Healing from Within
Nature Cure, also known as naturopathy, is a combination of a variety of natural therapeutics and methods of healing. Passed down through the ages, this system leans upon the wisdom of the ancients as well as modern science. The curative properties of Nature's elements - the sun, air, earth, and water - are employed as natural cures.
The primary cause of all diseases, according to nature cure, is the conscious or unconscious violation of Nature's laws, and disease in reality is a self-purifying effort by the body to heal itself.
Nature cure professes that what affect one part affects the entire body, no matter by what name the disease is called. The body is a complete entity and reacts to a disease in toto; it must therefore, be treated as a whole and not in parts.
All healing comes from within the body itself. There are self-curative forces inherent in the human body working towards health and healing; the physician through his nature cure techniques lends only an intelligent assistance.
Through the Ages.
Ancient civilizations believed that some disorders of the human body could be cured or relieved through natural stimuli and without the use of any drug. They regularly turned to herbal remedies, therapeutic diets, hydrotherapy, and exercise for cures, discovering that many a time, pain in the abdomen or a stomach upset was relieved by abstaining from food; aches and pains were relieved with the application of warm fomentation; fresh air and sunshine provided as much vigor and strength to a patient suffering from a chronic disease as they did to a person in normal health. Fresh air and sunshine, use of water at bearable extremes of temperature, fasting, and so on were used as agents to promote health or to cure disease in ancient India, Egypt, and Greece. The Great Bath of the Indus civilization at Mohenjo-daro, the elaborate baths during the Roman times, and the hamams or saunas of the Mughal period in India are witness to the popularity of such methods.
The nature cure movement found support from enthusiasts in Germany and some other countries of Europe in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Priessnitz, Schroth, Kuhne, Father Kneippe, Bilz, Ehret, and Planton were pioneers in this field. America also made contributions in this direction through the efforts and enthusiasm of men like Lindlahr and Kellogg. While pioneers like Priessnitz in Europe relied mainly on physical exercise, Fresh Mountain air, and water from the brooks, Lindlahr of America made use of all the other methods and procedures as well, so as to give nature cure the shape of a system of medicine. The term Naturopathy was coined by a nineteenth century German homeopath, John H. Scheel.
Indian religious texts like the Vedas and Upanishads lay the greatest stress on living in harmony with Nature and making use of natural stimuli for promotion of health and cure of disease.
In recent times, Gandhi ji was one of the greatest propagators of nature cure methods. He stuck to these methods even when his own health or that of his near and dear ones was in danger due to serious illness. He summed up his belief in these methods in the following words:
'Uptil the year 1901, although I did not rush to doctors whenever I happened to get ill, I did use their remedies to a certain extent. I used to take fruit salt for constipation. The late Dr Pran Jivan Mehta, who had come to Natal, introduced me to certain drugs to remove general lassitude. This led me to read literature on the uses of drugs. Add to this a little more knowledge I gained by a certain amount of work I had put in at a cottage hospital in Natal. This enabled me to carry on for some time, but none of the drugs did me any good in the end. Headaches and loss of a sense of general well being persisted. I was very dissatisfied with this state of things and what little faith I had in medicines began to fade.
'All through this interval, my experiments in dietetics continued. I had great faith in nature cure methods, but there was nobody to help me with practical Guidance in their use. With the help of whatever knowledge I could gather by reading a little of nature cure literature, I tried to treat myself by diet regulation. My habit of going out for long walks also stood me in good stead, and thanks to that habit I did not have actually to take to bed. While I was thus managing to keep myself going somehow, Mr. Polak handed me Just 's book, called Return to Nature. He did not follow Just 's instructions himself, except that he tried to regulate his diet more or less according to Just 's teaching. But knowing me as he did, he thought I would like the book.
'It was over thirty years ago that my second son suffered from double pneumonia and high fever, resulting in delirium. I had a medical friend advising me as to his condition. I would not, much to his sorrow, try his prescription. But I tried water cure. I used to put him in wet sheet packs when the fever shot up very high. After six or seven days the temperature went down. So far as I remember I gave him nothing but water. But it is just possible that I gave him orange juice also, but nothing else. Typhoid supervened. It lasted 42 days. There was no treatment beyond simple nursing. I gave him milk and water for food. He had daily sponges. He was completely cured and is today the strongest and healthiest of all my four sons. At least this much might be said of the treatment that he was none the worse for it.'
Nature cure clinics now flourish in both big and small cities in India, and people, both rich and poor, come to them to seek cures for their diseases or to promote their health through the methods prescribed and taught in these clinics.
