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Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is the foundation of Nature Cure and is the origin of the naturopathic profession. Hydrotherapy is defined as the application of water in any form for the treatment of disease and the maintenance of health. This could be drinking water to prevent dehydration, taking a mineral bath at home, or even walking barefoot in the morning dew. Water can be used as a powerful tool to help a patient get well or stay healthy.

Hydrotherapy often begins with home remedies, but it also includes sophisticated methods for facilitating the body’s natural healing process. One popular technique is using a shower of 2-3 minutes hot water followed by 30 seconds cold water, repeated several times. Other hydrotherapy methods involve applying alternating hot and cold towels to increase circulation of blood and lymph, regulating the immune system, improving digestion and healing the musculoskeletal system.

Constitutional hydrotherapy is a treatment offered at the clinic that combines hot and cold towel applications to the chest, abdomen and back with low-voltage microcurrent stimulation also applied to the back, abdomen and other parts of the body. The treatments take about an hour to complete and are usually done weekly and prescribed based on each patient’s individual needs. Constitutional hydrotherapy improves circulation and enhances the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to vital organs. Treatments can help regulate the body’s immune system, help with digestive issues, assists detoxification, help with pain, and can also even help balance emotions by regulating the autonomic nervous system. Constitutional hydrotherapy is a powerful, safe, and non-invasive way to support the body’s natural healing process.

1 Session - $50

4 Pack - $175

6 Pack - $225

HYDROTHERAPY BACKGROUND

Vincenz Priessnitz (1799-1852) of Graefenberg, a small village in what was then Austria, is credited as being the first figure to set in motion the forces which would lead to the development of the naturopathic profession. After being pronounced incurable from being run over by a horse-drawn wagon when he was 16, Priessnitz cured himself with the application of cold water packs over his chest. He came to this therapy after watching an injured roe deer, which he saw in the forest, dipping her wound in the mountain spring. He took joy in sharing his experiences with others and began treating people.

According to Dr. Milos Koeka of the current Priessnitz medical spa in Graefenberg,

The neighbors thought it was a miracle. When in a similar manner he healed animals and a neighbor’s maid, the legend about him spread and people from far and near started coming to Graefenberg. As there was no space to treat everyone, Vinzenz Priessnitz in 1822 rebuilt his own small wooden cottage into a large stone house. There he placed washtubs and drew water from the home’s spring and began to treat the sick.

In 1826 he opened his own hydrotherapeutic institution and by 1840 had 1600 patients who had resided and taken treatments there. Patients included royalty, clerical dignitaries, heads of state and such notables as Chopin, Gogol and Napoleon III. Early on, he was frequently arrested and tried for illegal practice of medicine brought on by local country doctors. His arrests lead to an explosion of public opinions both for and against Priessnitz throughout Austria. He had the good fortune of having an Ambassador from Wuerttemberg lobby for him and the hydrotherapeutic institution, prompting the Emperor to send a commission of prominent medical experts to judge Priessnitz and his hydrotherapy. The commission was at Graefenberg for eight full days. They examined all the hydrotherapy techniques and procedures used, including the baths, perspirations, cold water packs, showers in the forest, drinking spring water, and the practice of patients taking walks. The commission upon returning to Vienna, published their findings and endorsed Priessnitz and his methods.37 The following is an excerpt from their report:

Priessnitz is not your common everyday man. This, even his enemies must admit. He is not a charlatan, but a man with a number of good characteristics, who is full of the purest effort to help where he can. Those who call Priessnitz a charlatan are but a small number. They are mostly local doctors and wound healers, who complain out of envy and are scared about earning their daily bread. Unpretentious and modest, he is always ready to help his patients during the day and even in the night. He is kind, but is strict and exact in his meetings and consultations. …his curing method is still a new and remarkable discovery in the area of medicine. This remarkable discovery and this extraordinary person deserves merit in every way, and any forcible intervention would be unjust.38

The Austrian government’s sanctioning of the institution brought with it an increase in fame and patients. The year 1839 brought with it more than 1,500 guests, including 120 doctors from all of Europe who came to study Priessnitz’s therapeutic methods in order to establish hydrotherapy institutions in their own countries.

