The Relevance of Hydrotherapy in the 21st Century
The practice of hydrotherapy is often clouded in mystery and apprehension. When we hear stories of 17th-century practitioners using hydrotherapy to inhumanely “cure” madness, we question the moral ethics behind this treatment modality. What is the truth about hydrotherapy? What was its original design? And does it still have a place in modern methods of healing? I sat down with Cheyna Ashe, the resident hydrotherapist at Beautiful Minds Wellness, to find out.
Ashe was trained in the art of hydrotherapy at the Wildwood Health Institute. This Georgia-based training school emphasizes methods of holistic healing and alternative medicine. Ashe is passionate about health and has many stories of how her clients have experienced significant improvements using hydrotherapy.
As she and I settled down to talk, I opened with my first and most obvious question: What in the world is hydrotherapy?
Ashe says, “Hydrotherapy [involves] the external and internal use of water to help the body in various aspects, including mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, and even spiritually.” On a more physiological level, she explains, hydrotherapy is essentially a manipulation of blood vessels to increase circulation and bring life-giving blood to the areas that need healing. Duration, location, and temperature are three critical factors that determine how each treatment affects the body. Depending on how these variables are adjusted, the effect created on the body can be global or local.
Hydrotherapy has a host of physical benefits that vary based on the treatment you use. For example, whole-body hot and cold treatments can strengthen the immune system. Local heat treatments increase circulation to an area to accelerate recovery. In contrast, local cold treatments can push surface blood deeper into the body, encouraging fresh blood flow and decreasing congestion or inflammation.
Not surprisingly, this ancient modality can affect the mind as well. Have you ever wondered why hot tubs are associated with relaxation? According to Ashe, “Hydrotherapy helps boost
endorphins and serotonin–which are the mood regulators and the happy hormones in your body.”
A study was conducted by Dubois et al. to look at the effects of balneotherapy* in comparison to paroxetine, an antidepressant commonly used for anxiety and depression. It was found that “remission and sustained response rates were…significantly higher in the [balnoetherapy] group”. Coupling this observation with the relative safety of water therapy, this study and others indicate that water therapy can be an effective alternative to antidepressant medications.
It is important to note that not every treatment is indicated for every person. “I would say a majority of people can and should do hydrotherapy,” Ashe says. But she adds a note of caution. “There are some contraindications. If someone is diabetic, they typically tend to have neuropathy or numbness, so they can’t necessarily judge the temperature. The major [concern] with that is them potentially burning themself if they have the water too hot.” To avoid scalding, a diabetic individual should monitor the temperature of the water with a thermometer, being sure to keep the temperature lower than 103°F or 104°F. Testing the water with an elbow can also help determine if the temperature is tolerable.
One major contraindication can lead to life-threatening consequences if one is not careful. “One of the biggest red flags for [avoiding hydrotherapy] would be thrombosis or blood clots,” Ashe stated. “Because we’re dealing with the blood vessels and moving the blood and speeding it up and slowing it down, we don’t want to dislodge any blood clots. So if someone does have blood clot issues– thrombosis itself, et cetera–they should talk to their doctor.” Ashe recommends consulting with your primary care provider if you have any underlying conditions that may worsen with hydrotherapy use. Depending on your health status, you may be advised to alter certain aspects of a particular treatment or avoid it altogether.
The same goes for age. While hydrotherapy is safe for most people, slight changes would need to be made for specific demographics. Elderly individuals, for example, have more difficulty regulating their body temperature. Because of this, performing treatments that involve extreme changes in temperature would not be advised.
Hydrotherapy is an incredible tool to combat aches, pains, and illnesses. However, one major obstacle deters many individuals from giving it a try.
When addressing this deterrent, Ashe jokingly says, “Usually, no one walks around saying, ‘You know, I want to relax today. Let me go and sit in a nice bucket of cold water!'”
Our bodies naturally recoil from bone-chilling conditions, cold-water immersion included. However, studies show that benefits can be derived from brief exposure to cold water, including an increase in alertness, pain reduction, and improvement in mood.
When relating her experience with nervous clients, Ashe says, “Somehow we manage to get [those that are afraid of the cold] to come in anyway. When they do the hot and cold contrast treatment, they always find themselves super relaxed in the end and want to stay in the cold water because they realize how it’s helping them.”
Ashe speaks briefly of one individual who, after finally taking the chilly plunge, had a new revelation. They exclaimed, “I just realized how much power my mind has over the decisions I choose to make!” Developing the willpower to stay in an uncomfortable yet beneficial situation and bringing the body under the control of the mind can change how we handle everyday circumstances.
What types of remedies can be performed at home? For brevity’s sake, let us look at the hot foot bath. It is a simple treatment that can be done using materials commonly found around the house. Studies have shown that a warm footbath can decrease sympathetic nervous system activity (fight or flight) while stimulating the parasympathetic system (rest and digest). Additionally, Ashe states that “putting your feet in hot water and placing an ice pack on your head can help with relieving pressure in the head, relieving even sinus pressure and migraines or headaches.”
For this procedure, position your feet in a bucket of warm water—as hot as you can tolerate without discomfort, but not exceeding 103-104°F. Place a cold washcloth on your head to keep it cool (you can also place a cold pack on your abdomen if you have menstrual cramps).
To stay warm, loosely wrap a sheet around your body and the foot tub, forming a tent. “So now that bucket is heating up your body,” Ashe says. “While everything else is heated, the cold stays on your abdomen or head, and the blood is [pushed] away from that area.” This treatment may help to relieve headaches, congestion, and menstrual cramps, as well as induce relaxation.
In the end, hydrotherapy can play a useful role in recovering from illness, boosting mental health, and improving your overall quality of life. Consult with your doctor and use proper precautions to ensure that hydrotherapy is safe for you. Nevertheless, don’t be afraid to take the plunge and try this ancient–yet relevant–practice for yourself. Your body will thank you!
Are you ready to take the plunge? Come in for a visit to Beautiful Minds Wellness to try out hydrotherapy for yourself! Click here for more details.
*Similar to hydrotherapy, balneotherapy is a method of disease treatment that usually involves the addition of minerals and other additives to the water.
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