Brief History of Hydrotherapy

The history of hydrotherapy is deeply connected with the history of all the great holistic health & wellness traditions. Water therapies are a essential transformation modality of these traditions and some of the most ancient traditions continue to used today as they have for more than a thousand years. There are common themes found in all of these traditions and the ancient wisdom of these traditions is the foundation of modern hydrotherapy and the future of hydrotherapy.

The study of hydrotherapy is very fascinating and even more so, because one can visit all of the historical sites of hydrotherapy, many still active today and experience the same natural behavior of water that have made these sites famous. Or, you can get hydrotherapy, the same way they have been done for more than a thousand years. In my research travels on hydrotherapy, I have able to visit all of the places that are described below, and I found these experiences to be of great value in gaining deeper insights into the use of hydrotherapy in all areas of healthy & wellness.


Hydrotherapy is an essential part of Ayurveda, which is the traditional holistic health & wellness program from India which has is thousands of years old and continues today. Ayurveda treatments are very popular today at spa and wellness centers around the world. Some of the hydrotherapy treatments in Ayurveda are:

  • Nasya: Steam inhalation combined with herbs and massage to promote health of the entire respiratory system
  • Neti: Nasal irrigation to for health of the sinus areas.
  • Swedha: Steam therapy for the entire body as part of a program maintaining health & wellness through regular detoxification.
  • Usnodaka: Daily program of hydration with special techniques to enhance the energy of water through heating and herbs


Between about 600 BC to around 0 AD, the Greeks develop a program of holistic health & wellness that continues as an element of modern medicine today. The Greek god Asclepious, who had two daughters, Hygiene and Panacea, represents the spiritual tradition of Greek holistic medicine and the physical sites this tradition were called asclepions. The main theme was to maintain optimal health & wellness, as well as the treatment of specific medical problems and these of water was a part of many of these programs. A sacred spring was an essential element of every asclepion and one can visit many of the sites of the most famous asclepions. The photo is of the asclepion on the island of Kos and is where Hippocrates taught and practiced holistic medicine. It is an amazing experience to be there and you feel the atmosphere of this great tradition as it was practiced for hundreds of years. There is the a sacred spring there that was the source of water used by Hippocrates in his work. Or, you go to the famous hot springs at Loutika, near Athens, which is sacred to the goddess of water, Athena, and have a sacred bath in the same hot springs that was used by Plato and Aristotle. 



Japan also has an ancient tradition of hydrotherapy that continues as it has for more than a thousand years and integral part of Japanese traditional culture. Japan has hundreds of natural hot springs that became the origin of the famous Japanese hydrotherapy traditions. This traditions includes treatments and programs for maintaining and enhancing wellness, beauty, healthy aging as well as the treatment of medical conditions. There are departments of major universities in Japan that research the benefits and applications of hydrotherapy for health & wellness. Also, the Japanese have home hydrotherapy program, which centers on the traditional Japanese bath. The temperature is about 108 F, special herbs and products are used and one washes to clean the body before they use the bath. The Japanese traditions are famous for their artistic beauty and integrating the beauty of water in Nature into homes and landscaping. When you visit and experience these different expressions of hydrotherapy in Japan, you feel connected by water to an ancient living cultural tradition of water as a sacred part of life. Many spas and wellness around the world incorporate the beauty and healing essence of the Japanese hydrotherapy traditions.




The Roman tradition of hydrotherapy is very famous for the development of health & wellness centers in which the use of water was the major theme. These centers are source of much of modern hydrotherapy and the beautiful architectural themes of the sites has an inspiration for the development of design of modern spa and wellness centers. Also, the hydrotherapy programs, which included dry heated sauna like rooms, steam rooms, heated pools as well as cold pools for cold plunges. Many of the most famous sites were located at natural thermal hot springs, which supplied an unlimited amount of hot water. And what is so special is that you can go to some of these famous sites, such as Baden-Baden and Badenweiler in Germany and not only visit the archeological sites of the former Roman Baths, but experience the Roman Bath in modern centers that have been created at these sites that express the same beauty of the former Roman Bath, but are also designed with the same hydrotherapy rooms and treatments. You can study the history of hydrotherapy by experiencing the history.  For more information on the visit to Badenweiler Roman Bath


