Herbert Shelton: The Hygienic System: Sun Bathing

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Herbert Shelton revitalized the Natural Hygiene health system in the early 20th century. Natural Hygiene is health system that teaches that perfect health comes from living in harmony with nature and the natural laws of the human body. In this excerpt from his book The Hygienic System, Vol III: Fasting and Sun Bathing, Herbert Shelton teaches the importance of sunbathing and shares the deep history of sunbathing found in many cultures for hundreds of years.

The Hygienic System: Fasting And Sunbathing

By Herbert M. Shelton

Chapter XXXVIII Sunbathing

“Life is a sun-child,” says Dr. Oswald; “nearly all species of plants and animals attain the highest form of their development in the neighborhood of the equator. Palm trees are tropical grasses. The python-boa is a fully developed black snake; the tiger an undiminished wild cat. With every degree of a higher latitude, Nature issues the representatives of her arch-types in reduced editions–reduced in beauty and longevity, as well as in size and strength.”–Nature’s Household Remedies, p. 79.

This statement was made in 1885 and, although Hygienists had been employing the sunbath in this country for over thirty-five years at the time Dr. Oswald’s statement was made, the practice was still frowned upon by the medical professions and all who employed sun-baths were denounced as charlatans, quacks and ignorami. People who took sunbaths were called faddists, extremists, fanatics and other pleasing names. Indeed, these names were still being applied to sunbathers in 1911, when the present writer began taking sunbaths.

Sunbathing antedates recorded human history. Savages, “primitive” peoples, little boys and animals instinctively seek to avail themselves of the benefits of sunshine. There has never been a time when mankind has not enjoyed its influence and only a false ascetic pattern of life and the monastic ideals ever, even for a time, deprived part of the race of at least occasional use of the sun.

During recent years the wearing of very scanty clothing, shorts, abbreviated bathing suits, etc., by both sexes, young and old, has served to give the youth of today the advantages of sunshine. The rise of nudism has also contributed to this effect. Today on our school grounds we see boys and girls at play with large parts of their bodies exposed, while smaller children run around in their sun-suits.

Due recognition for these radical changes in our ways of life and our attitudes toward the body is not being given to those men and women who fought and suffered for a hundred years to bring just this thing about. Today children are reaping the benefits of the struggles of the Hygienists and are being lied to about to whom credit belongs.

Before present practices could come into vogue, people had not only, to be told of the value of sunbathing but they had to be educated out of their prudish notions about the body and its various parts. Much work remains to be done, but we must not overlook the great work done by those who have gone ahead.

Before discussing the modern phase of sun-bathing I deem it in order to give a brief account of the practice in ancient times. Evidence of the use of the sun as a health restorative and preservative measure, may be found in every period of history, in all peoples, savage or civilized. Positive evidence of the hygienic use of the sun is found in the history of the Egyptians and other peoples. The Babylonians, Egyptians and Assyrians had their sun gardens; the Greeks their helioses; the Romans their solaria.

Akhenaton, of Egypt; Zoroaster, of Persia; Hippocrates, of Greece; each and all elevated the sun to the dignity of a god and a force. The great sanitarium of Hippocrates, on the Island of Cos, was equipped with a large solarium for the use of the sun. The Roman thermæ were all equipped with solaria for those taking sunbaths. Pliny says that in these hot-houses the sun is very helpful. Hippocrates extols the exsiccative (drying) action of sun-light. Herodotus gives extensive instructions for the use of the sunbath, emphasizing its effect in strengthening the muscles and nerves. Antyllos describes at some length the effects of sunlight, his description comparing well with those of modern users. Philostratus tells us that the Olympian athletes were required to take sunbaths.

Celsus, Pliny the younger, Galen, and Cicero, are among the Roman writers who describe the use of the sunbath. “Sol est remediorum maximum”–the sun is the best remedy–declared Pliny. The flat roofs of the southern houses were esteemed as solaria by the Romans. In Rome, Pliny the younger, tells us of Vestricus Spurina, that as soon as the hour of the bath had come, he went to walk completely naked in the sun if the air was calm, then played with a ball a long time.

The old German epic poem, the Edda, tells us that Germans used to carry their sick, in the springtime to the sunny mountain slopes, in order to expose them to the sunshine. Certain Germanic tribes placed their feverish children in the sunlight on the tops of their houses. On the shores of the Bay of Gascony, sunlight is still employed in rheumatism. The Incas of Peru treated “syphilis” with sun baths. In Haiti similar procedures are still employed.

Man was originally a nude animal. He first learned of the kindness of the sun, when, migrating into the temperate zones, or following earth’s change of climate, he felt the sting of cold and the bite of cloudy, inclement weather. He learned the warming and cheering power of the sun and came in time to worship the sun as a god. Sun worship antedates recorded history. At one time or another, the whole human race has worshipped the sun. At the time of the discovery of America, the more advanced Indian tribes of both continents were sun worshippers.

