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.