Hydrotherapy (or balenotherapy) is the use of water in various states and temperatures to maintain health and promote healing. Steam, ice, hot, tepid, and cold water are all used in a number of ways alone or as part of a therapeutic regimen. For example, ice is applied toa sprained ankle or sore muscles are soothed by soaking in a hot tub. Most forms of hydrotherapy have become accepted remedies. Many are universally prescribed by both conventional and alternative health practitioners.The basic properties of water allow this nontoxic and readily available substance to be used in numerous ways. Hydrotherapy takes advantage of water’s unique ability to store and transmit both cold and heat. Cold has a “depressant” affect, decreasing normal activity, constricting blood vessels, numbing nerves, and slowing respiration. Heat-based hydrotherapies, such as hot tubs, have the opposite effect. As the body attempts to throw off excess heat and keep the body temperature from rising, dilation of blood vessels occurs, providing increased circulation.
Contrast therapies, such as immersing in hot and then cold water, are used to dramatically stimulate circulation. For example, a thirty minute contrast bath beginning with soaking for four minutes in a hot tub and then dropping into a cold plunge for one minute, repeated for a total of thirty minutes, can produce a 95 percent increase in blood flow. If you are looking for a natural high, this may be it!Water-based therapies in spas are currently used throughout conventional, complementary, and alternative medicine. Hydrotherapy itself is used by almost all physical therapy centers. Numerous techniques using water are considered standard methods of treatment for rehabilitation and pain relief, including exercise in hydrotherapy pools, whirlpool baths, and swimming pools. These standard techniques are now being combined with treatments such as Watsu (water Shiatsu, a massage while being held in the water).
Clinical benefits aside, westerners are catching onto the secret that the ritual of a long luxurious bath or soak offers a multitude of special pleasures.Instead of racing to the shower to get clean to go out for the night, the shower can be a prelude to an evening soak. Another distinction between Eastern and Western bathing rituals: in the Japanese culture, one would never enter a tub dirty. Their idea is to get clean, then soak the soul. Westerners regretfully soak in their wash water (making us want to get in and out), which fact might explain why we see bathing as a means to an end. But once we adapt to the separateness of the two experiences, washing versus soaking, both seem more enticing. The West may never convert to the ritual of sitting down on a stool to scrub prior to soaking, but we might accept the separation of the two acts.So treat yourself and your loved ones to the time-revered pleasure of a hot tub soak. Your body and your soul won’t regret it!
Roberta Jordan has a Master’s degree in rehabilitation administration from the University of San Francisco. Roberta and Carl Mott own Shoji Spa, a new Japanese style outdoor hot tub day spa in Asheville, which offers contrast therapies including sauna, cold plunge, private hot tubs, and massage therapy. They can be reached at 828-299-0999 or www.shojiretreats.com.