Balneotherapy: Healing with Water
Balneotherapy is the art of water therapy, and one of aromatherapy’s best friends. There is nothing quite so soothing and relaxing as a leisurely soak in a hot bath. As the warmth of the water cradles your physical body, providing relief from the constant pull of gravity, your psyche is refreshed and restored, the weight of the world momentarily lifted. Add a few drops of well-selected essential oils and you approach nirvana.
Water is nature’s greatest and most effective solvent. It acts as a liquid suspension, carrying a variety of minerals and chemicals, depending on its source. When we immerse our bodies in a warm bath, our skin rapidly begins to absorb chemicals that are suspended in the water. These chemical components can make their way to our bloodstream in as little as 2 to 15 minutes. It will take a normally healthy person from half an hour to three hours to eliminate most of these chemicals through the expired breath and urine. In unhealthy or obese people, this process may take up to 10 hours. That is why adding essential oils to a bath is such an effective aromatherapy treatment.
The premise of balneotherapy is built on this solvency. Just as we absorb the essential oils we intentionally add to the water, we absorb a variety of other chemicals and minerals suspended in our water. No two waters are exactly the same. Spring waters, often thought of as pure, actually contain a variety of minerals. It is the presence of these minerals, from the depths of the earth, that makes certain spring waters highly valued for their curative properties.
The amazing virtues of water have been sung throughout the ages. Ancient myths featured countless sea nymphs, mermaids, and water goddesses. It’s no wonder that most ancient gods and goddesses associated with water were believed to be sources of life, fertility, and fecundity. Water is our element. We most likely evolved from aquatic creatures. In any event, our first months of life were spent floating in an amniotic bath. In our dreams water symbolizes the ebb and flow of our emotions. We use water for cleansing, refreshing, and relaxing. Water is the basis for our body’s evaporative cooling system. It flushes out toxic wastes, plumps up our cells, and lubricates our moving parts. Water is crucial to our survival. Without it we would literally dry up and blow away.
Eight ways Balneotherapy Heals:
- Bathing in hot springs gradually increases the temperature of the body, thus killing harmful germs and viruses.
- Thermal bathing increases hydrostatic pressure on the body, thus increasing blood circulation and cell oxygenation. The increase in blood flow also helps dissolve and eliminate toxins from the body.
- Hot springs bathing increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, bringing improved nourishment to vital organs and tissues.
- Bathing in thermal water increases body metabolism, including stimulating the secretions of the intestinal tract and the liver, aiding digestion.
- Repeated hot springs bathing (especially over 3- to 4- week period) can help normalize the functions of the endocrine glands as well as the functioning of the body’s autonomic nervous system.
- Trace amounts of minerals such as carbon dioxide, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, and lithium are absorbed by the body and provide healing effects to various body organs and system. These healing effects can include stimulation of the immune system, leading to enhanced immunity; physical and mental relaxation; the production of endorphins; and normalized gland function.
- Mineral springs contain high amounts of negative ions, which can help promote feelings of physical and psychological well-being.
- The direct application of mineralized thermal waters (especially those containing sulfur) can have a therapeutic effect on diseases of the skin, including psoriasis, dermatitis, and fungal infections. Some mineral waters are also used to help the healing of wounds and other skin injuries.
Indications for Balneotherapy:
Over the several hundred years during which the science of medical balneology has developed, physicians have been able to identify the health conditions that can best be treated by healing springs. The following list of indications for balneotherapy is based on the research of Yuko Agishi, M.D.
Chronic rheumatic diseases
Functional recovery of central and peripheral neuroparalysis
Metabolic diseases, especially diabetes, obesity, and gout
Chronic gastrointestinal diseases
Chronic mild respiratory diseases
Circulatory diseases, especially moderate or mild hypertension
Peripheral circulatory diseases (affecting the hands and feet)
Chronic skin diseases
Psychosomatic and stress-related diseases
Autonomic nervous system dysfunction
Vibration disorder (a middle ear disorder affecting balance)
Sequela of (conditions resulting from) trauma
Chronic gynecological diseases
If you have any illnesses or diseases, or are pregnant, consult with your physician before using spa therapy.
Avoid soaking in a hot spring alone, and don’t use a spa if you are on heart medications or under the influence of other drugs or alcohol. Make sure not to overheat, drink plenty of cool water, and use private pools if you have a skin disease. The elderly should use extra caution.
A Brief History of the Bath
Although the Romans may not have invented the bath, they raised bathing to a high art. Roman citizens lingered for hours in communal hot baths, where they socialized, conducted courtship, and even sealed business deals. They built lavish baths wherever they found natural hot springs. The remains of Roman baths are still evident throughout Europe, the Mideast, and North Africa.
The Roman reverence for bathing has survived in Turkey, where patrons still visit public baths to be soaped, steamed, and scrubbed clean by attendants. Meanwhile, a highly ritualized bathing culture has evolved in Japan as well. Whole towns exist as destination resorts around Japanese natural hot springs. The harried Japanese make annual visits to these springs, and in between find time for frequent visits to the “Sento” — the local communal hot-tub house. Japanese homes are for the most part poorly heated, and the family bath becomes an important source of warmth in winter.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, bathing fell out of favor in Europe. For the next few centuries the practice was considered suspect and unhealthy, immersion a frightening and distasteful experience. Washing was an unpleasant and infrequent necessity, to be carried out quickly and furtively, with a basin of cold water.
– This excerpt is from the Aromatherapy Companion
Water therapy as practiced today was introduced in Austria in the 19th century by the Reverend Father Sebastian Kneipp. Father Kneipp believed in the healing properties of water and prescribed treatments that included drinking mineral waters, soaking in hot springs, taking cold showers, and walking barefoot in the early-morning dew. Healing spas that subscribed to Father Kneipp’s philosophy sprang up all over Europe, and “taking the waters” became a popular social pastime for the rich and privileged.
Today health spas abound throughout the United States, Europe, and the Mediterranean. Modern spas have evolved beyond mere mineral-water treatments to offer many other complementary therapies as well as physical fitness, relaxation training, and nutritional counseling. Aromatherapy has been universally adopted as a valuable synergistic component of most spa therapies.
You can create your own spa experience with just a few essential oils and a tub of hot water. An aromatherapy bath is the ultimate luxury. Experiment with 3 to 5 drops of several different, complementary oils, adjusting the total amount to suit your individual taste. You can add the oils directly to the bath or, for added luxury, disperse them in a cup of milk first. Essential oils combine well with all other bath additives. Add Epsom salts, sea salts, and algae to mineralize the water and increase buoyancy. Add oatmeal or honey to soothe and nourish the skin. Add bicarbonate of soda to “soften” the water. Add fresh or dried herbs and flower petals for their aesthetic and therapeutic qualities.
– from The Aromatherapy Companion by Victoria Edwards