It is, in a way, unfortunate that modern plumbing brings water to us so easily. It has gotten us to be lackadaisical about the magic and possibility of transformation through the therapeutic use of water. In ancient times, hydrotherapy required 500 men to fill the huge tub. The tub had to be placed 40 feet above the ground in order to create enough water pressure to get the desired effect.
The science of hydrotherapy is extremely precise and it is in the ancient yogic tradition that its laws were first discovered. Water therapy forces the capillaries to open and when they close again, the blood returns back to the organs. Each organ has its own blood supply so in doing this you have just given each organ a nice flushing out of old blood and replenishing of revitalized blood. When the organs get a flushing, the glands have to change their secretions. When the glands change, according to yogic tradition, youth returns. If the glandular system is revitalized, it secretes chemicals that are young chemicals, thus returning the body to youthfulness and health.
As well as the blood circulation-boosting action of water, its effect is further enhanced by the thermal reactions of the body to hot and cold temperatures of the water. Rather miraculously, water has a unique ability to store and transmit information (see Emoto's work on water and information), including both heat and cold.
Today, hydrotherapy is practiced using both heat and cold and in the form of steam baths and sauna to shower jets, partial immersion baths, wraps, packs and compresses, as well as colon irrigation and enemas.
Cold water specifically helps to oxidize the cells of tissues, increasing the absorption of oxygen and aiding in the elimination of carbonic acid. In making parts of the body cold, you are actually asking your own circulation system to warm you from the cold. This exercising of the circulatory system builds up a resistance in the body making you healthier and less prone to illnesses of all kinds.
Ice packs and cold compresses for instance, initially stimulate the heart and respiration rates as well as increasing blood pressure and muscle tone. A more prolonged exposure to cold water has a calming effect. It decreases normal cell activity, constricts blood vessels, numbs nerves and slows down breathing. Conversely, heat-based hydrotherapies, such as steam baths, sauna, hot compresses and whirlpools, have a stimulating effect. I will attest to this effect, as I am a virtual "addict" to hot steamy yoga; I've been practicing it for almost 10 years most days of the week, and on the days I don't get to have my hot wet "fix" I feel sluggish.
In ancient days, the yogis understood how to use cold water therapy to achieve absolutely precise effects in the body:
For a clear mind:
In the shower, let cold water fall just below your lower lip for 15 minutes.
In the shower, let cold water fall between your eyebrows and upper lip for 15 minutes.
To induce sleepiness:
In the shower, let the water fall on your forehead for 15 minutes.
Cold water for colds:
When you have a head cold, the fastest way of getting rid of it is to do a cold sponge bath. Make sure the bathroom is warm, and then sponge your whole body with cold water. Wrap up quickly in a sheet or big towel, without drying yourself. The principle here is that you're getting your body to respond more vigorously to warm you, so you don't want to interfere with your body's doing all the work. Then hurry to bed and lie there covered as warmly as possible for an hour. Do this every hour four times. Then get up and dress warmly. You'll notice that each sponging gets you to feel warmer. By the third sponge, you should actually begin to sweat when you are in bed. Congestion in your nose will clear up; in fact your nose may begin to run profusely for a while. And your head will feel lighter. It's a guaranteed one day cure for a chest or head cold. The next day you'll feel 1000% better.
Cold water for infections and inflammations:
You can get good results with local infections and inflammations by using a cold water spray on the affected area. The process is the same. Wet the area with a shower spray, then cover yourself without drying and relax. Repeat this several times. Once you get the hang of this therapy, you can get really creative and follow the basic rules while, at the same time, following your own intuition about what would help your body to respond.
Cold water for overweight:
Cold water therapy keeps the glands in good working order. There is almost always some kind of glandular disturbance in an overweight condition. Also, keeping the bowels and kidneys functioning, which cold water therapy affects, helps to discard toxins which often settle in as extra weight. For losing weight, it's best to do a hip spray in the morning and a back spray in the evening. These techniques help to both cleanse and keep the cells of organs well saturated with water. As well, the muscles will stay well-toned, and you will avoid that sagging that comes with weight loss. Of course, cold water therapy should be augmented with drinking lots of water and healthy eating habits. To do the hip spray, aim the shower spray directly at your hip. Do this several times, then wrap up and jump into bed for a half hour. Remove the wrapping and stay in bed for another half hour. To do the back spray, you need someone to aim the water at your back. Go up and down the back several times, wrap and go to bed.
For a compete body rejuvenation:
This is the most powerful yogic water application. Yogis believe that daily performance of this cold water shower will insure health and long life. First, coat your skin with almond oil. Then, immerse your whole body in water -- starting with warm water, graduating to cold -- as cold as you can stand it. Spend no more than a few minutes initially to avoid shocking your system and to build tolerance. It may take a few attempts to get used to it but what's remarkable about the technique is that after the first shock of the cold, you actually will feel warm, not cold. Your blood rushes out to meet the challenge of the cold and begins to generate its own heat. This is better than a sauna or a steam bath where your body is passively heated; here it is an active process, activating your entire circulatory system and changing your entire bloodstream. The technique is to stand under the cold shower, massaging each part of your body that the cold water is hitting. Use each foot to massage the calf and foot of your other leg. The almond oil will help to keep the heat sealed in. Repeat the cold dousing and self-massage several times until you've been in the shower for 15 minutes. By the time you get out, you should feel toasty warm or even hot. Then towel dry yourself; put on warm clothes and wrap yourself in a blanket. This technique totally rebuilds your body and you will feel simultaneously invigorated and calm.
