Water therapy has been around since the beginning of our time on this earth. In one way or another, water has been soothing our souls and easing our bodies since we were born. From the warmth and safety of our mother’s body to a soothing and relaxing soak in a hot tub on vacation, we know water can calm our minds and relieve stress. But water therapies go even deeper than that. Here’s how they work, plus a step-by-step method to design your own water therapy at home or to find a facility for water therapy, including water aerobics and active water sports, in your community.
Water is a substance that does something for our bodies like nothing else: it supports us while at the same time allowing us to work harder. The density of water creates a mild resistance to whatever we are doing, making our muscles work harder as we run across a pool than they would if we were jogging across a parking lot. At the same time, water supports us so that we can focus all our attention on the muscles being worked, not the muscles used for balance. As an added bonus, slipping and falling while in a pool is generally less injurious than slipping and falling on the road. This may offer comfort to those who are nervous about starting a new exercise program.
If you don’t have access to a pool, you can still use water as therapy in your home.
Step 1: Assemble your gear
You will not simply be sitting back and relaxing (although there will be plenty of time for that). Grab a tennis ball, a strap or a belt, and Epsom salts.
Step 2: Run a bath at a temperature between 92 and 100 degrees
If you have cardiovascular issues, water any hotter than this may exacerbate that condition. If you are pregnant, heating the body is not advised, so talk to your doctor. It is generally considered safe to take baths with many medical conditions, but if you have any questions, talk to your doctor.
Step 3: Add Epsom salts
The magnesium and sulfate in Epsom salts (not actually salt at all but a mineral compound named for a spring in Surrey, England) are absorbed easily in the body and help with a number of conditions. Magnesium helps fight inflammation and sulfates help flush toxins and relieve migraines. Even if all you did was sit in the bath, you’d still be getting tremendous benefit.
Step 4: Water therapy time
There are a number of easy exercises to complete in the bath. Places the tennis ball at your upper back and roll it around by pressing your back into the tub, loosening muscles. Go slowly, lingering on any spots that are more tender. Breathe slowly and deeply as you do this. Let the tennis ball slide to your middle back and do the same, and finally move to your lower back, pressing navel to spine as you round your lower back to massage it with the tennis ball.
Continuing with the tennis ball, repeat this same rolling, massaging motion on your thighs and calves, ending with your feet, rolling and massaging the inner and outer arches of the feet. Try to wrap all of your toes around the tennis ball, then flex your toes, then wrap them again. Put the tennis ball aside.
Take your strap with both hands and loop it around the balls of your feet. Straighten your legs in front of you and slowly bend towards your legs, keeping your back straight. If you are fairly flexible, inhale deeply, then lower yourself forward, blowing bubbles in the water. If your hamstrings are tight, just relax and breathe for five slow breaths and try to concentrate on not clenching or holding any muscles.
Release the strap from your left foot, keeping it wrapped around your right foot. Bend your left foot up and place the foot on the bottom of the tub next to your right inner thigh. Take a deep breath, then as you exhale fold toward your right leg. Again, try to keep your back straight; imagine you are extending your heart toward your right toes instead of down to the leg. Hold for five breaths, then switch sides.
Step 5: Relax in mindfulness
The benefits of mindfulness meditation are myriad, and your home water therapy is a great place to start. Take ten minutes and release all effort. Focus on steady, even breathing and the feel of the water touching your skin. The goal is not to empty your mind but to just relax with whatever thoughts come and then let them go. Breathe evenly and deeply, and let the water support you.
Step 6: Beyond the bath
If you are looking for more active water therapies or would prefer to take a group aerobic class, there are many ways to get started. Your community pool or local YMCA may offer classes for a nominal fee. You might find water therapy classes offered at your local hospital or physical rehabilitation centers. Before starting a water therapy class, there are a few things that may be helpful to know.
- Read your class choices carefully: If you want to participate in a water therapy group that is active, taking a class for seniors may not be the best choice for you.
- Observe a class: Sit in on a class to see how the instructor interacts with the people taking it. This can also help you see what the pace of the class is like and if it might be something you are interested in.
- Talk to the instructor: Especially if you have health concerns, this can be a great way to share them and get some advice to see if the class is a good fit.
- If you need support, check into partner classes: For some people with limited mobility or lack of confidence in swimming ability, a partner class can be helpful.
- Take a sample class: Rather than sign up for a series, see if you can drop in to try one class out.
- Try something new: Stand-up paddleboarding? Water polo? Water volleyball? If you are looking for a fun fitness class, not just water aerobics or swimming, see if there is a facility near you that offers these fun in (and on) the water activities. They can be a great way to mix up your fitness routine, and they definitely prove that water therapy is for all ages and abilities!
Water therapy at home or in a class can be a relaxing and fun way to increase fitness, rehab an injury, and improve mood and stamina. Have you ever done water therapy?
Image by Kenny Holston via Flickr