I was a kid my elementary school had a swimming pool. At the first
timid signs of summer we'd clamor around our teacher begging to be
allowed to swim. Eventually she'd relent, and we would splash and
flail until we were ordered out of the pool.
Blue-tinged, teeth chattering and bodies vibrating with cold, we dragged
crumpled clothes over damp skin and raced back to the classroom.
Then, the most incredible thing would happen; our entire bodies would
be completely suffused with an indescribable glow of warmth and
didn’t know it, but as with our long-ago forbearers, we’d
discovered that hydrotherapy enhances health.
civilizations acknowledged the power of water, sacred as a source of
life, energy, comfort, fertility and creation. Entire cultures
understood its salutary benefits. Ancient Greeks studied the
physiologic effects of bathing; Romans had an elaborate bathing
culture that emphasized relaxation and pleasure. Throughout the 20th
century, Germany, France and other European countries included
hydrotherapy as a routine part of medical care. The modern iteration
of the spa perpetuates watery indulgence; sauna, steam, ice
fountains, hydrotherapy tubs, body scrubs and rain showers, all
having their genesis in prehistory.
physiology has uniquely adapted over evolutionary eons to respond
positively to the stimulus of water in all its forms. That numbing
dip in the pool caused a tidal wash of circulatory changes linking us
directly with our primordial origins. Surrounding our body with hot
or cold water spurs a complex interplay of physiologic responses
centered on our internal effort to maintain a state of homeostasis. A
cascade of beneficial bodily reactions ensues, including enhanced
immune function, increased production of endorphins, basal metabolic
rate modulation and a raft of subtle changes in muscle tone, mental
outlook and pain perception.
winter temperatures – and maybe the effect of the stress of the
season – classically result in an increase in aches and pains in
muscles and joints. A warm bath is the perfect antidote; penetrating
warmth relieves discomfort by relaxing muscle and connective tissue.
Once the warmth has worked its muscle-softening magic, the bathtub is
a particularly good place to stretch tight hamstring and calf muscles
or perform a gentle yoga-like spinal twist.
further tame stubborn knots bring a tennis ball to the tub and lie
back against it to apply precise pressure to sore areas. This works
particularly well for shoulders, lower back, hips and gluteal muscles
- and you can use the buoyancy of your body to moderate the pressure
that you apply. If high heels or hard surfaces are getting the
better of you, you can easily massage the often tight and tender
plantar surface of the foot once the warmth of the water has loosened
ligaments and tendons in that area.
therapy especially helps when winter challenges our wellbeing with an
onslaught of coughs, colds, sniffles and the flu - all the result of
an overwhelmed immune system. German research shows that simplest of
hydrotherapy strategies - using contrasting temperatures -
strengthens the immune system and lessens the incidence of illness.
temperature treatments are easy to implement - simply alternate
between hot and cold water during your daily shower. Start out with
one cycle, introducing cooler water for 30 seconds towards the end of
the shower and heating up again to a comfortable neutral temperature
to finish. Over a period of days introduce two or three hot/cold
cycles and gradually ramp up the chill factor until you are
comfortable with more dramatic temperature changes. Performed
religiously, you can expect fewer colds and other illnesses. An added
benefit, the refreshing zing of cool water increases mental alertness
– which can’t be a bad thing!
or reinvigorating, languid lap or chilly bite, water offers a simple
way to sustain life in balance. Immerse yourself in its elemental