In addition to these baths which vary markedly from the temperature of the skin, there is another bath, a bath whose beneficial effects are well known amongst the medicos, but which is sadly neglected by the average person. However, when its delightful effects are once experienced by an individual living under the stress and strain of modern city life, it has found a life-long strong advocate. This is the neutral or skin temperature bath, probably the simplest and easiest to obtain of all baths. Why it is so little known is difficult to say. It is probably due to the innate tendency of human beings to look far off and choose the difficult and complex while neglecting the simple remedies at hand.
Now the very sign of life, says a wellknown authority, is the irritability of the cells, tissues and organs when they are exposed to physical or mechanical influences. In this connection we have just showed that a stimulating or exciting effect on the circulation and a tonic effect on the heart and blood vessels may be brought about by the use of water considerably above or below the temperature of the body surface.
But you yourself have not always wanted to produce such stimulation, and perhaps you have even foregone your daily bath because you were worn and weary from and of stimulation and were blindly seeking a sedative effect. Such an effect may be brought about by lowering the normal amount of stimulation. In this way the bodily functions can be retarded and sometimes fully stopped. This task of soothing excitement, that is, bringing about a sedative action, is more difficult than stimulation and sometimes it is necessary to resort to indirect methods to exclude irritation rather than directly induce calm.
One of the principal and the safest means of producing a sedative action is through a bath of skin temperature. This is a bath which approximates as closely as possible the temperature of the skin which lies somewhere between 93 degrees and 96 degrees F. This is known as the point of “thermo-indifference” because there is no irritation of the skin nerve endings by hot or cold. Neither is any change produced in the circulation, in the heart action, blood pressure or respiration. Therefore its physiological effects may be said to be mainly negative.
However, while the physiologic action of the skin temperature bath is largely negative, it is far from negative with regard to its beneficial effects on an overtaxed nervous system. On the contrary, it has remarkable sedative effects. The rather long continued contact of the skin with the lukewarm water causes the blood supply of the peripheral system to increase, with a corresponding decrease in the deeper parts. As a result the intra-cranial vessels are more or less emptied and continue in this state for some time. The local effect of the water on the nerve endings in the skin plus the diminished blood supply in the head and elsewhere produces a sedative, ever hypnotic effect.
The longer the duration of the bath, the more pronounced are these effects. And there is an added effect the secretion of urine is increased if the bath is prolonged from one to two hours. In short, the effect of skin temperature is limited to soothing and relaxing the nervous system.
Therefore, as the effect of a skin temperature bath is principally a soothing one, such a bath is indicated in all conditions where a soothing, sedative effect is desired, as in cases of nervous irritability, sleeplessness, anxiety neurosis, functional neurosis as chorea, and certain diseases of the central nervous system accompanied by spasticity. Persons suffering from any of these conditions bear thermic stimuli, whether hot or cold, very poorly and therefore the practice of prescribing hot baths in states where a sedative effect is desired, is, in the opinion of many authorities, erroneous. Such baths, instead of relieving, are apt to aggravate the symptoms. Multiple sclerosis and renal insufficiency are also greatly benefited by the lukewarm bath. Some authorities believe that such baths similarly constitute a very valuable therapeutic measure in reducing the temperature of infants and delicate children. Their use in paralysis and insanity are well known, as we observed at the beginning of this discussion.
But we are particularly concerned with the soothing effects of the skin temperature bath on the over worked nerves of individuals enjoying an average state of health. And no amount of verbal argument is half as persuasive as the actual experience of this bath. So, the next time you are overworked and nervous and irritable, or toss all night or count sheep, hoping to conquer sleep before dawn, try a skin temperature bath. While your tub is running, slip out of your clothes with all rhythmical leisureliness of motion depicted by a “slow-motion” movie. If you like, keep a mental picture before you of your favorite athlete or favorite horse as you saw him performing in “slow-motion” time. Then gently slide into the tub and let the water softly fold over your body. No other sensation should you feel from the water than one of touch the touch of the finest chiffon. Lie back, with your eyes closed and your hands floating at your sides. By the end of ten minutes your nerves will be all unsnarled and soon all sensation will leave your body it is as one with the water. Even your mind becomes one with the water a hypnotic dreaminess closes over your thoughts, far different from the active drowsiness of fatigue. Instead of fighting it, you are in complete harmony with one of nature’s most potent forces, in its kindliest mood.
Now, as gently as you slipped in the bath, slip out of it and wipe your body with a linen or crash towel with long, slow, rhythmical movements with the least amount of friction possible. If you are going to bed, only half dry and slide into bed, being sure to cover up well, as cold disturbs sleep. And straight from the “sedative pool” you will be wafted to the land of dreamless sleep.
The need of keeping the skin temperature bath at a constant temperature cannot be overemphasized. Any variation in temperature will bring about the stimulating effects of the hot and cold bath. It should not be difficult to do this the temperature may be regulated by keeping the faucet open just a little bit and letting water trickle in slowly if the drain is working well it will not overflow. Or, if you have someone to assist you, part of the water may be let out of the tub from time to time and water of the right temperature be let in. If it is not possible to regulate the temperature by the faucet, a pail of warm water may set between the feet of the bather, making sure that it does not touch him. For persons in aver-age health, this bath may last for fifteen minutes to one or two hours. Longer baths are usually taken by those suffering from some specific disease and are usually taken under the guidance of a physician.
And of course, this bath is never followed by a shower or douche.
Before closing the subject of baths, both cleansing and therapcutic, we should say a few more words on the psychological effect of bathing and cleanliness, aside from the social implication we mentioned previously and effects on the nervous system. If the effect of bathing was limited to the physical well-being of the individual, surely there would be no reason for the proverb, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” The only reason why cleanliness is next to godliness is because we feel godly after a bath. Whether you like to admit it or not, when you are freshly bathed, you slightly look down on the rest of the world and have a feeling of kindly condescension towards your fellow beings. You are perfectly justified, for you are superior; you are better looking, your nerves are relaxed and your organs are functioning properly.
Sometime ago, the American Journal of Physical Therapy cited an editorial which appeared in the Louisville Herald-Post, entitled “Character and Soap.” I should like to quote it here:
“A man, as you know, feels more respectable after taking a bath, whether he takes it every morning or on Saturday night. That’s why he sings as he takes it. He’s giving three cheers for himself. When a man feels respectable he is prompted to act that way. He becomes ambitious that is, he feels an urge to improve himself and the world.
“At a certain age a boy begins to take an interest in keeping clean. Psychologists call it ‘the religious age.’ It is, in fact, the age when he begins to comprehend and appreciate ethics. It is the blossoming of character.
“In the Tropics a man who plunges into a river may have no other desire than to get cool. When the early Nordic took his first bath in a snow covered hut, his desire was to get clean.
“Of course some character was necessary to inspire the yearning for cleanliness, but the habit of taking baths under unfavorable conditions must inevitably have developed character. It was the necessity of overcoming difficulties that made the Nordic master of the world.
“Any old soldier will tell you that a smart and barbered regiment will fight better than a slovenly regiment. The first sign of weakening morale is indifference to dirt. Ask the man at the morgue. Ask the police. Ask the reporters. It seldom happens that a suicide has recently bathed.
“If it is necessary to find a new foreman quickly, go out to the shop and select ten men who shave every morning. Then pick the one who bathes every morning. He is a comer.”