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Watsu: Cirque du Soleil for Your Body and Mind

As I waited at the side of the outdoor Watsu pool for Vince, my Watsu Therapist, I sat and thought about what was to come. Unlike most other massage therapies which take place on a massage table, a massage chair or on the floor, Watsu (derived from the words Water and Shiatsu) is special in that it is a type of massage that takes place in the water. Because of this unique format, anyone interested in trying Watsu should not have a fear of and must be totally comfortable in the water; they need to be capable of trusting and letting go; and they need to be comfortable with intimacy.

For as long as I can remember, I looked for any opportunity to spend time in the water…whether it was body surfing in the ocean, scuba diving with tropical fish and sea turtles or dancing under our backyard sprinklers as a child, water in any form was something I enjoyed…something fun. I don’t know, maybe it’s the Aquarius and Pisces in me, but I always had a special relationship with water.

When Vince arrived to the Watsu Pool, he was warm and disarming. After exchanging a few pleasantries, we entered the pool, and although the winter Sonoma air was quite cool, the pool felt familiar and soothing: held at a strict temperature of 98 degrees, the 4’ deep Watsu pool creates a womb-like environment for its visitors.

Once we entered the pool, Vince proceeded to put soft Velcro ‘floaties’ on my ankles, explaining that they would help me with my buoyancy during the session. We then stood together, I, with my back against the side of the pool, knees slightly bent in a squatting position and he, facing me in a similar stance. Taking slow, deep, breaths, we stabilized and synchronized our breathing patterns. He explained that it is really important to continue breathing throughout the session…that holding my breath would make it difficult to stay relaxed and benefit from the session. He also reminded me that ‘letting go,’ and letting him do the work was vital, for ‘helping him’ would be a hindrance and would make it difficult for him to do his job.

After a few more deep breaths, Vince inquired if I had any concerns, health issues, or fears and then reminded me of the level of intimacy that I would experience…that Watsu is more intimate than most other types of massage and that he would be cradling my body and holding me close throughout the treatment. After I assured him I was ready, we then embarked on an hour long journey that was unlike anything I had ever felt.

All sense of time was lost as Vince created an experience reminiscent of a Cirque du Soleil performance, featuring me as the main event. The structure of the session was truly organic, flowing from one move into another, seamlessly like a dance, making it easy to relax and forget about the minutes passing.

And indeed, Watsu was one of the most intimate treatments I had ever had. Cradling my body with one arm under my knees and the other around my back, while resting my head next to his on his shoulder, Vince twirled me dreamily through the water…to the left and then back to the right and then back again…as if I was Ginger, and he was my Fred Astaire. Between bouts of twirls, Vince applied light to medium pressure on my legs, arms, back and torso, stretching my muscles gently and releasing tension throughout my body. The movements and techniques he used were a combination of shiatsu, Thai massage and acupressure; and the resistance of the water made me feel like a graceful ballerina, swirling weightlessly through the water.

At times, Vince would change his position to access certain pressure points and muscles. At one moment, I could sense my head was being supported by a flotation device while Vince was at my feet, massaging my calves, ankles and feet. At another moment, he sat on a step behind me and rested my head on his shoulder as he used both of his hands to massage my back and his feet to push against my hips and thighs to stretch and elongate my spine. There was such a variety of techniques and movements, that each moment was a surprise…a new discovery…an exploration.

Every movement felt elegant as if we were part of a magnificent dance. Every moment seemed like a performance of utter beauty. The treatment went beyond physical relaxation: It eased and quieted my mind and reached into my soul. It was moving…comforting…tranquil. It had an aura of sensuality, yet was pure in nature. It provided therapeutic elements that were indescribable.

For the first time during a massage, I couldn’t sense when the end was approaching or how and with what part of my body the experience would end. No, my mind became utterly silent and all sense of time and state were lost. I loved it. It was really refreshing. It gave me the ability to truly enjoy every moment without fearing the end.

Watsu, I learned, requires you to be many things. It requires you to experience and to not think. It requires you to let go and to trust. It requires you to allow yourself to be…as you are…and to love every minute of it.

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Posted in Article, Mind-Body Tagged with: , , , ,
  • On the contrary, Watsu can be a place to gently explore one’s fear of the water and to find out how they can be comfortable in it. Watsu can be a place to learn how to trust and let go. And ultimately find a deeper intimacy within oneself.

  • Davida is right – with the proviso that the person is willing and wanting to go there. An experienced and effective practitioner working in a conducive setting can facilitate this level of trust.

    Quite often the water fear mentioned comes from an old and perhaps forgotten trauma, something that no longer applies in reality – being dunked ‘playfully’ by someone you trusted as a child for example.

    However, this cannot be accessed cognitively (mentally), it is stored in what is sometimes called ‘body memory’ and can be released through the body in a similar but now safe setting.

    Similarly for fear of intimacy and inability to trust. These are some of the topics we are addressing here:

    http://aquatictherapist.ning.com/xn/detail/830258:Group:9944?xg_source=activity

  • I loved the description of your watsu experience!

    And,I agree with Davida’s comment: As a watsu practitioner, I have experienced many clients who come with either a great fear or dislike of water, and hope to work through this obstacle so that they can begin to enjoy being in water. So far, all of these clients have loved their experience of watsu and it has allowed some to begin to swim or do things they might have never done.

  • Nicola Kapala

    Wonderful description of your Watsu experience! The element of dance found in Watsu and other forms of aquatic bodywork such as Healing Dance and Waterdance can provide a sense of spaciousness and freedom unparallelled. This is especially beneficial for people with limited mobility and crippling diseases. Brett the description of your experience will help others understand the benefits and potential of this transformative work.

    My heartfelt gratitude,

    Nicola Kapala
    Watsu and Healing Dance Instructor