A word of caution: Do not do his therapy if you have a heart condition.
Now, jump ahead a few centuries from ancient yogic practice to the birth of modern naturopathy. Northern Europe, especially Germany, in the 19th century was populated with highly respected thinkers and philosophers. A few prominent figures, Father Sebastian Kneipp and Louis Kuhne being among the most respected, were known as Nature Cure practitioners. They revived the concept of hydrotherapy, prescribing different types of water baths as a chief healing tool.
The momentous publication by Father Kneipp of "My Water Cure" in 1882 pushed nature cure to the forefront, creating keen awareness of the concept of using water for healing a diseased body. The book was translated into 14 languages. The Kneippe Sanitarium in Woerschofen, Germany treated over 4000 patients a week using cold water therapy. One of the keys that Kneippe discovered was that if you have good circulation all the way down to the legs, it gives you good circulation all the way up to the head, and everywhere in between. The Kneippe Sanitarium became known for its Kneippe water walk, which consisted of a 30 foot walk through icy cold water which reached up to the knees.
Kneippe's therapy was practiced still as recently as 20 years ago, when I used to go to Bernard Jensen's ranch in Escondido. The legendary Jensen treated my mother's "terminal" cancer, and "cured" her. At his ranch, he had the Kneippe water walk trough that his patients would walk through.
But, you can create the same effect as the Kneippe water walk by using everyday tool: a hose and a bathtub.
Kneippe outdoor water walk:
Use a simple garden hose without the sprinkler attachment. Run the water against your leg, starting at the point that is farthest away from your heart, the ankle of your right leg. Move the stream of water up your leg until you reach your groin, then around and down the back of the other leg. Then do the same to the front. Let the water evaporate naturally; otherwise you don't get the benefit of your circulatory system getting activated. To augment the effect, end the treatment with a barefoot walk through either sand or grass.
In the winter, you can do the same thing in your bathtub.
Kneippe indoor water walk:
Fill the tub with water just a few inches as cold as you can tolerate, and walk back and forth. It may be painful at first, particularly if your circulation is poor. But you will feel your feet begin to get a little numb, and then warm. This is the time to step out. Build up tolerance for being able to walk for five minutes.
If you're really adventuresome, you can try the same thing outside in new, clean snow. In both circumstances, warm your feet by continuing to walk for a while with shoes and socks.
Louis Kuhne created a a similar holistic health establishment in Leipzig, Germany in 1883, and for over three decades he offered a unique water therapy with which he successfully treated a wide spectrum of diseases, and with cases where every other treatment had failed. He called this therapy the friction sitz bath and it was his main form of treatment.
Kuhne's friction sitz bath is a safe and effective way to gently but regularly eliminate toxins and is especially effective in shedding excess abdominal fat and surplus weight.
The technique consists of cooling down the groin area with cold water while maintaining the rest of the body warm. One applies an ice cold cloth to the groin, vigorously rubbing the area to create friction. Of course, the friction of the rub aids in assisting the body to create its own internally generated heat. The powerful therapeutic benefits of this technique derive from the fact that:
It targets the groin area -- one of the highest nerve-concentration areas in the body. Hence its positive effect on mood, sleep and energy.
- The groin houses main arteries, and the technique greatly boosts blood circulation, elimination and digestion.
- It directly stimulates the root chakra, which governs sexual energy and reproductive organs. It helps regulate the menstrual cycle, and was used by Louis Kuhne to treat impotence. It is also beneficial for low libido and menopausal symptoms.
- The application of cold water boosts the metabolism and activates the brown fat that enables the body to shed the white fat, which otherwise deposits in various areas on the body, creating bulges.
More recent research confirms this concept and demonstrates the benefits of using cold water or ice to trigger fat and toxin elimination. Joseph Mercola writes: "Research suggests that calorie combustion in brown fat may be of significance for your metabolism, and brown fat is effectively activated by cold temperatures. In one recent study, men burned more calories and lost more white fat, the kind that causes obesity, when exposed to ice cold temperatures."
For this same reason, ice cold showers are recommended for slimming. As previously explained, when exposed to cold temperatures, the body will burn fat and energy to reheat itself. But additionally, cold water activates the brown fat, which boosts the metabolism and burns white fat. As toxins are known to deposit in white fat cells, this action greatly boosts toxin elimination.
Overall Benefits of Cold Water Therapies:
Strengthening the immune system
Metabolism and energy boosting
Relaxing and sleep quality enhancing
Maintaining skin and hair health
(Described in detailed case studies in his book: Neo-Naturopathy: The New Science of Healing or The Doctrine of Unity of Diseases)