Once you've been wrapped in water a bit, your mind starts to slow down. You're between dreaming and being awake, and all of the little things go out the window.
Keith McDaniel, a Watsu therapist, Tucson, AZ
What is Watsu?
Watsu is a tender development therapy practiced in warm, body-temperature water, which is creatively combining movement, stretches and cradling using the benefits of the unusual environment. In the early 1980’s Harold Dull began to take the stretches of Zen Shiatsu into the warm water of the pools at Harbin Hot Springs near Middletown in Northern California. Dull, who had studied Zen Shiatsu in Japan, brought the principles of his Asian education back to North America where he was a massage therapist. Dull coined the idea of using the buoyancy of water to stretch his patients’ bodies, improving the flow of their vital energy throughout their bodies and inducing a profound state of relaxation. What he came to call Watsu (Water and Shiatsu combination) is presently practiced worldwide in clinics, hospitals and spas in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, Israel, throughout Europe and most recently, in Brazil.
The treatment advantages may be significant for everyone – the very young, adolescents, the elderly, pregnant, athletes and those suffering from simple stress. Watsu is effective in a wide variety of psychological, neurological, and orthopedic problems. Its gentle rocking movements, stretches and nurturing support in the arms of the practitioner convey receivers to the peace and simplicity of their earliest childhood and womb states, allowing physical and emotional blockages to be gently released.
Healing Power of Water
Even without understanding all the physiological implications, ancient cultures have long known the healing powers of water. In fact, from ancient spa traditions comes the “taking the waters” philosophy, where healing pools were an integral part of art, culture, politics, and especially medicine.
Explains spa historian J. Paul de Vierville, Ph.D.: “Taking the waters is a phrase that holds mysterious connotations from a simpler, ancient time ... Taking the waters was, and is, a physical venture into healing, cleansing, and rejuvenation.”1 He says the ancients believed taking the waters cleansed the body, relaxed the heart, refreshed the mind, and purified the soul.
Dating back before written history, this philosophy of health was much more than just bathing. Taking the waters back then meant as much about art, dialogue, music, and socialization as it did about a bath. This spa culture, de Vierville explains, was an integration of experiences with health and rejuvenation at its core.
Many ancient civilizations appreciated the therapeutic value of water, de Vierville says. Egypt, India, Crete, China, and Mesopotamia all “utilized the waters, especially for religious rituals and healing rites.”
The Greeks, and then the Romans, understood water’s therapeutic value and incorporated it into the earliest versions of healthcare. While ancient Greek society built public baths in conjunction with gymnasiums to facilitate sound bodies and sound minds, Romans largely utilized baths as a social and political activity.
Most cultures have created traditions of health or spirituality based on water at one time or another. Look at the Russian bath with its Siberian shamanic origins, which involves a hot vapor soak followed by a cold plunge. The Dagara people of West Africa partake in an annual reconciliation ritual that involves being dunked in the local river by a healer as a means of washing away negative energy. And, of course, Christianity has long looked to water for the cleansing baptismal.
De Vierville says global discoveries are proving that water has been a healing tool for thousands of years. At a site of ancient mineral springs in France and Germany, archeologists have found Bronze Age artifacts including drinking cups and votive fragments.
Large public baths of old exist only in miniscule pockets in the Western world today. But, even though the philosophy is largely lost, the medicinal elements of taking the waters, is not. And that’s why we still see everything from hydrotherapy and vichy showers to floating and Watsu, as larger spas around the country keep the taking-the-waters heritage alive in their own ways.
How it Works?
So, Watsu is an aquatic bodywork, one-on-one, involving a trained “provider” and a recipient, the “receiver.“ While standing in warm water the “provider” floats the “receiver” on his/her back, the “receiver’s” eyes, nose, and mouth always above the surface of the water, ears below, and eyes closed.
When necessary, floats are wrapped around each of the “receiver’s” legs to provide them buoyancy necessary to maintain their legs just below the water’s surface. The “provider” guides the body through movements that offer gentle resistance from the warm water against the torso and limbs.
The “provider” incorporates gentle stretches, bending, and flexion of the “receiver’s” torso and limbs, with application of pressure points (shiatsu) to the face, head, torso, and back. Interspersed are periods of stillness, in which the subconscious and physical effects of these moving dynamics can integrate. Slowly, connective tissues within the body stretch, relieving compression and creating increased suppleness across the body’s skeletal framework. Control of subconsciously held muscle tension is released. Eastern thought explains that energy centers, or chakras in the head and torso, become balanced along the meridians, diminishing many physical pains, creating emotional calming and centeredness, and often fostering a feeling of self-affirmation and connectedness with others.
A typical session of Watsu massage lasts for about an hour.
Benefits of Watsu
Here is the list of the medical conditions, where Watsu can be especially effective, with no side effects or negative reactions of the patients:
· Diminished muscular tension
· Increased range of motion
· Reduction of pain
· Augmented peripheral circulation
· Fuller respiration
· Improved posture
· Normalization of muscle tone
· Reduced stress and anxiety, ease to clinical depression
· Increased body awareness
· Release of emotional stress
· Recovery for victims of physical, mental or sexual abuse
· Better sleep
· Improved disposition and reduced fatigue
Watsu for Elderly
Multiple studies confirmed the healing powers associated with water, which is backing the desire and demand for aquatic-based therapies such as Watsu. Moreover, the fact that many of these therapies are performed in warm water serves to assist the muscles into entering into a state of relaxation, increased flexibility and soothing warmth that can alleviate some forms of pain or discomfort. The interesting thing about Watsu massage therapy is that it also has a very profound spiritual aspect to it. Clients that have entrusted themselves completely to their watsuer during a session can allow themselves to enter into a profound state of meditation. The tranquil environment that exudes silence and trust makes it an ideal place for people to reflect on their inner selves.
In one of the clinical studies, 2003, residents of Westminster Canterbury Richmond (WCR) retirement community where enlisted for series of free Watsu sessions with professional guide. After eighteen months of providing twice monthly, 30-minute sessions, the developers examined the perceived therapeutic effect from Watsu sessions for the participants.
The feedback was very encouraging:
· Degree of Aches and Pains. 60% of receivers rated their pains within the top 34% of the pain level at the beginning of the sessions. By the end of the sessions, 73% rated their pains in the lowest 17% of the pain level.
· Degree of Emotional stress. 67% of receivers rated their emotional stress within the top
50% of stress level. By the end of the sessions, 87% rated their stress in the lowest 17% of the stress level.
· Degree of Body Flexibility. 60% of receivers rated their body flexibility within the top 34% of flexibility level at the beginning of the sessions. By the end of the sessions, 73% rated their body flexibility in the lowest 17% of the flexibility level.
· Degree of Ability to Relax. 53% of receivers rated their ability to relax within the top 34% of ability to relax at the beginning of the sessions. By the end of the sessions, 100% rated their ability to relax in the lowest 17% of the ability to relax level.
· No Side Effects. No undesirable side effects of the Watsu services were reported.
· People with severe water phobia may not enjoy Watsu.
· Patients with a temperature above 100 degrees, open sores, incontinence or vertigo should not have Watsu sessions.
· Watsu is a gentle massage technique not suitable for those desiring deep tissue or ligament manipulation.
Before sessions start, clients are asked questions such as if they are in any pain, whether medications are being taken, if they are subject to dizziness or if they are afraid of water. Please carefully explain your health limitations and let your therapist to assess your condition.
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