Father Sebastian Kneipp was a Catholic priest who lived from 1821-1897 in Bavaria, Germany. Although not the first, nor the last person to add greatly to hydrotherapy, he is credited with being one of the Fathers of Hydrotherapy as well as a father of Nature Cure/Naturopathic Medicine in the United States. He was extremely well known and loved in Germany and adjacent countries. Even the Archduke of Austria visited Father Kneipp to be treated. Several of the “fathers” of naturopathic medicine also visited Father Kneipp in order to be healed or trained and then brought their understanding back to the United States.
Father Kneipp developed what he called the Five Pillars. All of his patients were not only taught these pillars of health, but were expected to follow them. Even the Archduke was told he needed to follow Father Kneipp directions or he would not be treated.
-Movement/Exercise. Today we normally speak of this as exercise. In the late 1890’s, it could mean that too, but oftentimes Father Kneipp used physical labor. The Archduke was required to chop wood as part of his treatment. It is not usually physical labor for labors sake, but usually some purpose or measurable end result (i.e. a pile of chopped wood that would be used to heat and cook with).
-Balance. Balance needs to be attained, maintained and constantly tweaked emotionally, spiritually and physically. All physical work drains the body and emotions. Rest is important too. Emotionally we need balance. Neither constant depression nor constant emotional highs are healthy. We are created spiritual beings. We need to balance ourselves spiritually as well. Father Kneipp saw all of this as necessary to a healthy and vital individual.
-Hydrotherapy/Water. Water, although a necessary commodity for life, should be used both internally and externally. Internally, most people do not drink enough water. Externally it is used in the various hydrotherapy treatments. Father Kneipp and many vitalistic naturopaths today use hydrotherapy in order to stimulate the body, to restore function and health.
-Phytotherapy/Herbs. Herbs used medicinally can be consumed in a number of forms. Oftentimes Father Kneipp used them in teas, though they can also be used in capsules and tinctures.
-Nutrition/Diet. This was critical to Father Kneipp and it should be for us today as well. Many of his patients did not have good nutrition and sources of food. Today, in our culture of excess, the nutritional value of out food supply is not much better. Although we’re almost overwhelmed by choices, few of the convenience items many of us consume contain any nutritional value. They are not food and are largely nutrient-empty calories. Making wise choices in nutritious, wholesome, good tasting food is just as important today as it was in the late 1800’s.