For the various applications of water tend to remove the roots of the disease; they are able: to dissolve the morbid matters in the blood, to evacuate what is dissolved, to make the cleansed blood circulate rightly again, finally to harden the enfeebled organism.
Pastor Sebastian Kneipp, (1897, p. 9)
[Kneipp’s] most important merit has been the success with which he raised his voice against the over-refinement and unnaturalness, and with which he preached the turn to nature; that is, to simplicity and moderation in everything.
H. Moeser, (1913, p. 570)
To say that cold water was the essence of Father Sebastian Kneipp’s water cure treatments is almost an understatement. Kneipp, in his English edition written in 1897, he says, “I follow my principle founded on experience: the colder, the better. In winter time, I mix snow with the water for shower-baths, when they are for healthy people.” (Kneipp, 1897, p. 18) Yet, Kneipp had many guidelines to help people administer cold water therapies with outstanding results. In last month’s column, some of Kneipp’s legendary treatments were explored. This month, a more in depth look at what made Kneipp’s water cure so enduring into the 21st century.
First Commandment: cold water is applied only if the body is warm
Kneipp’s use of cold water was specifically prescribed to those who were warm. He cautioned, “no one should venture to make any cold application whatever, when feeling cold, shivering, etc.” (Kneipp, 1897, p. 18)
The application of cold water had a definite course of actions and reactions. The initial action is diverting blood flow from the exterior to the interior resulting in a blanching of the skin. “But if the flow of water continues, the skin will soon turn red again, for the one who applies the water knows that [s]he must let water flow until the skin has regained this tint.” (Baumgarten, 1903, p. 124)
The mechanism for the skin’s color changes followed the physical law: ‘Heat expands, cold contracts’. Since cold causes contraction especially of the blood vasculature when cold is applied to the body, blood from the surface is forced to the interior. The contraction of the capillaries lasts a short time, some 70 to 80 second and then these capillaries expand causing the blood to rush to the surface again. (Baumgarten, 1903, p. 124) The more contrast between the body’s warm temperature and the cold of the water application, the greater the effect.
Second Commandment: before each cold water application, wet the chest and temples with water
“It is an old custom to wet the forehead, the chest and the temples before taking a bath.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 70) “A beginner should just take cold water out of a basin and apply it quickly to the arms, chest and upper part of the body, and then put on the clothing at once, without drying the skin with a towel.” (Lust, 1904, p. 147) The practice of wetting the head and chest with water before administering a water treatment by Kneipp has some scientific basis for it. The dive reflex initiates cardiovascular response to immersion whether it is whole body immersion or facial immersion. The dive reflex initiates bradycardia and peripheral vasoconstriction. (Cantista, 2005, ISMH Congress) Cold water submersion causes the body to lose heat and increase metabolism. Reducing blood flow to the peripheral limbs is the body’s attempt to conserve heat. However, merely applying cold water to the face or neck is enough to initiate the dive reflex in humans and initiate bradycardia and peripheral vasoconstriction.
Third Commandment: no cold applications after meals
“After a meal the body must digest the food, so its activity is required for this process.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 70)
Fourth Commandment: No cold water treatment is used longer than necessary
“The object of all cold water applications is to cause a stimulation in the circulation of the blood, and they must last only long enough for this reaction to take place.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 71) The reaction that Kneipp was looking for was a change in the color of the skin. On first exposure to cold water, the blood vessels in the skin constrict causing blanching followed with “the skin will be replaced by redness and the sensation of chilliness by that of comfortable warmth. … The reaction depends always on the degree of cold. The colder the water the more intense the narrowing of the vessels and the quicker and the stronger the reaction.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 71) Kneipp was an ardent lover of cold water and “after constant experiments [he] came to the conclusion that the shortest baths were the best and easiest to take.” (Lust, 1901, p. 75)
Fifth Commandment: after a cold application, the body must never be wiped dry
One of the golden rules that Kneipp established for after the bath protocol is that the body is not dried with towels but rather the patient dresses quickly in coarse porous linen or cotton clothing. (Lust, 1904, p. 147) “This is done quickly so that all the wet spots are closed hermetically.” (Kneipp, 1897, p. 19) “If the body is not dried, more warmth will be developed and appear on the surface, the blood circulates more quickly, and the assimulation is increased.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 71) Kneipp counseled against wiping dry which “produces disproportionate natural warmth … the not wiping helps to most regular, most equal and most speedy natural warmth.” (Kneipp, 1897, p. 19)
For the invalid or those who had trouble warming themselves after cold applications, going to bed immediately and being covered was indicated. The stronger patient was counseled to quickly put his clothes on and take a brisk walk of at least half an hour. (Lust, 1902, p. 56) Porous clothing donned after water treatment had the affect of causing the water to evaporate slowly producing some cold and stimulating the skin and getting better results. Only the parts of the body exposed to air should be dried, such as the head and hands. (Kneipp, 1897, p. 19)
Sixth Commandment: After a cold water treatment, get warm, dry and comfortable
Exposure to cold water increases the metabolism of the body to a similar degree that hard work would elicit lots of perspiration. Stopping activity suddenly during perspiration can cause a sudden stagnation of blood and feeling chilled. It is for this reason, that Kneipp instructed his patients to adopt exercise to keep the body warm and the circulation flowing quickly. Kneipp says,
