Understanding Naturopathy


The underlying assumption of Naturopathy is that there are self-regulating forces which govern all living things, including human beings. Naturopathic treatment consists firstly in viewing symptoms as reminders that we are doing certain things or thinking certain thoughts which inhibit the self-regulating forces to work and that we should act to remove those inhibitions if we want to regain our health. Naturopathy maintains that our life styles, including our thoughts and feelings, are closely associated with our general well-being and that there is no meaningful distinction between body and mind. The removal of the inhibitions to health can therefore be accomplished by using natural resources like food, touch, posture and water therapy as well as by addressing our inner feelings.

Naturopathy can thus be defined as a healing system that strives to maintain or regain health and vitality through the reintegration of the mind/body with nature’s self-regulating life forces by identifying and removing the factors that inhibit such integration and by using natural resources like food, touch, posture and water therapy to achieve this.

The development and evolution of the nature cure and naturopathy


The nature cure and naturopathy evolved as a result of a number of factors. The personal health of many of the initial proponents of the nature cure played a determining role in its development. From its earliest roots, many of the founders of naturopathy were plagued by illnesses which led them to try alternative methods of healing.

Vincent Priessnitz, who was born in 1799, is considered to be the first nature doctor. Of the more than 40,000 people he treated with his cure of cold water, fresh air and a simple diet, only 45 died while under his care. As a young boy he noticed how a young stag healed itself by submerging itself in cold water over a few days. Subsequently he had a number of accidental injuries himself and used the same water cure to treat himself. A the age if thirteen he sprained his wrist and, due to work commitments, he could keep his arm in cold water for long periods and he used a wet bandage instead. This resulted in his later famous “Priessnitz compress”. When he was 17, he had a very serious accident being run over by a horse-drawn water carriage. The town surgeon told him that his injuries were incurable but it took the young Priessnitz about a year of self-treatment before he felt himself cured. These personal experiences resulted in him using his skills to use the water cure on others and it led to his eventual fame. Over the years, he invented a number of different ways to use water as a cure and by 1826 he had his own hydrotherapeutic institution. It grew to such an extent that by 1840 he had 1600 patients in residence. His personal experiences and injuries led to a successful healing practice that even had the blessing of the Austrian government.

Johann Schroth was a contemporary and classmate of Priessnitz. Like Priessnitz he was a keen observer of nature and his entry into the nature cure field was, as with Priessnitz, the result of personal injury. At the age of 19, his knee-cap was broken by a kick from a horse. Orthodox medical treatment left him with residual inflammation and a knee that could not bend. He was advised by a monk to wash his knee in cold water three times per day. As with Priessnitz, this inconvenience led him to use a wet bandage and after ten weeks his knee was healed. Schroth noticed that the moist bandage became slightly warm when worn and reasoned that it was the wet heat that could cure disease. His observation of horses and other animals also convinced him that fasting could expedite healing. He started to combine warm wet packs, a dry diet and fasting as a cure for both internal diseases and external injuries. Priessnitz and Schroth rejected each others’ methods, but it was the combination of their treatments that eventually became the basis of naturopathy in the United States.

Heinrich Francke, or Rausse as he was called, was slightly younger than Priessnitz and Schroth, and was the first person to clarify the scientific principles of hydrotherapy. Like his two contemporaries, he was also led to the nature cure by his own health problems. Although he was a very healthy baby, he was treated for persistent diarrhea by allopathic doctors when he was 3 years old – with disastrous results. By the time he was ten years old, his weight was the same as when he was only one. It was only when the doctors stopped his treatment that he recovered to some extent. He was by nature a rebel and his outspokenness resulted in him being expelled from a number of universities. His discovery of the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau led him to the search human freedom in nature and he left for the virgin forests of America. At some point he became seriously ill and had to return to Germany where he recovered somewhat. However, his active life made him ill again. His then decision to try Priessnitz’s water cure, combined with the truths he had discovered in the works of Rousseau, made him one of the main proponents of hydrotherapy. He wrote several books about it and put it on a more scientific footing.

Theodor Hahn a cousin of Rausse, carried on the latter’s theoretical and clinical work. He was born in the same German province as Rausse and was plagued by asthma that could not be controlled by allopathic medicine. It was his experience with the failure of conventional medicine to treat him that led him to try alternative methods. He started using the water cure as a self-treatment and then went to Rausse for a six-month treatment period and later became his assistant. After Rausse’s death he organized and published Rausse’s manuscripts and completed some of his later works. He was very much in favor of vegetarianism and wrote a number of books about it. As such he is seen more as a nature doctor than a “water doctor”. His most famous publication was the “Practical Handbook of Natural Healing” which was published in 1865. The publication made it clear that he considered a vegetarian diet as important as the water treatment.