As described above, the German use of water for health & wellness has been greatly influenced by the Roman hydrotherapy traditions. But, Germany has its own hydrotherapy traditions and has more highly developed centers that offer hydrotherapy as a central theme than anywhere in the world. For those who love hydrotherapy and being able to experience all the traditional and modern forms of hydrotherapy, a visit to Germany is very special. Also, all most all of these sites use natural hot springs water that is completely natural. The hydrotherapy traditions from Germany as several hundred years old and are holistic in that they include massage and esthetics and offer programs for daily wellness, appearance & beauty, fitness, healthy aging and prevention and rehabilitation. Some centers practice integrated medicine, including hydrotherapy in the treatment of major medical conditions. Also, in Germany, we find the development of a very special tradition of holistic health & wellness that includes hydrotherapy as a major element, that has become a part of German culture and is practiced in countries outside of Germany. This is the program developed by Father Sebastian Kneipp starting around 1987. Bad Worishoften is the home Father Kneipp and a main center for receiving treatments in this famous traditions. See the following for my visit to Bad Worishoften Kneipp.



Baden-Baden is one of the most famous places for hydrotherapy as it is the location of the Friedrichsbad facility build in 1877. It has been described as a "Bathing Temple" and even Mark Twain went there and is quoted as saying, "Here at the Friedrichsbad you lose track of time within 10 minutes and track of the world within 20.". The entire town of Baden-Baden has a water theme and here one experiences a deep appreciation water. And a day at the Friedrichsbad is an unforgettable experience and then you can spend a day at the facility next to it, the Caracalla, which is a expression of in the finest modern development of health & wellness facility based on the hydrotherapy using natural hot springs water. There are special hydrotherapy pools with hydro-massage water jets, several different steam rooms and saunas. There are fitness rooms and a full menu of massage, esthetic and physical therapy treatments. There is also a Roman Bath archeological site at the Friedrichsbad, so it is possible to study ancient hydrotherapy, have a treatment in the Friedrichsbad that is modeled after the Roman Bath and to experience the best in modern hydrotherapy at the Caracalla.

Central Pool - Friedrichsbad

Main Pool - Caracalla 


France is famous for its hydrotherapy traditions and many sites are located at natural thermal hot springs. Some are located at the ocean and offer thallasotherapy treatments, which are treatments using natural sea water. One of the most well-known hydrotherapy sites is in Vichy, France. There are 5 natural mineral springs located there and one of these is naturally thermally heated. This was the site of an ancient Roman Bath and now is the site of 2 spa & wellness facilities and one medical health & wellness center with a hydrotherapy theme. Vichy is also the origin of the Vichy Shower, that has become one of the most popular hydrotherapy treatments at spa and wellness centers worldwide. See Historical Vichy Shower Photo. I went there in April, 2006 to study the techniques for doing the Vichy Shower as well as the Vichy Shower equipment. My experiences there have helped me in the design of the equipment and the treatments that can be done using the equipment. Vichy, France is a great place to study a site ancient hydrotherapy, recent historical and modern hydrotherapy in the French cultural tradition. Vichy France Visit

Domes Facility - Vichy, France

Mural in Hall of Waters, Vichy, France

North America


When one studies the history of hydrotherapy in North America, you discover that hydrotherapy was a very well established tradition between around 1850 to 1940. Three site are of particular interest, which are Saratoga Springs, NY, Hot Springs, AK and Excelsior Springs, MO. Programs at each of these locations was based on the European hydrotherapy traditions and at each site, more than 500,000 persons a year were coming for wellness treatments, health vacations and medical treatments. One of the first national parks in the United States in Bath House Row in Hot Springs, AK, which were the sites of where these treatment programs were offered. This link takes you to a website for the Hot Springs National Park  It is still possible to get treatments as there were once given at the Buckstaff Hotel, one of the original facilities on Bath House Row. Around 1940, with the development of the modern pharmaceutical approach of medicine with its expectation of cure for most medical condition as well as changes in vacation trends, most of the facilities closed in the 1950s. You can still get treatments at the Hall of Waters in Excelsior Springs, MO, which was build in 1930 and was based on principles of Mayan architecture and even has chandeliers based on Mayan design. Visiting these different sites is very interesting  and one learns that hydrotherapy was a very important part of health & wellness programs in North America at one time.