It is asserted that the first Egyptian temple was erected to the sun god and that the Egyptians employed the sunbath over five thousand years ago. This temple was erected in a city called On, which was east of the Nile. Later, the name of the city was changed to Heliopolis–City of the Sun.

Religion and philosophy alike taught that the sun is the source and creator of life, and there are yet many who hold this view. In the third century, A.D., Mithraism, or sun worship, came very near becoming the universal religion. It was so like Christianity in every essential respect that it became its chief opponent. The final triumph of Christianity and its extreme reaction against everything “Pagan,” practically ended the sunbath, so widely employed by well and sick alike in ancient times, just as it destroyed the Roman thermæ.

The Ancients, as disclosed by Herodotus and Antyllos, knew that “the sun feeds the muscles,” and the Romans made use of its effects in strengthening and enlarging the muscles in training their gladiators, to whom they gave sunbaths. Ancient physicians declared the sun to be “the best food and medicine in the world.”

Between the Ancient world and the Modern, there was interposed the Middle Ages, or Dark Ages. There was a thousand years reign of anti-natural madness that practically destroyed all that was of value in ancient civilization and preserved for us chiefly its worst or least desirable features. During this millenium of madness, the only physicians who employed the sun-bath were among the Jews and Arabians.

The modern phase of sunbathing had a dual origin–one of these in Europe, the other in the United States. I shall discuss the European phase first.

Arnold Rikli, who died in 1907 at the age of 97, is regarded as the originator of the modern practice of sun-bathing. For over half a century he prescribed sun-baths in his institution established at Weldes Krai, on the Adriatic Sea, in 1855. This institution in Austria attracted patients from all over the world. Rikli wrote seven books about his methods, of which the principal ones were translated into the Spanish, French and Italian languages. It would be a reasonably safe guess that Loncet, Finsen and Rollier were all acquainted with the work of this “irregular” or nature cure practitioner. F. Thedering, M.D. (Germany), Dr. Liek, A. Monteuius, M.D. (France), Laurason Brown, M.D., Saranack Lake, N. Y., each give Rikli credit for his work, although Dr. Brown attempts to hide his true character by calling him a physio-therapist.

Waldvogel, of Bohemia, in 1755, had advocated sunbathing; but he had few or no followers; while Madame Duhamel, at Berck, exposed tubercular children to sunshine as far back as 1857, believing that sun-bathing would hasten recovery. Dr. Lahman employed the “Sun and Air Cure” in his institution in Germany, as did Bilz in his famous institution; Bilz employing it as early as 1872-73. Sun-bathing has continued to grow in popularity in all parts of Europe and has been adopted by both the Youth Movement and the Nudity Movement.

In America, the first advocate of sun-bathing was Sylvester Graham, who declared, while discussing the evils of clothing in “Lectures on the Science of Human Life.”–p. 638: “My object is not to advocate bodily nudity in society; although I cannot doubt that morality would be greatly improved by it, in the course of two or three generations, if in all other respects mankind conformed to the true laws of their nature; * * *.

“If man were always to go entirely naked, the external skin, the anatomical structure and functional character and relations of which we have fully contemplated, would be preserved in a more healthy and vigorous state, and perform its functions more perfectly, and thereby the whole human system in all its properties, powers and interests would be benefited; the circulation, and particularly the venous circulation which is near the surface, would be more free and unobstructed; respiration, or breathing would also be more free, full and perfect; voluntary action would be more unrestrained and easy; the bones be less liable to disease and distortion; all the muscles of voluntary motion would be better developed and more powerful; in short the anatomical development and symmetrical proportion, and the physiological power, and functions of every part in the whole system, would be more perfect, and, as a natural consequence, the sensual appetites would be more purely instinctive, and exert a less energetic and despotic influence on the mental and moral faculties, and imagination would be deprived of its greatest power to do evil.”

Following close upon Graham’s heels, Dr. Trall placed great emphasis upon the power of sunlight, both in health and disease. He discusses it at great length in his Hydropathic Encyclopedia, p.p. 304-307 (Vol. 1). He declares that “abundant sunshine” should “be allowed special prominence in the remedial plan” in “Cachexies–scrofula, in its various forms of humors and tumors, glandular enlargements, white swelling, cutaneous eruptions, fever sores, rickets, lumbar abscesses, hip disease, otitis, ophthalmia, etc., as well as plethora, scurvy, elephantiasis, cancer, etc.”

In his Water-Cure for the Millions (1860) Trall says: “The importance of light as a remedial agent, is not sufficiently appreciated. Many persons who live in elegant and expensively furnished houses so darken many of the rooms, in order to save the furniture, as to render the air in them very unwholesome. The scrofulous humors which prevail among those inhabitants of our cities in rear buildings and underground apartments, sufficiently attest the relation between sunshine and vitality. Invalids should seek the sunlight as do the flowers–care being taken to protect the head when the heat is excessive, exposing the whole skin in a state of nudity, frequently, to the air, and even to the rays of the sun, is a very invigorating practice. For scrofulous persons this is particularly serviceable.”