In studying the Priessnitz’ hydrotherapy model it is important to understand the nature of hygiene during this period. Many of his patients came to him dressed in very intensive garb, wearing layers upon layers of clothing. Priessnitz took his visitors out to the country. He put them on a simple diet, undressed them, exposed them to fresh air and cold water treatments and watched them get better. Dr. Koeka outlines Priessnitz treatment in the following excerpt:

Vincenz Priessnitz cured his patients by means of the cold compress and wet packs on the injured areas, or he washed this area with a sponge – a treatment which had been known for a long time. But many other methods were his own discoveries, and were completely new to his time. These included the ‘perspiration cure’, used for treating chronic illnesses. For this treatment, the patient was left to lie peacefully in bed covered with blankets until he began to perspire, ‘till the straw mattress was wet’. After which he was to jump into a wash tub filled with cold water. It was a shock for the whole organism, one not possible for every patient. Therefore, before treatment was started, Priessnitz had the patient take an exam, a sort of physiological test. The patient was led to a tub of cold or lukewarm water into which he had to jump. Based upon the reaction of the Patient’s skin, Priessnitz established the means of treatment.

In addition, Priessnitz would determine, according to his own experiences, the length of treatment and its potential success. Gradually Vincenz Priessnitz developed and disseminated a wide range of natural treatment procedures. The goal of the procedures was to strengthen the weakened and ill body in order that the body would itself drive out the harmful substances, because – according to his convictions – they were the cause of the illness. Priessnitz declared that his responsibility was not only curing the illness itself, but also to treat the patient’s organs, his vital functions, his will, the person as a whole. This is why treatment at Graefenberg lasted months, sometimes years.

Priessnitz devised his patient’s treatment on an individual basis, basing it on their daily state of health. In addition to eliminating harmful influences on patients, detaching guests from their normal day-to-day problems, and giving them hope and a new sense of happiness for life, a fundamental part of the cure was the act of returning the patient to nature. Priessnitz’ spa was centered high on a slope of the Rychlebske Mountain Range, 620 meters above sea level. There are over 50 springs flowing through the area surrounding the spa, in addition to the numerous awe inspiring vistas and paths. It was a site of natural beauty. Accompanying the hydrotherapy administered at the spa, Priessnitz would have patients take showers in the woods, engage in manual exercise like sawing wood, and would send his patients out, often in bare feet, to drink water from various distant forest springs. Priessnitz valued activity in fresh air, often saying that “if I did not have water, I would have healed with air.”40 He forced patients to take therapeutic walks in nature instead of staying in the dismal atmosphere of a hospital. He took his urban patients, oftentimes members of the aristocracy and wealthy classes, off their high horses (sometimes quite literally) and put their feet back in contact with the Earth. Priessnitz believed their medical problems often stemmed from their distance from the natural life of the peasants and working class who toiled with their hands in the soil and earth.

Priessnitz was educated from the land itself, in much the same way Brigitte has learned the lessons of life. Like Priessnitz, she grew up on a small farm in the mountains of Austria. She spent her childhood out among nature, exploring the woods, investigating the native fields of herbs, flowers and plant life, and communing with the farm animals and other wildlife. Nature became one of her more influential teachers, and she has come to exhibit, like Priessnitz, an extra-ordinary talent for observing and understanding nature’s laws. She has taught me an awful lot of what she has learned from the mountains of Austria, and perhaps these insights are in-part what makes me feel connected to Priessnitz, Kneipp, and other water healers of this area. In addition, these historical figures actually had a direct impact on Brigitte, and through her, I as well can’t help feeling touched by them.

My Goddaughter Victoria drinking from a fountain in Hochgallmig, Austria Brigitte’s mother, Margit, had a very strong attraction for older natural healing traditions. She went out of her way to learn traditional methods of healing from family, friends and neighbors. Many of Kneipp’s and Priessnitz’ techniques are still orally circulating among villagers. In addition, Margit would read books and articles on hydrotherapy. She endeavored to raise her family as close to nature as possible. She tried to keep the household self-sufficient, went out of her way to avoid artificial products, while valuing those things of quality and purity. She kept a well stocked garden of herbs and vegetables, and raised goats, cows, chickens, and rabbits. Brigitte and her mother really cherish the fact that the water that they used for their everyday activities came directly from a spring running out of the mountain they lived on. The water was so pure and clean and full of vitality. They drank it, bathed in it, cleaned with it, watered the plants and garden with – it was a part of their lives that they did not take for granted. Brigitte loves to tell the story of her first day in America, pouring herself a glass of water from the sink, putting it to her lips, taking a sip, and immediately spitting it out all over the counter. “This is not water, what is this stuff” she asked me baffled.

