Anthroposophic nursing - an introduction

Extensive concepts for nursing practice, training and research based on Rudolf Steiner's approach to knowledge have been developed within the anthroposophic nursing movement since 1923. The aim of anthroposophic nursing is to assist people to find their individual way – on the level of body, soul and spirit – during phases of life when they are ill and dependent on care. Nurses in collaboration with doctors and therapists have been contributing to the realization of a spiritual art of healing.

Anthroposophic nursing understands the human being to be a free, evolving being which has manifold connections to self, nature, culture and the cosmos on the various levels of body, soul and spirit. Nursing serves to maintain, or where necessary, regain or redevelop these connections. Each human being is the measure of these evolving interactions. Each biography, illness or social relationship has its own patterns and rhythms, seldom does it progress in a linear fashion. Research and understanding of these connections and their significance for human freedom form the basis for developing concepts for nursing, training and research. Anthroposophic nursing is not founded on a closed, normative, theoretical system. Rather, it can arise wherever nurses rely on an anthroposophic background understanding from which to provide professional care out of knowledge and love, with presence of mind.

Knowledge and love, as well as all other traditional virtues and values of the nursing profession, are not morally normative imperatives. They are developmental opportunities within each caregiver, who is responsible for his or her own conscience. The nurse, like the client, is a human being in a process of development, whether professionally or privately. Self-chosen professional progress or regression can be seen not just in terms of outer skills. Professional progress is also found in the readiness to cultivate emotional and spiritual qualities such as love and compassion. Spiritual nursing care will concern itself with questions of reincarnation and karma, as well as with questions about the spiritual and social significance of typical kinds of need for care, such as that of babies or the care of patients who are in a vegetative state. It is only against such a background that ethical questions become objectively discussable, outside the constraints of a normative code of practice.

  - Translated from Rolf Heine: Anthroposophische Pflegepraxis. Grundlagen und Anregungen für alltägliches Handeln. 3rd ed. Berlin: Salumed; 2015.

Modern therapeutic procedures or prescientific home remedies?

Baths, compresses and rhythmical oil applications have been part of the treasury of healing remedies of all cultures for thousands of years. They did not get pushed to the fringes of the therapeutic spectrum until the rise of science-based medicine in the 19th century. Already in 1921 the founders of Anthroposophic Medicine integrated such procedures into the science-based art of healing that they were developing, countering the trends of the day. They renewed procedures which have been undergoing a renaissance in recent years, also in modern-day clinical practice. Responding to the persistent demand of many patients who want complementary treatment using "natural" remedies, the profession has now begun to study the effectiveness of external applications. Also, patients themselves have become knowledgeable, so that external applications have gained a firm foothold in self-treatment, especially for less serious but nevertheless highly troubling complaints.

The practice of Anthroposophic Medicine goes beyond the approach that is possible in naturopathy and self-medication. Here external applications are used not just to relieve acute or chronic complaints, they are also deliberately implemented to support the effect of medications and artistic therapy. They consistently provide a decisive impetus or may even be the essential healing factor in the overall treatment, especially for therapy-resistant conditions. The substances used may be derived from the mineral realm, such as quartz, sulphur, copper and gold. These are applied in a dilution of water or oil, or in the form of an ointment. Other external applications call for extracts from chamomile, arnica, yarrow or many other healing plants. They may also rely on the healing forces found in certain animal and food products, such as quark or honey.

From: Rolf Heine, 2009,

Rhythmical Einreibung/ Embrocation according to Wegman/ Hauschka

Rhythmical Einreibungen (RE) were developed in the first half of the twentieth century by the physician Ita Wegman, based on the principles of anthroposophic medicine and in conjunction with Rhythmic Massage. After World War II, Dr. Margarethe Hauschka developed a teaching concept for the application of Rhythmical Einreibungen. From around 1980 this concept has been modified and enhanced, mostly by nurses, for professional and daily use. The quality that most characterizes professional nursing is that it supports the healing processes at all levels: body, soul and spirit. Rhythmical Einreibungen make use of this quality in a special way. 

Qualities of application

The particular quality of Rhythmical Einreibungen is their gentle intensity of touch. The hand of the therapist applies rhythmical, mostly rounded, stroking movements on the patient’s body, making contact with the tissue “unobtrusively” and withdrawing “without letting go”. The changes of direction in this rhythmical process give rise to changes in quality whilst maintaining the tension between the poles. At the same time ever-new variations emerge due to the elasticity of application and the changes of direction. The all-important lightness of touch – especially when the hand withdraws – is also referred to as “suction”: a force that works against gravity.

Rhythmical Einreibungen can be applied to arms, legs, back, chest and stomach – either as partial Einreibungen (of foot, lower leg, knee or shoulder joint) or in combination, or as whole-body Einreibungen.

Special kinds of Einreibungen

Special applications include the treatment of spleen, liver, kidneys, heart, bladder, solar plexus, or the Pentagram Einreibung in nursing. Metal ointments are often used and applied across a particular organ region, supporting the function of the organ in question.


Rhythmical Einreibungen work in manifold ways and the effects vary depending on the individual. There are, nonetheless, also effects that are commonly observed. Following a phenomenological study carried out by Dr. M. Bertram (2005), three typical responses were described: relaxing, feeling one with oneself again and feeling new strength. These are changes in the patient’s experience of illness and sense of wellbeing.

In anthroposophical terms the effects can be explained in terms of functional threefoldness: Rhythmical Einreibungen bring about a harmonious balance between the formative tendencies of the neurosensory system and the dissolving influences of the metabolism-and-limbs system, or based on the concept of the fourfold human organization: The soul and the ‘I’ regain their ability to interact more harmoniously with the life forces in the human body. 

Areas of application

Rythmical Einreibungen can be applied in all clinical areas: In pediatric care, obstetrics (before and after birth), psychosomatic medicine for all ages, child, adolescent and adult psychiatry, neurology, early rehabilitation, rehabilitation, geriatric nursing or care. Rhythmical Einreibungen have also proved beneficial in curative education/social therapy, out-patient nursing services and in family or home care.

Contraindications: mainly highly acute and unclarified conditions where other measures have to take precedence.

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