Benefits of Hydrotherapy
When it comes to water health, it’s not just about the inside, but the outside that counts. Hydrotherapy is the practice of healing the body and pursuing the endless quest for wellness through exposure to water at different temperatures, in baths, showers, in its various forms from steam to ice, and as a medium for exercise or massage.
But before I explode your mind with the benefits of hydrotherapy, know this is not another article about the next big fad in beauty wellness. In today’s world of newsfeed information overload, it feels like there’s a new “fountain of youth” solution every day. Hydrotherapy is no Goop flavor of the week. It has existed for thousands of years with its roots tracing back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Roman baths, Imperial China and Japan, and Native American sweat lodges.
Modern hydrotherapy dates back to a 19th century Bavarian monk who managed to cure his patients of disease–and himself of his own tuberculosis–by plunging in a cold river several times a week. Bear with us here… This isn’t a story of saints and holy healing waters, but there’s actual science behind this water “magic”. This Bavarian priest was Sebastian Kneipp, the founder of the Kneipp Institute for hydrotherapy in Germany, and is considered one of the fathers of modern naturopathy. His methods are still followed today, and a century after his discovery, the institute brings in 120,000 people each year to seek what they describe as the “cure” at the German institute. Despite the drink-the-koolaid vibes, said “cure” is more of a path to healing based on Kneipp’s Five Pillars of health, the first of which is hydrotherapy, followed by exercise, nutrition and the usual wise lifestyle choices we so often foolishly ignore.
Think of it this way: we’re water-based beings– we’ll die without it and all–so why shouldn’t the use of water outside our bodies also have some pretty miraculous effects?
I'm talking improved circulation, oxygenated blood flow, lymphatic detox, skin cleansing, boosted immune system, increased relaxation and stress reduction. Starting to sound pretty good right? Hydrotherapy can even be used to speed up the metabolism and help you get over that hangover faster. Weight loss and booze cure should be enough to get anyone on board. And the best part? All you need is water. If you can take a shower or bath, you can do hydrotherapy.
Contrasting: Hot and Cold Therapy
This is your DIY hangover cure. Although the benefits extend just beyond jumpstarting your body after mild liver-poisoning, contrast showering with hot and cold water might just come to replace your morning-after ibuprofen and gatorade run. The idea of contrast therapy is to alternate from cold water to hot water and back again for a minute or so at each temperature, gradually increasing the intensity of cold and hot as you go along. Always start on cold and end on cold and make sure to properly warm up post-shower.
When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, the capillaries– the small blood vessels near the skin’s surface– open and blood flows inward towards the internal organs and when exposed to heat, flows outwards to the extremities. Contrast therapy induces an alternating inward and outward flow of blood, squeezing toxins from the expanding and contracting muscles and increasing the rate of detoxification.
And while this might not stop the room from spinning immediately post-bender, it can help your body to recover faster and ease that headaches. When practiced regularly, contrast hydrotherapy can enhance your body’s own natural detoxification, reduce stress, and strengthen the immune system. If you have access to a pool and jacuzzi, contrasting between the two temperatures with full body immersion is considered to be an even more effective option. Although you might not quite be ready to give up your morning coffee, contrast showering could be a potential replacement. So if you can stand the cold first thing in the A.M., more power to you.
You’re probably thinking, “A bath? You must be joking…?” But baths hold some pretty potent health benefits that you may have been unknowingly reaping all these years. When the body is exposed to a water temperature higher than its own, core temperature is raised, inducing a safe, “fake-fever”. It’s like exercising your immune system. Heat hydrotherapy increases blood circulation–the fuel of a smoothly functioning body–facilitates detoxification, nutrient absorption and healing by oxygenating injured tissue. And for an extra kick, it releases endorphins, improves sleep and can help with pain and headaches. There’s a reason you feel so relaxed after a hot shower or bath, and even if you weren’t aware of this, your body was.
You know that refreshed feeling (some might call it a shock) you have after you jump into icy water in winter? Not really? Or maybe you’re familiar with those viral videos of people breaking open a hole in the ice in some godforsaken, cold tundra, jumping in and emerging a few minutes later with red skin like a lobster straight from the pot. I am in no way telling you to pull any stunts worth one million youtube views, but simply highlighting that there’s truth to this apparent madness. Cold water therapy helps to reduce lactic acid build up in muscles, reducing swelling and muscle soreness, normalizes adrenaline production and helps the body recover faster. This is why athletes have been known to plunge into ice baths after and in between workouts. And even for the athletically un-inclined, cold water therapy has killer effects on your skin. At first, the cold water causes the capillaries to open, bringing blood to the surface, creating that red glow, before rushing back towards the internal organs and cleansing the glands. Metabolism is increased, the immune system are jump started, and blood pressure and the body’s other system’s are forced to stabilize. Always remember to heat up properly post-cold therapy so you don’t lower your defenses and end up back firing the whole thing by getting sick.
No ice baths or menopausal shower changes first thing in the morning here. Steam therapy is the spa-like sibling of the hydrotherapy spawn. This is where Turkish Hamams and Russian bath houses come into play. But this one is more than just pure steamy pleasure. Aside from respiratory cleansing, steam therapy opens pores, removes toxins and excess sodium, hydrates and rejuvenates the skin. By increasing circulation, steam therapy helps to rid the body of metabolic waste products. Along with all the benefits of heat therapy like stress reduction, healing and muscular support, steam therapy is unique in how it targets skin health. And to top it off, 15 minutes of steam bathing burns 150 calories. Losing weight in a spa while sitting on your ass? We’ll take that over hot yoga any day…
So what’s the takeaway here? At the very least that you can get so much more out of water than just drinking it. And as rad at hangover cures, weight loss and stress reduction might be, this ancient therapy holds a vaster breadth of benefits than can ever be covered in one article. DIY hydrotherapy is just the surface. So go out there, get wet and reap the benefits of water in all its healing, hydro-therapeutic glory.