There is some debate about whether Arnold Rikli became a proponent of the nature cure and a healer as a result of personal ill health. It has been said that he saved himself by using hydrotherapy when he was dying from dysentery and we know for a fact that he was cured from pleurisy by natural treatments at the age of 29. He was always in favor of flexibility and moderation in all treatments and even abandoned vegetarianism for a mixed diet as a result of personal health experiences. His contribution to the nature cure included his use of light, air and sunshine as well as his principle of contrast. His dictum was: “Water is good, air is better, but light is the best of all”.

Sebastian Kneipp was a Bavarian priest who became the most famous of all the nature doctors. His conversion to the nature cure resulted from his own bad health and the fortuitous reading of Hahn’s “Lectures on the Wonderful Healing Power of Fresh Water”. Through the use of the water cure he became completely well and, having been ordained as a priest, he started to treat his own poor parishioners with a modified cold water system. His fame spread and patients came to him from all over the world. He used mainly wraps, compresses, packs, baths, steamings and his own invention of a cold gush of water to an affected spot through a watering can or hose. Hi mother was an herbalist and he became the first healer to use herbs, both externally and internally, as part of the nature cure. He also published a number of books.

Louis Kuhne was another nature healer who could not find a cure for his own ill health from conventional medicine and who got better by using the nature cure. When his own brother was cured in the same way, his conversion to natural health methods was complete. He was a successful factory manager and redirected his skills to running his own “Louis Kuhne International Establishment for the Science of Healing without Medicine and without Operations” in Leipzig. He published “The New Science of Healing” in 1894 which was published in many languages and was influential in popularizing the nature cure all over the world.

Like Rausse, Adolf Just was a great admirer of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophy of Naturism. He suffered from poor health as a youth, which prevented him from completing his studies. His repeated bouts of neurasthenia could not be cured by conventional medicine and he decided, probably under the influence of the philosophy of Rousseau, to seek recovery from a close contact with nature. He was also a keen observer of nature. His subsequent amazing return to health prompted him to write a book, “Return to Nature” which became a world-wide best-seller. He was a pioneer of the raw food diet as well as the therapeutic use of earth and he firmly believed in the health benefits of fasting. He was also the first natural healer that put the patient’s spiritual care on a par with the physical care.

Emanuel Felke, a pastor, was converted to the nature cure not from his own ill health, but from his success in treating his own congregants during epidemics. His first introduction to alternative healing methods came from the herbal teas and homeopathic remedies used by his own father. During a local epidemic of diphtheria, he successfully treated the sick children of his parishioners with a homeopathic remedy and soon everybody came to him for medical advice. He studied the nature cure methods of Priessnitz, Kneipp and others and also became well versed in diagnosis of disease through facial and iris diagnosis. It has been estimated that he probably saw nearly half a million patients who consulted him during his lifetime.

Heinrich Lahmann studied as a medical doctor and in 1885 became a general practitioner in Stuttgart, Germany. He studied all the nature cure literature of his time and published many articles on nutrition and vegetarianism. He even invented a plant milk for babies. In 1886 he was appointed head of Von Zimmermann’s nature cure institute in Chemnitz. In spite of his conventional training in medicine, he rejected artificial medicine as a hindrance to nature’s healing powers and maintained that its use was unscientific. Lahmann was the first nature doctor who investigated the scientific basis of the various nature cures.

Ernst Schweninger is best known as Bismarck’s personal physician. Although he started out as a pathologist, his personal experiences with the failures of allopathic medicine convinced him that health cannot be achieved without the healing power of nature. He maintained that treatment should be aimed at improving a person’s vital force rather than at the symptoms of disease. He treated most of his own patients with hot sitz baths, hot compresses and diets. It is said that he remarked “A good physician can do more healing with a damp cloth than a poor one can do with an entire pharmacy”.

Franz Schönenberger was the first person to introduce nature cure methods into a public hospital. A teacher by training, he was introduced to nature cure by a Dr Voigt, a nature doctor from Plauen. Very soon he started to successfully use the nature cure methods on the school children and their parents. He abandoned teaching and eventually obtained his degree as a medical doctor after which he set up a medical practice in Bremen. Schönenberger wrote many articles and gave many lectures on the nature cure. In 1920 he was appointed as Professor and Head of the Hydrotherapeutic University Institute by the Prussian Minister for Culture and Education.

Alfred Brauchle was introduced to the nature cure methodology by Schönenberger and was his assistant at the Priessnits hospital where he later succeeded him as director. Even as a medical doctor he was an eloquent defender of the nature cure. He made sure that the use of the raw food diet, cold water treatments, heat treatments, air and sun bath treatments and other treatments were done strictly in accordance with the methods of the original natural healers. He was also well aware of the enormous spiritual influence of the physician on the well-being of the patient. Unfortunately, he also paid lip-service to allopathic treatments which affected his stature among the great natural healers of that period.

