Simply say the word “stress” to any woman, and stand back. The stories pour forth—high pressure at work, constant demands at home from relationships, children or elder care, no time for herself, a social schedule stretched to breaking and an ever-worsening set of physical symptoms resulting from the inescapable obligations of life. Not long ago, we would wait until something snapped, then turn to a doctor to fix it. Now health-conscious people are taking matters into their own hands, engaging in active stress management to prevent the myriad ailments known to be induced in part by excessive stress, including headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure, ulcers, insomnia, and muscle pain
Scientific research and classical tradition bring us many ways to reduce or manage stress, including fitness classes, yoga and outdoor aerobic sports like skiing and biking. While a sound exercise routine can be a significant way to improve well-being, it can also be costly and time-consuming, requiring serious re-scheduling of your life and a long-term commitment for best results. What if you need serious temporary stress relief right now, at home, with a minimum of fuss?
Consider that time-honored therapy, the bath. Bathing is easy, and just about everyone has the equipment to do it—in fact, the ability to draw a tub of comfortably warm water is so common that people have grown to overlook water’s amazing ability to soothe body and soul, temporarily alleviate symptoms of stress, restore moisture to dry, flaky skin, loosen tense muscles, slow the heart rate and allow the mind to expand and relax. Bathing requires just 10-20 minutes, happens right at home, and is so simple that it can be a regular part of your health-maintenance routine. The benefits of the bath may seem small in the beginning but over time a bath routine can have profound results on your body and mind.
In addition to the benefits of immersion in warm water, baths can contain specific substances with known therapeutic benefits, such as salt, which detoxifies and revitalizes the skin. Essential oils may also be used, enhancing muscular and mental relaxation as well as skin hydration. By tailoring the therapeutic ingredients, baths can help to clear the mind, aid in toxin release, deliver minerals and nutrients to the skin, and bring harmony to the body and spirit.
Every life involves some stress, no matter how placid or hectic your schedule. And every person’s well-being is best maintained by keeping stress in check. For effective stress relief you’ll actually look forward to, don’t forget the power of bathing to restore your body and your mind to optimum levels of peace, balance and calm strength to better face your day.
“The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day.” –Hippocrates, Greek Physician, Father of Medicine
I would like to help bring awareness of a very powerful healing tool that comes right out of your faucet and is always available to you. Your health is the most powerful asset you have. Peaceful respites from the pressures of daily life play an important role in well-being.
Water is inexpensive in essence and easily available as a therapeutic tool. Water is one of the few substances on Earth that can exist in 3 material states: solid, liquid, and gas. The application of ice, liquid water (hot or cold), or steam can have profound physiological effects on the body.
Generally speaking, the effects of the water application are determined by the temperature of the water, the duration of exposure, and the body surface area immersed in or exposed to the water. Chemical factors, or water additives, such as botanical extracts, salts, or alkalinizing agents are also important variables to consider.
Hydrotherapy is defined as the use of water for therapeutic purpose in all of its various forms from steam to ice applications. When talking about bath therapies, balneotherapy is a more specific term. It is defined as the therapeutic application of the bath with or without herbal or mineral extracts, gas, mud or clay (Specialized hydro-balneo-and medicinal bath therapy, Carola Koenig, iuniverse press).
Hydrotherapy was a respected treatment method in the United States. Dr. Guy Hinsdale published a paper for the American Medical Association in 1927 that stated “Water may act as a powerful stimulus according to its temperature.” Few people are aware that baleneology has been an integrative part of mainstream medicine in Europe and Japan that embodies the use of water for therapeutic effect. There is an abundance of scientific documentation and study that proves the medicinal value of water.
I believe that exploring the various dimensions of water application is a critical step towards achieving optimal natural health. I invite you to turn inward and create a mood of peaceful solitude that will allow for transformation, relaxation, and rejuvenation.
“Water is one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen, the rest is magic” –C.S. Lewis
Ah yes, the bath. The act of setting the stage for a nice long evening soak. Filling the tub with water at just the right temperature. Retreating to the sanctuary of your bathroom where no one will disturb you for at least 20 minutes. Perhaps lighting a candle, dimming the lights and getting in the tub. There are many well-known physiologic reactions of the body to immersion in warm water and psychological effects as well.
The simple act of soaking in warm water has been studied by hydrotherapy physicians throughout the ages. In fact, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, stressed the value of using various types of baths with different temperatures as a therapeutic tool to treat illnesses.
