WHAT IS WATSU?
‘Water + Shiatsu’ = in short WATSU
THE SHORT DEFINITION:
Watsu is an extremely gentle form of therapeutic massage conducted in warm water, combining elements of Zen Shiatsu massage techniques, including muscle stretching joint mobilisation and movements.
WHO IS WATSU FOR?
Wants to relax and slow down.
Wants to be nurtured.
Loves the warm water.
Is experiencing pain.
Is experiencing stress.
Likes gentle stretching and movement.
Wants to explore self-awareness.
Likes to try something different.
Needs therapeutic touch.
IN THE SESSION...
Watsu is a THERAPIST - CLIENT based modality where the therapist is the ‘giver’ and client is mainly the ‘receiver’. This allows a state of deep relaxation for the receiver and requires continuous mindfulness from the practitioner for the complete duration of the session.
A water session begins by standing face to face in a chest level warm pool. A few moments are then taken to draw attention inwards, finding ways to calm the nervous system by focusing on the breath. When ready, the practitioner offers the client support under his or her head inviting them to lean back into a floatation position and adding some more support with the back of the forearm under the client’s lower torso.
As buoyancy varies from person to person as well as for the same person at times, practitioners sometimes use floats below the knees for support.
For the next 45 minutes (approximately), the Watsu sequence is performed. Occasionally it will be completely still, while at other times the giver and receiver will be moving together. Some movements are slow and full of grace, while others are dynamic and full of zest. Moving with the water flow or using the water resistance induces many different sensations; the arms, legs and torso are stretched, the spine is lengthened, and receivers sometimes report feeling like flying or moving in space.
Paying attention to the breath is continuous throughout the session and at times movements will slow down, or even stand still, in order to give the breath the attention it needs.
The range of movements and stances is very rich, yet only what is individually appropriate will be used. That means that each session might be performed differently to meet each individual's needs and the diversity of moods. This also means that premeditative intentions are left behind, and instead what unfoldes is followed moment by moment with each new person being held. Maintaining this mindful state of being allows clients to feel that their needs are being ‘heard and seen’.
While floating with eyes closed and letting the practitioner move us in the water space, we might discover that we no longer know or need to know where exactly we are in the pool at every given moment. Instead, we become more aware of our inner experiences, more sensitive to body sensations, thoughts and images.
Feeling spacious is quite common then, especially towards the second half of the session. This sensation might continue for some clients for days after the session. Some might even say that they’ve learned a new way of being altogether.
The average length of a session is one hour, although not a rule of thumb. If agreed, the time can be adjusted to individual needs. Applications could include longer or shorter schedules depending on the desired outcome.
THE BIRTH OF WATSU
Watsu was birthed in Harbin Hot Springs, California U.S.A. by Harold Dull.
In the early 70’s, after spending extensive time in Japan being trained in Zen Shiatsu with the famous and late Shizuto Masunaga, Harold returned to his homeland, the USA, and in Harbin gathered a group of interested students whom he taught Zen Shiatsu.
Having a pool near their study room was a naturally inviting end to the long study days, which quickly led to the students playing in the water with what they have learnt each day.
Quite soon the students, with Harold’s leadership, found ways to practice that which they studied on land in the water, attempting to replicate the desired outcome of the Zen Shiatsu. This is how the first sequence of movements in the water was formed.
The word Watsu- Water Shiatsu, was introduced later on by Harold, and the complete form of the modality was developed to teach to others.
Applying and stretching the principles of Zen Shiatsu while floating people in warm water has evolved broadly since. Currently, almost 40 years later, Watsu is practiced around the world by many, including professional body workers, masseuses, and psychotherapists, and is included in aquatic physiotherapy programs in hospitals and rehabilitation aquatic centres, international spas. Furthermore, Watsu has recently been shown to produce great results in treating veterans and others individuals suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Watsu established the foundation that led to the birth of other related aquatic therapy modalities.
The World Wide Aquatic Bodywork Association (WABA) is the body that regulates training around the world.
Currently, there are many international Watsu training programs, led by highly proficient WABA authorised trainers.
WATSU SO POWERFUL?
Warm water and its 3D nature makes an ideal medium for applying gentle stretches and gentle manipulation of muscles, joints, fascia, and tendons, inviting greater freedom of movement.
Warm water is associated with the body’s deepest state of wakeful relaxation and associated with being in the foetal situation. The support of water takes weight off the vertebrae and allows the spine to be moved in ways not otherwise possible on land.
No wonder that over the years Watsu attracted a diverse range of therapists, igniting creative ways in which other modalities and practices could be incorporated with Watsu.
At present, many professional therapists around the world are incorporating a full range of Watsu applications and principles with their practice. Sharing ideas, knowledge and skills enriches benefits for human wellbeing.
In the west, stretching is related with improved circulation and muscle tone, and is known to be essential for maintaining a healthy range of motions. More or less almost anyone would be able to understand how a lack of flexibility can restrict or limit the ability to move.
The orient stretching practices such as Shiatsu and Yoga are associated with an ancient technique that is believed to open channels through which the Chi energy flows.
The gentle, gradual twists and pulls in a Watsu session help to relieve the pressure that a weight-bearing and otherwise rigid spine might place on sensitive nerves, which in turn can lead to aches, pains, and general physical dysfunction.
This therapy generally results in giving a greater flexibility and freedom of movement, as well as a sense of enhanced wellbeing.
The deeply relaxing effects of warm water and nurturing support, combined with Watsu movements, stretches and massage, induce a sense of expansion and wellbeing.
As a result of being floated, cradled, rocked and stretched during a Watsu session, a range of emotions can arise and be released as the state of relaxation creates a feeling of ambiance and a sense of positiveness that the client can take away with them after the session.
Watsu has been shown to relieve pain, release tension and reduce stress. It increases the body’s range of motions, improves circulation, and radiates warmth, promoting deep relaxation and well-being.