A Guide to Health/Part 2/Chapter 2

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A Guide to Health  (1921) 
Mohandas K. Gandhi, translated by A. Rama Iyer
Water Cure
S. Ganesan pages 86-95

Chapter II


Since air is invisible, we cannot perceive the wonderful way in which it does its work. But the work of water and its curative effects can be easily seen and understood.

All people know something of the use of steam as a curative agent. We often employ it in cases of fever, and very often severe head-aches can be cured only by its application. In cases of rheumatic pain in the joints, rapid relief is obtained by the use of steam followed by a cold bath. Boils and ulcers not cured by simple dressing with ointments can be completely healed by the application of steam.

In case of extreme fatigue, a steam-bath or a hot water bath immediately followed by a cold bath will be found very effective. So too, in cases of sleeplessness, instant relief is often obtained by sleeping in the open air after a steam-bath followed by a cold bath.

Hot water can always be used as a substitute for steam. When there is severe pain in the stomach, instant relief is obtained by warming with a bottle filled with boiling water placed over a thick cloth wrapped round the waist. Whenever there is a desire to vomit, it can be done by drinking plenty of hot water. Those who are suffering from constipation often derive great benefit by drinking a glass of hot water either at bedtime or soon after rising and cleaning the teeth in the morning. Sir Gordon Spring attributed his excellent health to the practice of drinking a glass of hot water every day before going to bed and after getting up in the morning. The bowels of many people move only after taking tea in the morning, and they foolishly suppose that it is the tea which has produced this effect. But, as a matter of fact, tea only does harm, and it is really the hot water in the tea that moves the bowels.

A special kind of cot is often used for steambaths, but it is not quite essential. A spirit or kerosine oil stove, or a wood or coal fire, would be kept burning under an ordinary cane chair. Over the fire should be placed a vessel of water with the mouth covered; and over the chair a sheet or blanket is so spread that it may hang down in the front and protect the patient from the heat of the fire. Then the patient should be seated in the chair and wrapped round with sheets or blankets. Then the vessel should be uncovered, so that the patient may be exposed to the steam issuing from it. Our common practice of covering the head also of the patient is a needless precaution. The heat of the steam presses through the body right up to the head, and gives rise to profuse perspiration on the face. If the patient is too weak to sit up, he may be made to lie down on a cot with interstices, taking care to see that some of the steam escapes. Of course, care should also be taken to see that the patient's clothes or the blankets used do not catch fire; and due consideration should be paid to the state of the patient's health, as an inconsiderate application of steam is fraught with danger. The patient, indeed, feels weak after a steam bath, but this weakness does not last long. Too frequent use of steam, however, enfeebles the constitution, and it is of the highest importance to apply steam with due deliberation. Steam may also be applied to any single part of the body; in cases of headache, for instance, there is no need to expose the whole body to the steam. The head should be held just over a narrow-mouthed jar of boiling water, and wrapped round with a cloth. Then the steam should be inhaled through the nose so that it may ascend into the head. If the nasal passage is blocked, it will also be opened by this process. Likewise, if there be inflamation in any part of the body, it alone need be exposed to the steam.

Very few realise the curative value of cold water, in spite of the fact that it is even more valuable in this respect than hot water, and can be made use of by even the weakest persons. In fever, small-pox, and skin-diseases, the application of a sheet dipped in cold water is very beneficial, and often produces startling results; and anybody may try it without the least risk. Dizziness or delirium can be instantly relieved by tying round the head a cloth dipped in melted ice. People suffering from constipation often derive great benefit by tying round the stomach for some time a piece of cloth dipped in melted ice. Involuntary seminal discharges can also be often prevented by the same means. Bleeding in any part of the body may be stopped by the application of a bandage dipped in ice-cold water. Bleeding from the nose is stopped by pouring cold water over the head. Nasal diseases, cold and headache, may be cured by drawing pure, cold water up the nose. The water may be drawn through one nostril and discharged through the other, or drawn through both nostrils and discharged through the mouth. There is no harm in the water going even into the stomach provided the nostrils are clean. And indeed, this is the best way to keep the nostrils clean. Those who are unable to draw the water up the nostrils may use a syringe, but after a few attempts, it can be done quite easily. All should learn to do this, since it is very simple, and at the same time a most effective remedy against headaches, bad smells in the nose, as well as dirty accumulations in the nasal passage.

Many people are afraid of taking an enema, and some even think that the body is weakened by it; but such fears are baseless. There is no more effective means of producing an instant evacuation of the bowels. It has proved effective in many diseases where all other remedies have been futile; it thoroughly cleans the bowels, and prevents the accumulation of poisonous matter. If those who suffer from rheumatic complaints or indigestion or pains caused by an unhealthy condition of the bowels take an enema of 2 lbs. of water, they would see how instantaneous is its effect. One writer on this subject says that once he was suffering from chronic indigestion and, all remedies proving futile, he had grown emaciated, but the application of the enema at once restored him his appetite, and altogether cured him of his complaint in a few days. Even ailments like jaundice can be cured by the application of the enema. If the enema has to be frequently employed, cold water should be used, for the repeated use of hot water is likely to enfeeble the constitution.

