Watsu is a gentle form of body therapy performed in warm water, (around 35°C.) It combines elements of massage, joint mobilisation, shiatsu, muscle stretching and dance. The receiver is continuously supported while being floated, cradled, rocked and stretched. The deeply relaxing effects of warm water and nurturing support, combine with Watsu’s movements, stretches, massage and point work, to create a bodywork with a range of therapeutic benefits and potential healing on many levels.
Moments of stillness alternate with rhythmical flowing movements, which free the body in ways impossible on land. The warm water relaxes the muscles and supports the spine. With this support and without the weight of the body, the spine, joints and muscles can be manipulated and freed in a way unique to water work. The effects include a very gentle, yet deep stretching and a release of muscular and joint restrictions, along with a state of deep relaxation, which encourages the release of stress and tensions.
Warm water, which many associate with the body’s deepest states of waking relaxation, is the ideal medium. The support of water takes weight off the vertebrae and allows the spine to be moved in ways impossible on land. Gentle, gradual twists and pulls relieve the pressure a rigid spine places on nerves and helps undo any dysfunctioning this pressure can cause to the organs serviced by those nerves. The Watsu receiver experiences greater flexibility and freedom. During Watsu a range of emotions can come up and be released into the process of continuous flow. This reprograms receivers to face life out of the water with greater equanimity and flexibility.
Another principle of Zen Shiatsu, that of connecting with the breath, takes on a new dimension in Watsu. On land, the breathing is coordinated with leaning into points. In water, our most basic move is the Water Breath Dance, in which we float someone in our arms and let them sink a little as they breathe out and let the water lift us as we both breathe in. Repeated over and over at the beginning of a Watsu, this creates a connection that can be carried into all the stretches and moves. This Water Breath Dance, and its stillness, is returned to throughout the session.
Experiencing both giving and receiving this most nurturing form of bodywork can help heal whatever wounds of separation we carry and renew in us our sense of connection and oneness with others. For this reason Watsu is Rebonding Therapy. Watsu is used around the world by professional bodyworkers, physical therapists, psychologists, as well as the general public.
Watsu, and the way it is taught, has evolved over the years. In the beginning the focus was primarily on stretching. With the Waterbreath Dance and the greater connection of moves to the breath, a more meditative stillness entered in. The use of flotation devices on legs that would otherwise sink has widened the possibilities and the ease of a Watsu.
Specific therapeutic effects noted by receivers, include increased mobility and flexibility, muscle relaxation, fuller deeper breathing, reduction in anxiety and stress levels, decreased pain, improved sleep and digestion and a general sense of wellbeing.