Imagine if public parks had a water therapy feature where citizens could walk barefoot in cool water. If one could practice earthing as they traverse through water troughs lined with pebbles to stimulate the feet, it would encourage circulation.
Imagine if hospitals in our country, as part of therapy for respiratory illness and rheumatic conditions, prescribed baths and wraps using hot and cold-water therapy with moist and dry heat. Imagine if there was a cooperative relationship with public golf courses on rainy days where individuals could partake in “dew walking.” These experiences do exist and are all forms of Kneipp Therapy.
Kneipp Therapy was founded by a German priest in the mid-1800s. This Bavarian holistic caretaker arrived at these practices by experimenting with regular bathing in the icy Danube River. His treatments helped his tuberculosis and strengthened his body. He went on to treat ailing members of his village parish with water cures and was known as the “water doctor.” To this day, his natural cures are instilled as part of the collective identity of German people.
This summer, as I rode my bike past a hike trailhead, I was greeted by Kneipp offerings in the middle of the forest. Cold spring water filled a large treading basin with handrails to walk back and forth multiple times to receive help from the effect of external water applications. The use of icy water on a warm body provides the initial action of diverting blood flow from the exterior to the interior. It strengthens the immune system and improves blood flow and lymph circulation. After a hike or a physical pursuit there is immediate relief. There are approximately 100 different Kneipp water treatments in the form of compresses, steam baths, inhalations and baths.
Practices from the past travel full circle and once again become relevant in the present. There is a resurgence of interest in water therapy and cold exposure utilizing breathwork, nature and community.
The Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hoff is an iceman who has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in shorts and has broken a number of records related to cold exposure. He now teaches others how to control breathing, heart rate and blood circulation using drastic temperatures. His method is the extreme; he approaches healing utilizing “water cures” and his practices of cold-water immersion have turned many into believers.
There is an accessible approach in our desert climate to experience the immediate benefit from cold therapy. Perhaps during an upcoming outdoor adventure such as biking, hiking or time at the park, you could prepare a cooler with ice and water. Finish an outdoor jaunt by submerging your feet in a cold igloo bath. We can experience “kneipping” without a great deal of time or expense. “Kneipping” is good for the sole and soul!
Jennifer Di Francesco is a wellness explorer and desert adventurist and can be reached at www.coachellabellaboho.com.