Dr. Louis Kuhne of Germany has, after repeated experiments, arrived at the conclusion that water-cure is the best for all diseases. His books on this subject are so popular that they are now available in almost all the languages of the world, including those of India. He contends that the abdomen is the seat of all diseases. When there is too much heat in the abdomen, it manifests itself in the form of fever, rheumatism, eruptions on the body, and the like. The efficacy of watercure had, indeed, been recognised by several people long before Kuhne, but it was he who, for the first time, pointed out the common origin of all diseases. His views need not be accepted by us in their entirety, but it is an undoubted fact that his principles and methods have proved effective in many diseases. To give only one instance out of many that have come within my experience, in a bad case of rheumatism, a thorough cure was effected by Kuhne's system, after all other remedies had been tried, and had proved utterly ineffectual.

Dr. Kuhne holds that the heat in the abdomen abates by the application of cold water, and has, therefore, prescribed the bathing of the abdomen and the surrounding parts with thoroughly cold water. And for the greater convenience of bathing, he has devised a special kind of tin bath. This, however, is not quite indispensable; the tin tubs of an oval shape and of different sizes to suit people of different heights, available in our bazaars, will do equally well. The tub should be filled threefourths with cold water, and the patient should seat himself in it in such a fashion that his feet and the upper part of the body remain outside the water, and the rest of the body up to the hips inside it. The feet may preferably be placed on a low foot-stool. The patient should sit in the water quite naked, but, if he feels cold, the feet and the upper part of the body should be covered with a blanket. If a shirt is worn, it should be kept entirely outside the water. The bath should be taken in a room where there is plenty of fresh air and light. The patient should then slowly rub (or cause to be rubbed) the abdomen with a small rough towel from 5 to 30 minutes or more. The effect is instantly felt in most cases. In cases of rheumatism, the wind in the stomach escapes in the form of eructations and the like, and in cases of fever, the thermometre falls by one or two degrees. The bowels are readily cleaned by this process; fatigue disappears; sleeplessness is removed, and extreme drowsiness gives place to vigour. This contrariness of result is more apparent than real; for want of sleep, and the excess of it, are both brought on by the same cause. So too, dysentery and constipation, which are both the outcome of indigestion, are cured by this method. Piles of long standing can also be got rid of by this bath, with proper regulation of diet. Those who are troubled by the necessity for constant spitting should at once resort to this treatment for a cure. By its means the weak can become strong; and even chronic rheumatism has been cured by it. It is also an effective remedy for haemorrhages, headaches, and blood-poisoning. Kuhne prescribes it as an invaluable remedy even for diseases like the cancer. A pregnant woman who takes to it regularly will have an easy child-birth. In short, all persons, without distinction of age or sex, can take to it with advantage.

There is another kind of bath, known as the "Wet-Sheet-Pack", which is an unfailing remedy for various diseases. This bath is taken in the following manner. A table or chair is placed in the open air, big enough to allow of the patient lying on it at full length. On it are spread (hanging on either side) some four blankets, less or more according to the state of the weather. Over them are spread two white thick sheets well dipped in cold water, and a pillow is placed under the blankets at one end. Then the patient is stripped naked (with the exception of a small waistcloth, if he so wishes), and made to lie down on the sheets, with his hands placed in the arm-pits. Then the sheets and blankets are, one after another, wrapped round his body, taking care that the parts hanging under the feet are well tucked in so as to cover them. If the patient is exposed to the sun, a wet cloth is put over his head and face, keeping the nose always open. At first the patient will experience some shivering, but this will soon give place to an agreeably warm sensation. He can lie in this position from 5 minutes to an hour or more. After a time he begins to perspire, or at times falls asleep. Soon after coming out of the sheets he should bathe in cold-water. This is an excellent remedy for smallpox and fever, and skin-diseases like the itch, the ringworm, and pimples and blotches. Even the worst forms of chicken-pox and small-pox are completely cured by this process. People can easily learn to take the "Wet-Sheet-Pack" themselves, and to apply it to others, and can thus see for themselves its wonderful effect. As the whole dirt of the body sticks to the sheets in the process of taking this bath, they ought not to be used again without being well washed in boiling water.

Needless to say, the full benefit of these baths cannot be derived unless the rules already mentioned as to diet, exercise and the like are strictly observed. If a rheumatic patient, for instance, were to take to Kuhne's bath or to the "Wet-Sheet-Pack," while eating unwholesome food, living in impure air, and neglecting his exercise, how can he possibly derive any good out of it? It is only when accompanied by strict observance of all the laws of health that water-cure can be of any effect; and when so employed, its effects are sure and immediate.