Margit would use traditional hydrotherapy techniques on Brigitte and her siblings. For instance, when Brigitte was sick with the cold or flu, her mom would give her a sweat bath, wrap her up tightly in blankets and have her drink a lot of hot herbal tea. She would sweat all wrapped up for about an hour, and then would change into her pajamas and rest in bed. The tea, often times salbei (sage), was always picked fresh from her mother’s garden. The combination together always reduced her fever, and brought on a quick end to her ailment. Margit enjoyed using Kneipp’s cures on her children. In particular, Brigitte fondly remembers being sent out with her brothers and sisters into the freshly fallen snow – barefoot. They would run around hooting and hollering, fully enjoying the experience. After a few minutes, they would return indoors and have woolen socks put on their feet. They would cuddle up in a blanket, lie down and rest and relax. She remembers this experience as making her feel good and strong throughout her body. Of the walking in newly fallen snow hydrotherapy technique, Kneipp says in his book My Water Cure.

We distinctly remark in newly fallen, fresh snow, which forms into a ball or clings to the feet like dust, not in old, stiff, frozen snow, which almost freezes the feet and is of no use whatever…. I know many people who have walked through such snow-water for half an hour, an hour, even one and a half hours with the best result…. The regular duration of such a walk in the snow is 3-4 minutes…. Generally, the verdict upon this means of hardening is: ‘Nothing but folly and nonsense’ – because people are afraid of catching colds, of rheumatics, sore throat, catarrh, and every possible complaint. Everything depends on a trial and a little self-conquest; one will soon become convinced how groundless prejudices are; and that the dreadful snow-walk, instead of causing any harm, brings great advantage.

Brigitte says that she felt healthy as a child, even when she was sick. She perceived her body as always responding appropriately to infections and ailments; she always had fevers when sick, and healed relatively quickly without the use of pharmaceuticals. She credits this to the pure environment she lived in, the water she consumed, and the work of her mother – all factors conspiring to give her an increase in vitality. In stark contrast, ever since she has been residing in the United States, she has had many more health complications.

Sebastian Kneipp (1824-1897) was a priest from Bavaria who after curing himself with the wonderful healing effects of water went on to develop the Nature Cure method. His notoriety still persists in Europe, even though few in the U.S. now know his name, he was at one famous in the United States – an American poll ranked him third as one of the best-known people of the time, right behind the president of the United States and the chancellor of Germany, Bismarck. Kneipp, like Priessnitz, developed the reputation for being able to cure thousands of people who were labeled incurable. His healing skills, his numerous writings, and the introduction of other healing techniques took hydrotherapy to the next level of public awareness. In addition to water therapy, Kneipp prescribed exercise, advocated diet therapy in the form of wholesome natural foods (including vegetarianism), the emphasis of harmony between the mental, emotional, physical, social, and ecological planes, and the incorporation of the monastic tradition of herbal medicine. In training Benedict Lust and Henry Lindlahr, Kneipp is responsible for bringing hydrotherapy and Nature Cure to the forefront in the United States.43 Kirchfield and Boyle say, Kneipp’s most specific influence in the U.S. has been on naturopathic medicine. Not only did he inspire Benedict Lust and Henry Lindlahr to become naturopaths and establish his healing principles in this country, but he saved them from life-threatening illnesses so they could accomplish this task. The hydropathic movement in the U.S., inspired by Priessnitz a generation earlier, had prepared the ground, and Kneipp’s Nature Cure, transplanted and augmented with other natural therapies by Lust, and established on a scientific basis by Lindlahr, blossomed into naturopathy, which over the course of the twentieth century evolved into naturopathic medicine.

Through the efforts of Benedict Lust, naturopathy was built into a profession in the beginning of the 20th century. Lust’s goal was to pull together a profession from the existing fields of irregular practitioners. He brought together the sects of homeopathy, botanicals, massage, spinal manipulation, therapeutic electricity, pubic hygiene, bone setters, mechanical therapists, with Kneipp’s Nature Cure. Many German-style Nature Cure institutions were established in America at the turn of the century. In 1896, under Father Kneipp’s commission, Lust founded a natural health retreat in the Ramapo Mountains near Butler, New Jersey, which he named the Yungborn. This institution was situated on sixty acres of land, and operated on the same principles as those of Kneipp. Kirchfield and Boyle describe the Jungborn as follows:

Guests who lived in air cottages or tent colonies would rise at 5 in the morning for a day of walks, sports, lectures, mud baths, vegetarian meals, healthnaps, stream plunges and sun bathing, garbed in nature’s apparel only. They retired at 9 p.m.. Men’s and women’s sections were separate. No meat, tobacco, or contagious disease were allowed. One guest wrote that after a week or two of this regimen, ‘you feel so comfortable that you want to shout in your ecstasy.

Although many of these naturopathic hydrotherapy centers became popular and attracted many people who procured healing through nature, few withstood the turmoil of American medical politics. We no longer have access to these centers as they were many years ago, but we still can access Naturopathic hydrotherapy as an adjunct therapy chosen by naturopathic physicians from their therapeutic tool bag.