Although others had suggested the use of sunlight in rickets before him, credit for the discovery of its value in this condition is given to Huldschinsky, who in 1919, “definitely proved that sunlight could prevent and cure rickets.” A reading of Trall’s works would show any unbiased student that he was nearly seventy years ahead of Huldschinsky in making this discovery.

Dr. Geo. H. Taylor, Trall’s co-worker, in a book published in 1860, under the title, The Swedish Movement Cure and reproduced in 1883 under the title, Health by Exercise, lays great stress upon the value of sunlight, both in health and in disease. He particularly emphasizes its value in scrofula (tubercular adenitis) and its great service to nursing mothers. “It is wonderful,” he says, “and delightful to see how soon a pale, attenuated, miserable child, after being freely exposed to the sunlight for several hours every day, will begin to improve, and the symptoms here described (scrofula) to disappear. Even scrofulous swelling of the glands of the neck, or other parts of the body, will quickly succumb under the magical influence of sunlight and pure air.”

In his Weak Lungs and How to Make Them Strong (1863), Dr. Dio Lewis devotes a brief chapter to sunshine in which he says: “I have assisted many dyspeptic, neuralgic, rheumatic, and hypochondriacal people into health, by the Sun-Cure. I have so many facts illustrating the wonderful power of the sun’s direct rays in curing certain classes of invalids, that I have seriously thought of publishing a work, to be denominated, the ‘Sun-Cure’.”

Dr. Lewis presents a few cases illustrating the results of exposure to the sun, including the case of a lawyer suffering with partial paralysis, constant pain in the loins, and other symptoms. He directed the man to lie in the direct rays of the sun coming through a window, daily, beginning with ten minutes a day and increasing the exposure to a full hour. “His habits were not essentially altered in any other particular.” The man made a complete recovery in six months.

Lewis says: “Seclusion from sunshine is one of the misfortunes of our civilized life. The same cause which makes potato vines white and sickly, when grown in dark cellars, operates to produce the pale sickly girls that are reared in our parlors. Expose either to the direct rays of the sun, and they begin to show color, health, and strength.”

Dr. James C. Jackson devotes twelve pages to sunlight in his How to Treat the Sick Without Drugs (1868), in which he says: “I do not know of any man in this country who has made as constant use of it (the sun) as I have.” He describes seventy-five to one hundred and twenty-five persons taking sunbaths at one time for periods ranging from twenty-five minutes to three hours, even to four or five hours, for sixty to ninety days in the summer season. His patients were not nude, but were “clad in as light colored clothing as the patient may be able to wear.”

He says: “The effect on the persons is quite as astonishing as the sight to the new observer is strange. Many of these persons who have failed under the application of the best tonics and anodynes soon become so strengthened and innervated as to be able to sleep, not only when they go to bed at night, but also while taking their sunbaths.” Again: “Therapeutically considered it (sunlight) is to be regarded as one of our most powerful remedial agents, and has, in my estimate, come to fill so important a place in Nature’s materia medica as to give me great confidence in being able to use it in the treatment of certain diseases with a success which challenges my highest satisfaction.”

Dr. Benedict Lust says that “the first sunbaths given in America were at Butler, New Jersey, at the Youngborn, in 1897.” While, as seen above, Dr. Lust is in error, the fact is that the sun-bath has been employed continuously in this country for a hundred years or more.

It is only since World War 1, that any considerable attention has been given to sun-bathing by the medical profession and there yet remains much opposition to it in medical circles. Most medical writers on the subject attempt to show that sun-bathing was an old medical practice. However, it is false to say that the instinctive sunbathing of savages and the sun-bathing of the sun-worshippers of ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, Peru, etc., was a therapeutic practice or that it belonged to or was a discovery of the medicine men of the past.

Now that the medical profession has partially recognized the value of sunlight, they forget the work of those they formerly denounced and derided, and tell us that Dr. Loncet, of Lyons, France, made the first series of observations as to the effects of sunlight in disease in the decade of 1890-1900. Dr. Neils Finsen, of Denmark, who experimented with sun rays and also with artificial light is given much credit. In 1890 a Dr. Palm, of England, contributed an article to The Practitioner in which he discussed the value of sunlight in the prevention and correction of rickets. In 1911 Dr. Rollier, a French physician, began following Loncet’s methods, and continues his work to the present. Many physicians, among them Sir Henry Gauvin, of England, and Dr. Hess, of this country, have plunged into this field with earnestness and zeal. Today sun-bathing has attained respectability despite the fact that it is not yet understood by its medical supporters.

Source: http://chestofbooks.com/health/natural-cure/The-Hygienic-System-Fasting-and-Sun-Bathing/Chapter-XXXVIII-Sun-Bathing.html


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One Comment

Terry Taggart said:

on December 21st, 2009

Arnold Rikli was my great great grandfather. Its nice to see him given a little credit for his contributions to a healthy life style.



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