The use of hot and cold temperatures, and natural mediums such as fire and water, have been used for healing purposes for as long as mankind has been able to source and/or control both.
Cold and hot water treatments, also known as hydrotherapy, were used by the ancient Egyptians, Greek and Romans. Their practice was continued into modern times by James Currie, Vincent Preissnitz and Sebastien Kneipp, whose water compresses, pressure treatments, and in particular, cold water baths, are still a part of the natural medicine and outdoor culture in Germany today.
The bathing cultures of India, Japan and Korea are also well known, and form part of a cleansing ritual, where water is valued for not only its mineral content but also its hygienic and purity elements.
Cold water therapy, today promoted by people such as Wim “Iceman” Hof, have brought the multiple healing benefits of this practice back into mainstream focus. Cold water, as unpleasant as it feels at first, is highly effective in stimulating the circulation of blood, nutrients and oxygen to the cells, and basically, warming up the body.
People new to this activity start slowly, usually with a warm shower first, then switch to cold water after they are comfortable. Alternating between cold and warm water is important at the beginning until the body becomes accustomed to the cold temperature. The feet are doused first before immersing other parts of the body. A systematic plan may take several weeks before a full body cold shower can be tolerated for a minute and more. Control of breath (using deep breathing techniques) during this time is imperative and an essential part of the treatment.
The Finnish are well known for their hot saunas, and not without good reason. One of the greatest Finnish long distance runners, Pavvo Nurmi, listed the Finnish sauna culture as a reason why he was so successful throughout his sporting career.
Hot saunas and fire have been known to assist in not only releasing impurities out of the body through the act of sweating, but also in promoting increased blood circulation. They also heal the body by keeping it warm, as well as releasing tension and stress.
‘Saunassa ollaan kuin kirkossa’ — ‘You should sit in a sauna like it’s a church.’
– Finnish saying
Hot sauna and cold water baths are often used together for stimulating the body and in reducing infection and pain.
Closely connected to and a very important part of both hot and cold treatments is the complementary exercise of mindful breathing techniques. Breath and the lungs are both highly effective tools in the treatment of disease, with the lungs being called the ‘pump’ of our circulatory system, rather than the heart.
According to Wim Hof, breathing is instrumental in the activation of the autonomic nervous system and the voluntary control of our immune response. You can read about the experiment/s he was involved in here. In Yoga, the practice of pranayama (breathing exercise) is common, with more than a dozen different types of breathing exercises taught, each producing cleansing and healing effects on our body-mind-spirit.
Are you interested in knowing more about how you could benefit from hot and cold treatments?