Water Cure (Dr. F. Batmanghelidj)

Water Cure (Dr. F. Batmanghelidj)

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Plunge into the ancient healing technique of hydrotherapy

Most people know there's nothing like a good, long soak in the tub to soothe frazzled nerves or chase away winter chills. But did you know that the addition of salts, essential oils, or even the same herbs you ingest can turn your bath into a healing oasis that truly benefits both body and soul?

Through the Ages

Healing the mind and body through therapeutic bathing — hydrotherapy — is nothing new. Elaborate bathing rituals were de rigueur in ancient Egypt. But it was those decadent Romans who really mastered the art of the sybaritic soak. They constructed extravagant marble bathing halls and commissioned great works of art to adorn them — statues of Hercules, the god of strength, and Hygeia, the goddess of health, commonly presided over sacred bathing rites. These bathing halls were maintained at public expense, and most Roman citizens enjoyed socializing there in the afternoons.

Through the ensuing centuries, the tradition of hydrotherapy was kept alive. "Taking the waters" was especially common throughout the 19th century, and therapeutic bathing remains popular today; Europeans routinely visit spa towns for the curative mineral-water soak. But there's no need to travel to Baden-Baden or an expensive spa to enjoy the healing benefits of hydrotherapy. If you have a bathtub and just a few ingredients, you're ready to reap the rewards of this ancient healing technique right in your own home.

Health Benefits

Water cures can play an integral part in supporting the nervous, circulatory, lymphatic, and immune systems. Julie James, a Long Beach, Calif.-based herbalist, knows the salubrious effects baths bestow. "Herbal baths can relieve muscular pain and cramping, soothe nerves, improve sleep, and assist in detoxification," she says. "Water carries the therapeutic benefits of herbs directly through the skin in a gentle and safe manner and improves the body's ability to eliminate toxins." And depending on temperature, she says, water can stimulate or quiet circulation and other bodily functions. Warm water slightly raises metabolism, and can relieve arthritis and hemorrhoids. It encourages perspiration, which is cleansing, and its sedative and analgesic qualities can provide relief when you've overdone it at the gym. Cold water, on the other hand, restores and invigorates by increasing circulation. Some research indicates that cold water therapy may even improve low sperm count, alleviate mild depression, and relieve itchy skin. To really get blood and lymphatic fluid moving, which removes toxins from the body, try alternating hot water with short bursts of cold.

You can find many quality prepared milk or salt mineral baths at natural food stores, but it's also easy to create custom therapeutic soaks with herbs and essential oils. "I use the following herbs, essential oils, and blends over and over for common ailments," says James.

Muscle pain: oatstraw, chamomile, hops, mugwort, valerian (it's smelly, but it works beautifully)
Circulation: rosemary, peppermint, yarrow, ginger
Skin problems: chickweed, chamomile, oats, comfrey, calendula, hyssop
Thyme: colds and flu, congestion, bacterial and viral infections, and fungal problems, including Candida
Lavender: antimicrobial, antifungal, calming, pain relieving, uplifting
Essential Oils:

Detoxification: juniper, grapefruit, cypress (James adds crab apple flower essence)
Insomnia: marjoram, lavender and a little rosemary, linden, chamomile, or lemon balm
Colds and flu: thyme, eucalyptus, peppermint
Hemorrhoids and other varicosities: cypress and Roman chamomile in a soak.
Muscle pain: marjoram, ginger, black pepper, lavender

How to Prepare the Perfect Bath

Start by dry brushing your body with a natural-bristle brush. This will help stimulate blood flow to the skin's surface so that toxins can more easily be eliminated, and therapeutic herbs, oils, and minerals, such as magnesium, can more readily penetrate. For instructions, see "Spring Cleaning," page 50.

Next, decide what effect you want your bath to produce, and adjust water temperature accordingly. Avoid temperatures below 70° F for cold baths, or above 100° F for hot. As a general rule, bath time should be limited to 15 or 20 minutes. "Watch temperature and herbal intensity," warns James. "Herbal baths can be very powerful, and sensitive people should limit their time at first until they can get a feel for how they will respond; it's quite common to feel weak or dizzy, even nauseated, when baths are overdone. As with all therapies, they need to be used with respect."

If you're using mineral salts or plain Epsom salts, add them at the start of a hot bath so they have a chance to dissolve completely. And if you're using essential oils, it's important to dilute them. Oils used for massage, such as almond or jojoba, make appropriate vehicles, but you can also use dairy cream or whole milk. Just before your bath has reached the desired depth, add the oil or oil blend. Loose herbs can be tied in a piece of muslin to create a bath "tea bag," or you can steep the herbs beforehand: Boil a pot of water on the stove, add herbs, and turn down heat. Simmer for 20 minutes, strain, and add the liquid to your tub.

Be sure to keep hydrated internally during your bath. Sip a cool glass of water or herbal tea — chamomile is especially soothing before bed. Or make a refreshing "spa water" by adding slices of cucumber, lemon, or orange to sparkling mineral water.

And lastly, put on soothing music, light an aromatherapy candle, ease back in your tub of tranquility, and feel the water infuse your entire being with beauty and health.

Product Examples
Bach's Crab Apple Flower Essence: This homeopathic remedy eases nervous tension.

Aura Cacia's Red Thyme: A healing and purifying essential oil; great for colds and flu.

• Nature's Alchemy's Marjoram: Ease muscle pain with this soothing essential oil.

Pharmacopia's Lavender Bath Salts: A lavender/chamomile blend to induce restful sleep.

A great way to restore magnesium levels is with an Epsom salt bath. According to the National Academy of Sciences, most American males are 20 percent magnesium deficient, while American women fall short by 30 percent. Lack of this vital nutrient contributes to heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, arthritis, and other chronic illnesses. But the body can safety and easily absorb magnesium via an Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) bath. Just 15 minutes in a warm bath, to which 2 cups of Epsom salt has been added, will help you increase magnesium levels while providing relaxation and relief for aching muscles and joints. Epsom salt is inexpensive and readily available at natural food stores. It never leaves residue or dries skin — in fact, it has a wonderfully skin-softening effect. For a special treat, mix two cups of Epsom salt with ½ tsp. of glycerin and a few drops of your favorite essential oil — store in an airtight container. For more information on Epsom salt's health benefits, visit epsomsaltcouncil.org.