Bringing Home the Spa - Recreating the benefits of hydrotherapy spas at home

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When you think of a trip to the spa, it conjures up images of facials, nail treatments, body wraps and massages. But spas weren’t always havens for simply the beautification of the physical body.

Traditionally, they were places people would go to “take the waters”; to immerse, cleanse and bathe themselves in healing waters meant to rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit. The use of water in this healing way is called hydrotherapy.

And this is how we can bring hydrotherapy home. There are many ways to use water in your own home that will bring about the same responses in the body, and effectively stimulate the same healing and relaxation.

Hydrotherapy has been shown in recent years to benefit a vast number of conditions including: improving cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, promoting quality and duration of sleep, reducing stress and anxiety, pain management (especially osteoarthritis), improving immune function, boosting metabolism, and supporting overall feelings of wellbeing, among others.

Given the wide range of possible benefits, it’s easy to see why the therapy is enjoying a resurgence with the success of such hydrotherapy- focused spas and resorts as Nordik, Body Blitz and Scandinave Spa. 

Typically located in beautiful, outdoor, natural settings, spa-goers are encouraged to spend long hours languidly transitioning through a series of pools, saunas, and rest stations of varying temperatures.

This simple transition from very warm (some steam rooms can be close to 100 degrees Celsius) to very cold water (often just a few degrees above freezing) is the true secret behind hydrotherapy; the drastic temperature change creates a number of complex physiological and biochemical changes within the body. Cycling through alternating hot and cold water stimulates these cellular and chemical changes, which are responsible for the benefits that we expect from hydrotherapy.

And this is how we can bring hydrotherapy home. There are many ways to use water in your own home that will bring about the same responses in the body, and effectively stimulate the same healing and relaxation.

One of the simplest and most effective home practices is the alternating shower. For this treatment all you need is your standard home shower. Simply turn the water temperature up so that it feels very warm to hot (but not so hot that it is uncomfortable). Stand in the water for up to three minutes, and then abruptly change the temperature to as cold as you can tolerate (this will feel like a bit of a shock!) Stand under the cold water for no more than one minute, and then return the temperature to hot. Repeat this cycle three to five times, ending with a cold stream.

You can use a similar technique to enjoy the benefits of hydrotherapy at home in a number of different ways, such as a simple foot bath, or (carefully) jumping in and out of the backyard hot tub to get sprayed down with the garden hose.

However you choose to practice hydrotherapy at home, there are a few key principles to keep in mind to maximize your hydrotherapeutic benefit. The first is that the warm phase should always be longer than the cold phase by a ratio of about 3:1; for example, if your hot phase only lasts one minute, the cold should last no longer than 20 seconds. The second is to always end on cold - this leaves the body a little bit cool, which then demands that it warm itself once again, increasing metabolic rate and blood flow. And, as with any new practice, don’t overdo it, especially at the beginning. If the extremes of temperature seem like too much to tolerate, work your way up to it by starting with warm-cool transitions, and build up to hot-cold.

 

Originally Published: September 30, 2017

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Kelly Gillis, ND, Contributor and naturopathic doctor practicing in her hometown of Belleville, Ontario at the Belleville Integrative Health Centre

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Dr. Kelly is a naturopathic doctor practicing in her hometown of Belleville, Ontario at the Belleville Integrative Health Centre. She trained as a naturopath at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Ontario and prior to that, completed an honours undergraduate degree in Health Promotion at Laurentian University. She is licensed and registered with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario, and is a member of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors and the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors.