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Massage Today
June, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 06

The Man and His Mission, Part I

By Nancy Griffin

Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part series on Sebastian Kneipp and Kneipp therapy, based on information from the Sebastian-Kneipp-Schule in Bad Wšrishofen, Germany.

Sebastian Kneipp - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark I would like to know which illnesses cannot invade someone with a weak lifestyle; illnesses which physically and mentally well balanced people make nothing of. A soft life opens the doors wide to many illnesses. -Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897) Perhaps you have run across the name Sebastian Kneipp (pronounced "knipe") in your career; you may be familiar with the Kneipp line of colorful bath products in spas across the country.

Few, however, understand the philosophy behind Kneipp and the influence this German healer has had on the spa industry and integrative medicine in the United States.

Born in 1821, the son of a poor weaver in the Bavarian region of Germany, Kneipp fell ill with pulmonary tuberculosis while studying for the priesthood. Inspired by German physician Johann Hahn, who wrote about the power and effect of fresh water on human health nearly a decade prior, Kneipp cured himself from his potentially fatal disease by taking full-immersion dips in the icy waters of the Danube and literally "shocking" his system back to health.

Using the healing system he developed through experimentation and observation, Kneipp helped cure a number of gravely ill patients (to whom he had actually been summoned to administer last rites). His unorthodox methods earned him the resentment of doctors and pharmacists; he was even arraigned before the court to answer charges of "quackery." His ecclesiastical superiors had him relocated to a small Dominican monastery at Wšrishofen, located in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. His 1886 book, My Water Cure, became a bestseller, taking Germany by storm; after it was translated, it spread throughout the world. In 1889, Kneipp published The Way You Should Live, which explained his belief in a natural, healthy lifestyle and the importance of education. He died in 1897 at the age of 75, leaving a legacy in his wake: "I want all mankind to share my knowledge."

The Five Pillars of Kneipp Therapy

Naturopathy is rooted in Kneipp's healing system. One of the most important characteristics of Kneipp therapy is to gently stimulate the body "to give nature a gentle hand," thereby strengthening the immune system and raising the body's tolerance for stress. Kneipp was a strong believer in physical exercise, simple food and a "regular style of life for body, mind and soul."

Kneipp therapy consists of:

Hydrotherapy: Water functions as a natural stimulus to the body. It increases energy and disease resistance, and improves body-awareness. The therapeutic qualities of water also have positive effects on the psyche and the nervous and hormone systems. Kneipp hydrotherapy treatments are finely adjusted to suit the individual and situation.

Herbs/Phytotherapy: Kneipp had documented, scientific research that herbs and phytotherapy have prophylactic, or healing, effects on the body. Kneipp herbal treatments can be prepared in various forms, including teas; ointments; oils; baths and herbal wraps.

Exercise/Kinesiotherapy: Sensible physical exercise stimulates important functions of the body, including the musculoskeletal; cardiovascular and nervous systems; and the digestive tract. Massage is an indispensable supplementary treatment to exercise.

Nutrition/Dietetics: Kneipp believed that nutritional diseases are avoided or cured by a well-balanced, low-fat diet consisting of fresh food prepared in such a way that its vitamins remain intact.

Lifestyle/Regulative Therapy: Lifestyle and health education are the most important part of Kneipp's doctrine. Kneipp believed it is as important to live in harmony with one's social and natural environments as it is to lead a balanced life.

The specifics of Kneipp hydrotherapy treatments will be addressed in Part II.

Click here for previous articles by Nancy Griffin.


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