How Nature Cure Works
The primary cause of all disease, according to nature cure, is a conscious or unconscious violation of Nature's laws. This may be in thinking, breathing, eating, drinking, dressing, working, and resting, as also in moral, social, and sexual conduct.
Lindlahr stated: 'Every acute disease is the result of the cleansing and healing effect of Nature. If you suppress the acute conditions by drugs or by any other means, you are simply laying the foundation for chronic diseases. All diseases, from a simple cold to skin eruptions, diarrhea, fever, and so on, represent Nature's effort to remove from the system some of the morbid matter, some poison dangerous to health and life.'
According to the philosophy of nature cure, it is not the germs that initiate disease; they appear and flourish only where there is a morbid accumulation of waste matter. When morbid waste products in the body are so many that the self-curative force (vitality) works at low ebb, Nature loses its fight and disease sets in.
The basic principle of nature cure is that all healing comes from within the body itself as the body strives to maintain human body equilibrium. Disease indicates that the human body is working towards health and healing. The physician through his nature cure techniques should enhance and not prevent or interfere with this healing.
Nature cure procedures accomplish this aim by assisting nature in removing the accumulated waste products from
the body. They stimulate the organs of elimination towards better functioning and, thus, restore to diseased and disordered organs their normal tone, blood supply, glandular activity, and so on. They also intend to bring back to normal, the abnormal physical and mental habits of the patient so as to stop further harm to the body and to teach him to live in harmony with Nature, not in opposition to it.
In nature cure, there is a unity of disease and treatment. Since the body is considered to be a complete entity, which reacts to a disease as a whole, treatment is geared towards the body as a whole too. However, there must be sufficient inherent vitality left in the patient for the body to react towards a cure.
Breathing exercises are recommended not only in cases of disturbances of respiration such as in bronchial asthma, but in all cases. Skin treatment through air, sun, and water is prescribed to improve the functions of the skin in all types of cases, and not only in those relating to skin diseases such as eczema. Dietetic advice is given to all patients, not only to those who suffer from indigestion or dyspepsia. Furthermore, different techniques in nature cure are started at the same time, not one after the other.
Various natural stimuli activate the body in different grades of intensity. Cold water is considered a stronger stimulus than lukewarm water. A cold compress acts as a milder stimulus if it covers only a small area of the body; it acts as a drastic stimulus if it covers the skin from the neck downwards. The sun at midday acts as a stronger stimulus than it does in the morning. Variation in the size of the exposed area to the sun and the length of the exposure change the intensity of the stimulus applied. With regard to diet and fasting, the most drastic stimulus is a diet comprising only water; a less severe fast is a diet of fruit juices only; the severity gets reduced with a raw-fruit diet and even less when raw vegetables are added. Cooked vegetables, whole meal bread, and milk products act only as very mild stimuli.
The stimulus has to be adjusted according to each individual, the aim being to evoke a response. The factors to be considered are the seriousness of the problem, and the patient's ability to respond to the stimulus. In order to judge the extent of the expected response, the patient's constitution, habits, age, and other factors are taken into consideration. People differ inherently in their response to the stimulus of heat or cold. The ability to perspire also shows wide constitutional differences. Furthermore, those who are used to washing or taking a bath with cold water can stand a large cold compress better than those who are not used to it. Those who have lived on simple foods in the past are not expected to react well to a regimen which contains raw and partially cooked vegetables and milk products, whilst this would constitute a strong stimulus in those who have all along taken meat, fish, and pastry. Babies cannot tolerate exposure to cold or a dry diet; they require warmth, and liquids to prevent dehydration. Very old people cannot fast for a long time and are often sensitive to cold; since they also tire more easily, they can do physical exercise only in moderation. It is between these extremes of age that all degrees of tolerance are met.
Nature cure places great emphasis on daily cleanliness, physical exercise, relaxation, and regulation of diet for maintaining and restoring health. It also includes the use of water, earth, air, and sunshine in different forms. Some naturopaths also include massage and manipulation as stimuli.
Daily physical exercise is essential for physical and mental health. It helps in the assimilation of food that is eaten and in the elimination of waste matter; it tones up muscles and enhances blood circulation in all parts of the body. In India, many nature cure centers make use of yogic kriyas such as dhautis (cleansing of the stomach), netis (cleansing of the nose), and asanas for keeping the body fit.
A well-balanced diet containing proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals in correct proportions according to the needs of the person, is very essential. The food should not, as far as possible, be greatly altered from its natural state by overcooking and over-seasoning.
