In this series we will dive into Nature Cure, a philosophy of healthcare based on the principle that returning to nature itself is the ultimate source of healing, especially related to the healing powers of sunlight, air, water, etc. It is in alignment with the concept of Vitalism, which holds that there is an innate and intelligent healing force within every being that once unblocked and supported, will restore and maintain health. If we expand beyond our individual stories, when we work within the natural laws, we maintain not just our own health, but inevitably that of our planet, as that which is alignment for us, is in alignment for the Earth as a whole. The Nature Cure approach to wellness is ultimately sustainable and regenerative, as it requires clean waters, adequate sunlight, real food, movement, and access to nature; all of those things that have unfortunately gone awry, and yet, can be restored should we choose to as a collective.
So let’s begin our discussion of Nature Cure with one of the foundational treatment modalities: Hydrotherapy and the Healing Power of Water. Hydrotherapy employs water, and more so various applications of different temperatures of water, to stimulate this innate healing force, referred to in Eclectic traditions as “The Vis”. Through wise application of water, one can affect circulation, metabolism and immune function. Adequate circulation is vital for so many things: oxygenation of the tissues, removal of waste, delivery of immune cells, delivery of necessary nutrients, hydration of joints, nerves, skin, and so on. So often, our dis-ease states are related to an inability to let go; whether we are overburdened with metabolic waste, environmental or biological toxins and their inflammatory byproducts, or even emotional weight and tension. The act of supporting our inner waters to flow, allows both release of that which needs to go, and creates the space to receive that which supports our health and wellbeing.
Warm and cold applications have opposing effects on the body, put simply, warm applications dilate and relax, cold stimulates contraction. Warm applications dilate surface vessels, relax muscles, increase body temperature and induce sweating. Cold applications contract surface vessels and increase visceral circulation, decrease body temperature, reduce inflammation and induce thermogenesis (the production of heat in adipose and skeletal muscle). Thermogenesis stimulates Brown Adipose Tissue, which increases the number of mitochondria and thus increases the capacity for energy production. Warm therapies increase circulation to and oxygenation of the mitochondria, enhancing the efficiency of energy production. Cold Immersion and even Cold showers have been shown to have antidepressant effects, while warm water can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, thus the benefits not surprisingly go beyond the physical.
To upgrade and optimize the benefits of these practices, we can add in an element of contrast, as in using both hot and cold. Alternating between hot and cold creates a pumping action, which in some ways imitates exercise (albeit in a much more passive sense). This can be particularly useful for those patients healing from chronic illness who are unable to exercise or sit in a sauna. Much of the hydrotherapy techniques from the Nature Cure tradition are centered around hot/cold contrast. Some commonly used practices are Constitutional Hydrotherapy, Herbal Baths, Sauna and Steam Rooms, Cold Friction Rub and Cold Plunge. The appropriate treatment depends on the individual, the state of health, age, overall vitality and sex. In general, the more fragile the health, the gentler the treatment. Constitutional Hydrotherapy for instance, when facilitated by an experienced practitioner, can be wonderful for those in more fragile states of health, or those who need to start detoxing very gently.
So what are some ways to incorporate the benefits of contrast hydrotherapy into your daily rituals? Here are a few simple techniques to try:
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