Kneipp wellness is a holistic system for overall health developed by Sebastian Kneipp, a nineteenth-century Bavarian priest. His approach included aspects of hydrotherapy, herbalism, and aerobic exercise.
Sebastian Kneipp was born to a poor family in Stephansreid, Bavaria, on May 17, 1821. He initially took up his father's trade of weaving, but longed to become a priest. With help from a sympathetic clergyman, he was admitted to high school as a mature student, but after five years of intensive studies, Kneipp became seriously ill with pulmonary tuberculosis. At that time, the disease was usually fatal, but Kneipp came across an eighteenth-century book about hydrotherapy that inspired him during the winter of 1849 to immerse himself several times a week in the icy Danube River. These brief exposures to cold water seemed to bolster his immune system, because Kneipp's tuberculosis went into remission and he was able to continue his theological studies in Munich. There, he convinced some of his fellow students to join his experiments with hydrotherapy.
Kneipp was ordained as a priest in 1852. In that capacity, he began using hydrotherapy to help some of his poorer parishioners. He broadened his approach to include herbalism, exercise, and other elements, and toned down his initial enthusiasm for shocking the body with cold water. "I warn all against too-frequent application of cold water," he later wrote. "Three times I concluded to remodel my system and relax the treatment from severity to mildness and thence to greater mildness still." Kneipp's reputation grew after a number of dying patients recovered when he was called to administer last rites and managed instead to restore them to health. In 1855 he was assigned to Worishofen, a village in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps that soon developed an international reputation as a place of healing. Kneipp summarized his teachings in two popular books, My Water Cure in 1886 and So Sollt Ihr Leben (Thus Thou Shalt Live) in 1889. Supporters of his techniques formed Kneipp Societies in Germany and the United States.
FATHER SEBASTIAN KNEIPP 1821–1897
Born in Stephansreid, Bavaria, Germany, of poor parents, Sebastian Kneipp's childhood was filled with labor, much of it learning weaving from his father. Even as a child, Kneipp wanted to become a priest. With the help of a priest who befriended him, Kneipp entered high school where he studied theology for five years. During this time, he contracted consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis), usually a fatal disease at that time. While ill, he read an eighteenth-century book on hydrotherapy by Dr. Hahn. This book advised him to bathe two or three times a week in the icy Danube River to stimulate his immune system. His tuberculosis went into remission, his health improved, and in 1850, he entered a seminary in Munich. He continued his hydrotherapy and convinced other theological students to practice it. Kneipp was ordained a priest in 1852. During the next few years, he was called to the bedsides of many patients to perform the last rites. Instead he successfully treated a number of the patients with hydrotherapy.
He perfected his own system of hydrotherapy and his successful treatment of the poor attracted much attention. People came from throughout Germany to be healed by Kneipp's hydrotherapy. His success fostered resentment from physicians; at one point, he was charged in German courts with quackery, where he was subsequently acquitted. In 1886, he published My Water Cure, which was translated into several languages and became popular throughout Europe. He continued to refine his treatment from one of severity to milder versions. It consisted of bathing in and drinking cold water, going to bed and rising early, long barefoot walks in wet grass, and simple meals consisting of little meat and large quantities of whole-grain cereals. He continued his hydrotherapy practice at Wörishofen Monastery in the foothills of the Alps until his death. Kneipp's hydrotherapy is still practiced throughout the world, especially in Germany and the United States.
Ken R. Wells
Father Kneipp was later named a monsignor by Pope Leo XIII. After his death in Worishofen on June 17, 1897, his wellness techniques became less popular, but interest in hydrotherapy increased again during the latter part of the twentieth century.
Proponents of Kneipp therapy believe that it bolsters the immune system and results in improved overall wellness. In Germany, it is especially popular for treating varicose veins.
Today, Kneipp physiotherapy is essentially a form of classical naturopathy. It is founded on five "pillars":
- Hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy involves the use of hot and cold water to stimulate the nerves, blood vessels and internal organs. It uses baths, compresses, packs, and water jets.
- Phytotherapy. Plant therapy takes the form of medicinal herbs added to bath water and also administered as juices, lozenges, teas, or ointments, etc.
- Exercise therapy. This aspect of treatment involves long hikes, gymnastics, tennis, cycling, and other vigorous activities to amplify the effects of the water and herb therapies.
- Nutrition therapy, which employs a low-protein, highfiber diet. Special Kneipp diets are also available for weight loss or such ailments as gout, diabetes, or metabolic problems.
- Health maintenance therapy. Patients in the Kneipp program are trained to adhere to their natural biorhythms.
All forms of hydrotherapy may pose some risk of water-borne infections, and patients should make sure that baths and similar facilities are properly maintained and disinfected. In addition, persons with serious health problems should consult their physician before undertaking an exercise program.
Side effects may vary, depending on the numerous herbs used in Kneipp therapy. When in doubt, it is best to consult a knowledgeable herbalist.
Research & general acceptance
Initially, Kneipp was rejected as a charlatan by the medical establishment. At one point, he was taken to court for quackery, although the judge acquitted him after learning from Kneipp about the shortage of physicians in Alpine villages. Kneipp is now recognized by naturopaths as a founding father of their discipline. The benefits of immersion in water are wellknown to physiotherapists, but there is so far little conclusive evidence that Kneipp or other methods of hydrotherapy can increase the body's immunity. One German study published in 1977 found that immunological reactions to protein and bacterial antigens were significantly more intense in patients who had undergone Kneipp hydrotherapy, compared with a group of healthy volunteers. There is little doubt among medical doctors that patients should benefit from the vigorous exercise and high-fiber diet included in the Kneipp prescription for wellness.
Training & certification
The world center of Kneipp wellness is the village of Bad Worishofen in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. There, the Kneipp Kur is offered by spas, physicians, and guest houses. Healer training is provided by the Sebastian Kneipp School of Physiotherapy. Elsewhere in the world, many adherents of Kneipp's writings treat themselves by using his techniques.
Kneipp Corporation of America. 105-107 Stonehurst Court. Northvale, NJ 07647. (201) 750-0600 or (800) 937-4372. http://www.kniepp.com.
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