Healing With Hydrotherapy: From Japan to Toronto

Without knowing it, I have been practicing hydrotherapy for years.  I lived in Japan for several years, and my top favourite culture pastime was going to Onsens, an outdoor natural hot spring.

Japanese Onsen

PHOTO CREDIT: japan-guide.com

Upon walking in, you go to a changing room and strip down to your birthday suit and then proceed to a cleaning area with only a small hand towel.

Shower Area

The cleaning area is set up with individual seated shower stalls, shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and lots of buckets which are used to get supremely clean before heading into the actual Onsen area.  Onsens are large outdoor (and sometimes indoor) baths that are heated naturally through volcanic hot springs and are a largely communal experience.

Indoor Onsen

Aside from the medicinal benefits of visiting an onsen, it becomes a therapeutic experience in of itself since it easily facilitates conversation and relaxation.  There was a Sento (synthetically heated instead of through volcanic energy) 5 minutes from my apartment in Tokyo and I visited it several times a week after work.  Being naked in a large bathtub with strangers really breaks down barriers quickly and after a few visits, the strangers became like old aunties who asked about my day and allowed me to practice my poor Japanese with them.

onsen art

Most Onsens and Sentos have various baths set up at varying temperatures and I noticed that my Japanese counterparts would often sit in piping hot water before plunging themselves into an ice-cold bath.  They always looked so invigorated after that cold bath…


The Japanese believe that Onsens have a healing effect, in part due to the high concentration of minerals present in the water (sulphur, sodium chloride, hydrogen carbonate, and iron) but also due to the healing nature hydrotherapy – using water as a form of treatment.  Participation in Onsen activity helps to relieve aches, pain, prevents disease, and can help treat various disorders and even if you don’t live in Japan, the good news is that you can bring hydrotherapy into your house in a heartbeat.

The Blue Lagoon (Iceland)

The Blue Lagoon (Iceland)

Hydrotherapy works by propelling the effect of the water’s temperature and/or pressure within the body and can aid in activating the immune system, increasing circulation, supporting digestion, and when localized, H2o can help to bring increased blood flow to a specific area.  Typically, warm water is used to calm the nerves (and the associated stress hormones) and slow the body down, whereas cold water helps to stimulate the mind and body.  Just try submerging yourself in an ice-cold shower and you’ll see what I mean!


Sometimes, it can be helpful to alternate between a very hot bath and a cool shower which not only provides contrasting temperatures and promotes increased blood flow to that area but it also allows us to move from a feeling weightless in the bath to the experience of pressure on our back and shoulders from the shower.  Here five ideas that you can use to practice hydrotherapy at home:

1.)  Have a hot bath (a little hotter than is comfortable) for the relief of muscle aches and tension.  Try adding some epsom salts (2 cups) which will assist in relaxing your muscles.

Foot Bath

2.) Fill up two large basins of water – one piping hot and the other ice-cold.  Submerge your feet in the hot water and sit for 20-30 minutes and enjoy the experience of just being still (leave your computer, phone, and TV out of reach).  Finish by placing your feet in the ice-cold water for 30 seconds.  If you want, add some essential oil (I like lavender or tea tree) into the hot basin.  This is helpful for reducing swelling in the feet and legs especially for those of you who are on your feet all day.

3.)  Try having a bath in which the temperature is just a little bit colder than body temperature (use a cooking thermometer)  and aim for 36 degrees.  Submerge yourself in the bath for 20 minutes or so – this type of bath is said to help relieve insomnia and anxiety.

Steam Bowl

4.) Pour boiling water into a bowl…let it cool for a few minutes.  Then, place your head over the bowl and a towel over your head to trap in the steam.  If you are able to put some rosemary or eucalyptus essential oil in the water that would be great as well.  This type of exercise helps to break up phlegm and calm the respiratory system.

5.) Try a Sitz bath.  Finally, fill up your bath with hot water and then place a basin of cold water next to the tub along with a hand towel.  Sit in the hot water for 3-5 minutes so that your abdomen is submerged.  Then, get out of the bath and wrap your pelvic area with the cold towel for 1 minute.  Repeat the whole thing 2 times finishing with the cold towel.  This brings about increased blood flow to the pelvic region and may help to reduce inflammation, menstrual cramps, and constipation.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.” 

– Wallace Stevens


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4 thoughts on “Healing With Hydrotherapy: From Japan to Toronto

  1. I loved this posting, Heather. I felt both relaxed and invigorated just reading it. Looking forward to trying out some of your hydrotherapeutic recommendations.

  2. Nice article! I would love to visit Japan and experience an onsen! I wish they existed here in Toronto. I was google-ing to see if any were around but they’re all female only spas or… Sexually intended spas for men. So looks like my bathtub is my best bet for now!
    I love taking baths in green tea and rosemary. Also, drinking a cup of green tea whilst in the bath makes you sweat much more! It’s rather intense but I certainly “glow” all day afterwards!

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