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Water Cures in Ancient China

Water is the source of every thing on earth, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) uses it as an important ingredient for healing. The well-known pharmacopoeia, the Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica), has classified water into different types, as the ancient Chinese held that water could exert diverse effects according to its source, for example:

Rain water Rain water collected in spring is suitable for tonifying decoction; rain water collected in summer is suitable for washing skin sores; rain water collected in winter is suitable for decoctions to get rid of parasites.
Dew water Dew water collected in autumn is good for decocting herbs for nourishing lungs and killing parasites; it also has a particular effect based on the source of collection, e.g. dew collected from flowers can be used to enhance the complexion.
Frost water This water has a cold nature, and thus counteracts conditions caused by excessive heat, such as over-indulgence in alcohol, nasal congestion, heat rash and sores.
Snow water This water is very cold in nature; it can be used as an antidote for many feverish conditions.
Ice water The coldness helps to expel summer heat
River water Natural flowing river water is suitable for making decoctions for extremity conditions and promoting urination and bowel movements. When the water is flowing in an upstream direction or against the current, then it is beneficial for stroke, lightheadedness and headache and throat problems.
Stream water Drinking stream water helps to relieve abdominal discomfort.
Well water This water is suitable for stopping diarrhea caused by damp-heat, washing the eye, soothing the blood and enhancing the flow of qi. It is also good for preparing yin tonifying decoctions.
Mineral water This water is warm in nature; drinking it can nourish the body and help prevent aging.
Hot spring This water is pungent and hot in nature, and not suitable to drink; bathing in it is beneficial for spasms, skin diseases, hair loss, and muscular and joint problems.
Sea water This water is salty and mildly warm in nature, and is not suitable for drinking; it can relieve itchiness if used for a hot bath. It can also be as an emetic in case of poisoning.
Rice steam This water has a lubricating effect.

The tradition of water cures occurs in many cultures. As washing and cleaning became a routine sanitary procedure, bathing turned into a kind of rejuvenating activity and various types evolved, including immersion in hot springs, saunas, douches, and baths. Ancient people discovered that certain bathing methods were beneficial for particular conditions. In TCM understanding, water can open the pores of the skin, expel accumulated wastes, promote blood and qi flows, free the tendons and joints, refresh the spirit and harmonize yin and yang. Generally, a hot bath (above 38óJ) quiets or soothes the body by slowing down the activity of the internal organs, and helps to relieve tense muscles and anxiety from stress. On the other hand, if you are feeling tired and stressed, you might try a warm (36 to 38óJ) bath or shower and followed by a short cold shower, as the cold helps to stimulate internal activity as well as the mind.

It is well accepted that bathing can be a remedy for healing or health maintenance. TCM physicians applied water cures as external remedies when they treated patients and usually in conjunction with other approaches like heat compresses, soaking and massage. When a particular bathing method is used as remedy for a particular health condition or to promote health, there are specific details for the procedure. A number of these techniques can be done at home; they are some of the cheapest and safest remedies for many common ailments.

In Chinese culture, baths are not just for sanitary reasons but also an integral part of rituals. There are historical records that early in the Shang and Zhou periods, emperors had to follow three days of vegetarian eating, then wash their bodies and change their clothes before ceremonies or on important occasions like enthronements, success in battle or sacrifices. Even in modern times, bathing still remains a special Chinese custom; special herbs are used to bathe on Chinese New Year Eve, this signifies that the bad luck is washed away and ensure a brand new start for the coming year.