All edible things are divided into two categories: alkali-forming and acid-forming. Milk, fruits, and vegetables are considered as alkali forming; while meat, eggs, and cereals are acid forming. A predominance of alkali-producing articles in the diet is considered desirable.
Fasting: Accumulation of waste products in the body either due to overeating or due to faulty digestion and assimilation, is considered one of the major causes of ill health. Fasting is the best way to eliminate these waste products.
To begin with, absolute abstinence from food is recommended. After this, fruit juice in limited quantities is allowed. No hard and fast rules are set down to determine the duration of a fast. Each individual case is handled according to one's own needs. Foul breath, a coated tongue, and a bad taste in the mouth are said to be the first symptoms to appear when one fasts. They are worse in those who are heavily loaded with waste products. These symptoms continue till the work of elimination is completed. While reducing the body weight a little, a fast adds to the individual's zest and health. The good effects of fasting are enhanced by a preliminary cleaning of the bowels, which is usually carried out by an enema or bowel wash.
Hydrotherapy (Use of Water): Water is used at different temperatures and in different forms for treatment. Cold water causes the small blood vessels of the skin to contract and produces pallor and coldness. But soon afterwards, the contracted blood vessels expand and the increase in the blood supply brings redness, thus dispelling pallor. It is not the initial but the later effect of cold water - the stimulating and tonic effect - that is made use of. A cold water bath is given to patients to invigorate the body and to strengthen the vital force. Gradually, as and when the patient can bear it, the temperature of the cold water is lowered further.
Cold water is also made use of in the form of wet sheet packs. This is very useful in cases of high fever. The method described by Gandhiji is as follows: 'Three or four thick, broad, woolen blankets are spread on a cot and on top of them is put a thick cotton sheet dipped in cold water with the water wrung out. The patient lies flat on the wet sheet with his head resting on a pillow outside the sheet. The wet sheet and the blankets are wrapped round the patient covering the whole body except the head, which is covered with a damp towel treated in the same manner as the wet sheet. The air outside cannot get inside and vice versa. Though the patient feels a gentle shock when first laid in the wet sheet pack, he finds it pleasant afterwards. In a minute or two, he begins to feel warm. Unless the fever has become chronic, in about five minutes, it begins to come down with sweating. Sometimes there is no sweating, but the patient goes off to sleep. In that case he should not be awakened. The sleep indicates that the wet sheet pack has produced a soothing effect and he is quite comfortable. The temperature invariably falls at least by one --- two degrees as a result of the wet sheet pack.'
Cold water is also used for a hipbath. A hipbath is recommended for lowering temperature in cases of fever, besides other things. A special tub is used for this purpose. The tub is filled with fresh water so that it does not overflow when the patient sits in it. In summer, ice-cold water may be used to give a gentle shock to the patient. The patient sits in the tub keeping her feet outside. The parts of the body outside the water are kept well covered so that the patient does not feel cold. After the patient is comfortably seated in the tub, gentle friction is applied to her abdomen with a soft towel. This bath can be taken from five to thirty minutes. When it is over, the body is rubbed dry and the patient put to bed.
Application of hot water to the skin prepares the body for the application of cold. The reactive power of the body is greatly increased if preliminary heating has taken place. In cases of fatigue or rheumatism, or in anemic and enfeebled persons, the preliminary heating of the skin proves more efficacious. Hot baths also relax and soothes the body and prove effective in relieving pain. Alternate hot and cold water baths are the most stimulating.
Steam is also a very valuable therapeutic agent. It is used for making the patient sweat. Steam baths are helpful in cases of rheumatism and other joint pains. A steam bath is usually given by making the patient sit in a wooden box into which steam is passed by means of a tube. A simpler method is to make the patient lie down on a sparsely but tightly woven cot and cover him up with a blanket or two. One or two vessels filled with boiling water are placed underneath the cot. The blankets covering the patient hang down from the sides of the cot in such a manner that the steam does not escape. An angithi (stove) can be kept under the pot to keep the water boiling. This ensures the continuous discharge of steam, but care should be taken to guard against any accidents.
Mud Packs or a Poultice: Mudpacks are one of the important methods of nature cure. Gandhiji popularized this method in India. He used it initially in cases of constipation. For this purpose, a mud poultice is made by mixing some clean dry earth with water and then packing it in a piece of thin cloth, 3 inches broad, 6 inches long, and 1/2 inch thick. This is kept on the abdomen throughout the night or early in the morning.
In high fever, an application of the mud poultice on the head and abdomen is very useful. Although it does not always bring down the temperature, it does soothe the patient and make him feel better. A mud poultice applied on the head also relieves headache.
