Why Contrast Hydrotherapy?
Many health practitioners talk about the benefits of dry skin brushing to promote lymphatic circulation and support detoxification, but contrast hydrotherapy is hands down a more powerful practice in my experience, as it has broader reaching health benefits.
Contrast Hydrotherapy is part of a family of spa therapies popularized in the 1800s, but originating in ancient medical practices from Egypt, Greece and Rome. The Spa concept has always had a direct relationship with baths, fountains, and natural springs. The quintessential European Spa was a natural place people visited to restore their health through water therapy and bathing. In ancient Greek and Roman society, water therapy was an integral part of gymnasium sports and military training to aid in recovery and physical performance.
In modern sports medicine, contrast hydrotherapy has similarly proven to improve recovery following high intensity exercise, reduce fatigue and muscle soreness, and benefit subsequent performance levels. The therapeutic effects of contrast hydrotherapy are due in part to enhanced blood clearance of lactic acid when compared to passive recovery in clinical studies.
Classical water therapy involves a range of different water immersions including: cold fresh water; sea water (thalassotherapy); and thermal water (balneotherapy). Contrast hydrotherapy specifically involves body immersion in alternating hot and cold water. The alternation between temperatures provides the individual benefits from both heat and cold, as well as the combined effect of improved circulation and lymphatic drainage. Although the mechanisms are not completely understood, the repeated cycles of vasoconstriction from cold exposure and vasodilation from heat exposure, have both short and long term benefits on the vascular, immune and lymphatic systems.
The Benefits of Hot + Cold Immersion
Therapeutic heat exposure encourages blood flow, reduces muscle tension, and promotes tissue oxygenation and nutrition to help speed up the tissue healing process. Therapeutic cold exposure has a tonic effect on the blood vessels, reducing blood flow, inflammation, swelling, edema and pain sensation.
An interesting fact about short-term cold exposure is that it excites the sympathetic nervous system and acts like a positive stressor on the body. Cold stress activates circulating immune cells, stimulates thermogenesis and brown fat activity, and increases brain and blood levels of endorphins and noradrenaline. These biochemical changes result in an immediate boost in mood, alertness, energy and analgesia much like a coffee but without the side effects or chemical dependency.
Putting It Into Practice
Contrast hydrotherapy is an important part of my overall health strategy and a key support therapy during my annual Spring detox. I will use it at any time of the year when I need a boost in physical recovery, energy, mood or pain reduction. My at-home version simply involves a shower immersion in alternating hot and cold water.
Here is how it’s done:
I immerse each segment of my body, slowly one at a time, starting with hot water for a total 1-2 minutes. I follow with immersion in cold water for 1-2 minutes. I complete 2 full rounds. Sometimes I end in cold water to feel refreshed, or I end in warm water to feel relaxed.
I will often combine hydrotherapy with dry skin brushing or wet exfoliation to give my skin an added glow, followed by an application of organic body lotion or oil.
With practice cold tolerance develops and cold exposure becomes increasingly more appealing once you have felt and experienced the incredible vitality it provides. For the beginner, I would try a narrower temperature range moving from warm to cool to get used to the effects. People with any type of vascular disease or Diabetes should approach this practice with due caution and discuss it with your doctor first.