we strictly prescribe exercise to be taken (either by working or walking) as soon as the patient is dressed after the application and this must be continued, until all parts of the body are perfectly dry and in normal warmth. … As a rule for all it may be said that the shortest time for exercise after an application ought to be at least 15 minutes. Kneipp, 1897, pp. 19-20)
The amount of exercise depended upon the constitution of the patient and the air temperature. “If this is below 60°F, strong individuals may take exercise out of doors, weak ones should do so indoors. If warmth is not brought on by exercise, the patient ought to be put to bed.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 71)
Seventh Commandment: NO EXCESSES
Kneipp warned against too strong or too frequent applications of water which could cause injury. (Kneipp, 1897, p. 6) “For 30 year, I have tried every single application upon myself. I found myself induced to change my system to loosen the strings, to descend from strictness to softness, from great to still greater softness.” (Kneipp, 1897, p. 6) “Sick, but otherwise healthy people may take three applications a day during the summer and one every day during the winter; healthy people may take three applications every week.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 73)
“The evil of excess has often caused fatal crises and has brought hydropathy into evil repute.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 73 “But there is a limit; if the water is too cold, no stimulation in the blood vessels, but lameness and relaxation would be the consequence” however not so if water is above 45°F. (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 70) Bauergmund continues, “We must avoid uniform exercises; we must avoid uniform cold water applications. Individualize and avoid excess.” “A patient who applies our treatment for the first time, may always begin with water at a temperature several degrees warmer than that prescribed; after a time, his body will become accustomed to a cooler temperature, and water of about 77°F will then seem hardly so cold to him as water of 81°F or 85°F seemed at first.” (Benedict Lust, 1901, p. 2)
Eighth Commandment: Clothing is light and comfortable, even in winter
The right kind of clothing worn next to the skin was debated amongst the early Nature Curists. Wool absorbed humidity but hindered evaporation and fine linen absorbs moisture causing the fabric to stick to the skin. (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 73) The fabric chosen by Kneipp as the most ideal was coarse linen or hemp cloth. (Kneipp, 1897, p. 11) The strong linen or hemp cloth “will both absorb and exhale more humidity and is, therefore, to be recommended for use during cold water treatment.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 73) It is well to remember that the fashion of the day included “narrow high collars; tight corsets, the elastic garters and narrow shoes”. (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 73) Bauergmund counsels, “every woman ought to know that too tight a corset impedes the right breathing of the lungs, oppresses the heart, and consequently impairs the blood and disturbs the functions of the organs in the abdomen.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 73)
Ninth Commandment: successful water treatment depends upon the right kind of food and drink
Bauergmund contends, “hydropathy would never have been attended by so many excellent results, if diet had not been one of its chief healing factors.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 74) The diet recommended by Kneipp included a mixed diet of animal and vegetable food. Kneipp states clearly, “My chief rule is: dry, simple, nourishing household fare not spoiled by art or by strong spices, the drink should be the genuine beverage offered by God in every well. Both taken moderately are the best and most wholesome nourishment for the human body.” (Kneipp, 1897, p. 10) Kneipp listed rye, wheat bran, and spelt breads and soups made from these black breads as strength 7vegetarianism was good, if the dietary were properly arranged.” (Lust, 1904, p. 148)
Tenth Commandment: sleep and rest in correct proportion
“During a course of water treatment the patient ought to retire at eight o’clock in the evening, and rise at six o’clock in the morning, then sleeping during the day is not necessary; though weak and anemic persons may rest for an hour or so during the day.” (Bauergmund, 1908, p. 76) Kneipp attributed the causes of sleeplessness to: irregular circulation, suppressed or insufficient transpiration [breathing] tormenting the digestion or unequal distribution of heat in the body. (Kneipp, 1897, pp. 349-350) Kneipp cautions that “care should be taken to air thoroughly all the sitting and bedroom, day by day … [and] above all great attention must be given to the airing of the beds.” (Kneipp, 1897, p. 12)
Bauergmund, (1908). How Should Kneipp’s Treatment be Taken? The Naturopath and Herald of Health, Benedict Lust Publishing, New York, Vol IX, # 3, pp. 69-76.
Baumgarten, A (1903). Water Applications, The Naturopath and Herald of Health, Benedict Lust Publishing, New York, Vol IV, # 5, pp. 124-126.
Cantista, P (2005). Physical Principles of Balneology and Medical Hydrology, ISMH [International Society of Medical Hydrology], Szeged, Hungary.
Kneipp, S (1897). My Water Cure, Jos. Koesel Publisher, Kempten, Bavaria, 395 pp.
Lust, B (1901). The Natural Method of Healing, The Kneipp Water Cure Monthly and Herald of Health, The Kneipp Magazines Publishing Company, New York, Vol. II, # 1, pp. 1-2.
Lust, B (1901). The Process of Not Drying Oneself, According to the Kneipp Water Treatment, The Kneipp Water Cure Monthly and Herald of Health, The Kneipp Magazines Publishing Company, New York, Vol. II, # 2, pp. 56-57.
Lust, B (1901). The Cold Full Bath, The Kneipp Water Cure Monthly and Herald of Health, The Kneipp Magazines Publishing Company, New York, Vol. II, # 3, p. 75.
Lust, B (1904). Father Kneipp and His Methods, The Naturopath and Herald of Health, Benedict Lust Publishing, New York, Vol. V, # 7, pp. 145-149.
Moeser, H (1913). In Commemoration of Sebastian Kneipp, The The Naturopath and Herald of Health, Benedict Lust Publishing, New York, Vol. XVIII, # 9, pp. 569-571.