Sun Bath: A sunbath has been found to be efficacious especially in cases of chronic diseases. In cases of debility, exposure of the uncovered body to the morning surf acts as an all-round general tonic and accelerates the metabolism. Before antibiotic treatment of tuberculosis was discovered, a sunbath was recommended in such cases. Certain other treatments are frequently combined with natural therapy. They can be classified as auxiliary methods or valuable aids. An important one is massage. Some nature cure physicians make use of electrotherapy, light-therapy, and chemotherapy as well.
Step-by-step Approach: When a patient approaches a nature cure physician, the latter notes down a brief history of the patient, trying, in particular, to find out the constitutional peculiarities of the patient: his food habits, his regimen regarding physical exercise and sleep, his appetite, bowel movements, and so on. This is necessary in order to assess how the patient will respond to different natural stimuli.
The physical examination is carried out mainly to assess the general vitality of the patient. Hardly any investigations are asked for. The blood pressure is taken sometimes so as to assess the general vitality and the intensity of the stimuli that the patient would be able to tolerate. The exact diagnosis of the disease that the patient is suffering from is not essential, the treatment measures being meant to increase the vitality of the body as a whole.
Treatment intends to eliminate excessive and harmful waste products from the body, in particular, from the intestines, so as to strengthen the general vitality step- by-step.
Depending upon the assessment of the vitality of the patient, he is initially put on a fast, usually for three days, during which he is allowed only limewater when needed. After that, he is allowed to take fruit juice too. Only after a week or so, is he put on a small quantity of cereals such as one or two chapattis a day, plus lightly-cooked vegetables without any extra salt. This diet is continued. A majority of the patients feel light and invigorated, even though they may lose some weight in the process.
An enema is given regularly for a thorough cleaning of the bowels even if the patient is not constipated. After the patient has passed his stool in the morning, he is given enema with limewater. This is done daily for a week. If a patient is constipated, mud plasters are kept on the lower abdomen at night or during the early hours of the morning.
Neti (cleansing of the nose) and dhauti (cleansing of the stomach), part of the shat-kriyas of yoga are carried out in patients where necessary.
Physical exercises, including those of yoga, are given to the patient keeping in view how many of them he can tolerate comfortably. This is intended to build up the stamina of the patient.
Alternative hot and cold baths are given, starting with a hot bath at a temperature slightly above that of the atmosphere, and then with cold water slightly lower in temperature than the general outside temperature. The intensity of hot and cold water is increased gradually. Whether the bath should be taken daily or on alternate days, and how high or low the temperature of the bath water should be, depends upon the general vitality of the patient. Exposure to excessive cold is avoided. A general body massage of the body to relax the body is done.
Often diets that cause excessive mucus formation, such as those comprising ghee, milk, banana, rice are restricted. A light diet is usually recommended, comprising vegetarian food, plus milk. Meat in any form, and tea and coffee are avoided.
Precautions and Prospects
Naturopathy can treat many problems. However, a disease in an acute stage, an emergency, broken limbs, surgery, and open wounds all require the attention of allopathy.
Moreover, there has to be a perfect understanding between the naturopath and the patient. If the latter is unwilling to follow the prescribed regimen, the benefits of the treatment will fall short of being satisfactory.
The problems facing nature cure methods have been summed up succinctly by Gandhiji: 'Although the medical profession has taken up some things from nature cure methods, on the whole, they have given a cold shoulder to naturopathy. In my opinion, both the parties are to be blamed for this state of affairs. The medical profession has got into the habit of confining itself to whatever is, included in its own curriculum. It presents an attitude of indifference, if not that of contempt, for anything that lies outside its groove.
'On the other hand, the naturopaths nurse a feeling of grievance against the medicos, and in spite of their
very limited scientific knowledge, they make tall claims. They lack the spirit of organization. Each one is self-satisfied and works by himself instead of all pouring their resources for the advancement of their system.
'The medical profession should not be expected to put faith, all of a sudden, in things which are yet to be fully tested and scientifically proved.'
Keeping fit or being cured through nature cure is undoubtedly a long-drawn process, which can take not only months but years. Furthermore, nature cure demands personal determination and exercising strict control on diet. It requires the patient to abstain from rich foods, alcohol, smoking, and drinking tea and coffee. If the patient can follow this regimen diligently and consistently, he will stand to benefit greatly. Unfortunately, a majority of the patients give up the nature cure regimen as soon as they get a little well and revert to their old ways of eating and living. In no time they are back exactly where they were before commencing the treatment. The scope of success, therefore, lies in the determination of the patient to a great extent.