Benedict Lust was another individual whose conversion to the nature cure was effected through his own health problems. He was born in Germany and came to the USA when he was twenty. He developed tuberculosis and doctors gave him up to die. As a result, he decided to return to Germany so that he could die in his homeland. While in Germany, he was completely cured by the nature cure of Sebastian Kneipp who also gave him authorization to implement the Kneipp methods in the USA as Kneipp’s official representative. He thus started naturopathy in the USA. In 1901 he founded the American School of Naturopathy in New York and in 1902 he founded the American Naturopathic Association (ANA).

German born Louisa Lust studied the nature cures of Rikli and Kuhne and emigrated to America where she became the doctor-in-charge of the Bellevue Sanitarium nature cure retreat. She married Benedict Lust in 1996 on his return to the USA and learned about Kneipp’s hydrotherapy methods from him. Their partnership resulted in a great surge in the popularity and acceptance of naturopathy and it is difficult to separate their individual contributions to the success of the movement.

Henry Lindlahr, who is considered the founder of Scientific Naturopathy, was a successful American businessman who came to naturopathy through circumstance related to personal health. His late diagnosis of sugar diabetes was seen as a death sentence by medical doctors and he was advised to get his affairs in order. He was given a copy of Kuhne’s book, The New science of Healing, and his condition was improved by following some of the suggestions in the book. The sugar diabetes remained a problem and eventually he decided to visit Kniepp in Bavaria. Kniepp’s treatment restored his health completely and Lindlahr traveled to other healing centres to observe their methods. On returning to America, he decided to study medicine and in 1904 he graduated as a medical doctor. In 1906 he started a sanatorium where he practiced natural healing methods. He believed that it was important to strengthen the vital force as a component of healing and that the use of natural therapy like water, air and light was the best way to achieve this. He also used herbs and homeopathic remedies and was a firm believer in the power of the mind for the achievement of health.

Otis Carroll suffered from severe rheumatic fever and juvenile arthritis. He was cured at an Institute of Natural Therapy under the care of a medical doctor who had studied under Kneipp. As a result of his cure, he decided to study botanical medicine and later returned to study with the doctor that had cured him. He also studied with Lindlahr and eventually set up a practice in Washinton. Carroll’s greatest innovation to the nature cure was Constitutional Hydrotherapy. This procedure entailed the application of hot and cold compresses to the chest, stomach and back while being wrapped warmly in woolen blankets. He also popularized the notion that every person has an intolerance to specific foods that had to be avoided at all costs. Carroll used iridology as a diagnostic tool. Like many other naturopaths, he deemed training in the nature cures of the original healers as more useful than the medical training of allopathic doctors and he was involved with the training of many naturopathic doctors at his own clinic.


Lust as the “Father of Naturopathy” in the USA

Although the nature cure originated in Europe, it was the German born Benedict Lust that introduced it to and developed it in the USA. He was born in Germany in 1872 and came to the USA when he was 20 years old. While in the USA he became seriously ill with tuberculosis which local homeopaths and allopathic doctors could not cure. His illness was so severe that American doctors made out a death certificate for him while he was still alive. He decided to go and die in his homeland Germany and, while there, he visited the most famous of the naturopaths, Sebastian Kneipp. Kneipp succeeded in curing him within a period of eight months. Kneipp authorized him in 1896 to introduce the Kneipp nature cure methodology to America which resulted in the initiation of naturopathy in the USA. Although there were already other Kneipp institutions in the USA at he time, Lust was the only one with the authorization of Kneipp himself and he was the first one to combine it with the methods of the other European naturopaths.

Lust established a naturopathic sanatorium as well as a naturopathic college and a monthly magazine. He abandoned some of the more drastic requirements of Kneipp’s nature cure (like walking barefoot in the dew of Central Park) and also changed the name of his magazine from the Kneipp Water Cure Monthly to The Naturopath in 1902. It was also during this time that the name Naturopathy originated as the appellation for natural cures and Lust became its chief spokesman. As Kirchfeld and Boyle mentions, “It was …as an educator, promoter and organizer of naturopathy that Lust had his greatest impact”. He insisted that naturopathy could change people’s lives.

Lust was a licensed medical doctor. He was an accomplished public speaker and was always effective in defending attacks by orthodox medical doctors during public lectures. He was a populist in favor of medical freedom and patients’ rights and held the view that “medical laws are all class laws and unconstitutional”. Apart from his role in the establishment and popularization of naturopathy, he also founded the American School of Naturopathy in New York during 1901. He founded the American Naturopathic Association (ANA) and contributed $200,000 of his own money to it. However, his greatest accomplishment was that naturopathy received legal status in many states of the USA as a direct result of his efforts. It is therefore appropriate, in the light of all the above achievements, that he truly be considered the “Father of Naturopathy”.