If you think about it, the skin is considered the largest organ in the body. It covers 22 square feet in area and has the ability to absorb nutrients from its environment. Certain substances can directly enter systemic circulation through the skin. These include oxygen, carbon dioxide, vitamins, plant resins, and salts.
Temperature equilibrium is one of the most important cutaneous functions of the skin. When the body is exposed to warm temperatures, the muscular structures of the skin relax and cutaneous vessels fill up with blood by vasodilation. This provides a shift of the blood volume from the core of the body to the cutaneous structures and aids in circulation. The pores of the skin dilate and with the improved blood supply to the excretory structures of the skin the premise for “detoxification” in the tub is explained.
There are many bath products out on the market today and I have practically tried them all. In my opinion, the quantity of the bath additive is simply too small to have any physiologic effect on the body. Adding a capful or a tablespoon of sea salt or dropping a small tablet of sodium bicarbonate into the bathwater may contribute to the experience but serves very little to the physiologic environment created in the water. The body is a complex system of chemical structures and a true therapeutic bath must address this issue.
On the other hand, the psychological effects of the bath can be quite significant. These include a study on the mental changes caused by sea salt bath therapy. It showed positive psychological effects such as peace of mind, vibrant life, increased energy level, stability and self control, regain of self confidence, better introspection, and improvement of response behavior against stress. There was also noted improvement in the quality of sleep.
I have benefited greatly from my fair share of evening soaks and have restored my own sense of balance and inner peace through bath therapy. My hope is that others can benefit from these simple techniques and find relief from physical pain or mental stress with the healing power of the therapeutic bath.
Water therapies have a little-known but long history in the field of medicine. The simplicity and power of natural healing emphasize the importance of recognizing the ubiquitous, simple, and powerfully profound properties of water in transforming health and well-being. Perhaps our instinctive attraction to water may be that our bodies are composed of 95% water. We live on the water planet and studying the chemical properties of water and water’s physiological actions on the body can help us to maintain a state of optimal health.
Historical uses of water therapies include the use of hot and cold compresses, showers, short “dunks”, long baths, drinking waters, teas, foot baths, eye baths, arm and hand soaks, steam inhalations, wet saunas and the application of water in different forms. Water can work directly on the whole body or it can act on one specific area depending on how it is applied. Cold water is restorative, reenergizing, and helps build resistance to disease while hot water can induce perspiration, sedate, quiet, and soothe the body.
Water is one of the few substances on Earth that can exist in 3 material states: solid, liquid, and gas. The application of ice, liquid water (hot or cold), or steam can have profound physiological effects on the body. The basic premise is that the temperature of the water can shift blood volume from one localized area in the body to another through the vasoconstriction or vasodilation of the capillary beds below the surface of the skin. This non-invasive technique is a truly holistic approach and stands on the principle that the body has a natural ability to heal itself when properly stimulated.
There have been many hydrotherapy physicians throughout the ages including Dr. Simon Baruch, Sir William Osler, Dr J.H. Kellogg, and Dr. William Dieffenbach. In fact, one of the first written mentions of the use of water as medicine is from the temple of the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. Hippocrates stressed the value of using various types of baths with different temperatures as a therapeutic tool to treat illnesses. Dr. Sebastian Kneipp was a practicing herbalist who combined many herbal therapies with water techniques and many of his origin formulas are still available today. Dr. Bach, who developed the Bach Flower Remedies, also combined herbal flowers with the healing properties of water.
What makes treatment with water so unique is that it is so readily available from the nearest running water source. Almost everyone I know has a bathtub and access to running water. Water works with each person’s own nature and it can restore and tone the body. The primary intention of water therapy is to create circulations and unblock energy barriers so the body can function in a freer state to improve its ability to detoxify itself.
The importance of drinking adequate amounts of quality water (6-8 glasses a day) to help the body flush out and eliminate toxins is well-known.
Herbal baths are one way to access the power of botanical medicinals. Herbs are added by infusions through muslin bags or cheesecloth or simply added as dried herbs directly to running bath water. Herbal baths can be made by brewing teas (chamomile, comfrey, thyme, calamus root, hayflower, oatstraw, and fennel) to eliminate toxins and soothe. The addition of powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C) directly to bath water can be very beneficial as well.
I have benefited greatly from my fair share of evening soaks and have restored my own sense of balance and inner peace through bath therapy. My hope is that others can benefit from these simple techniques and find relief from physical pain or mental stress with the healing power of water.
Carolyn L. Bessette, M.D.