlandia’s own herbal dispensary. Lesley has a special interest in women’s health, especially postpartum care, and believes that all women should have access to emotional, physical and social support during the postnatal period.
Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. Please seek medical advice and treatment in case of illness. If you are pregnant or suffer from any illness, please seek advice from your healthcare provider regarding these or any supplements and herbs you may want to take.