AQUATIC BODYWORK THERAPY
Warm, safe, buoyant, connected and evolving. Before we were born, this was our perfect environment. Our mother’s womb was a body of water where we were nurtured and all of our needs were met. It prepared us to enter this world.
As we evolved, we developed limbs, bones, blood, tissue and organs, including a brain, heart and lungs, as well as memory. These all worked in tandem to give us life.
At birth, we were introduced to light, distinct noises, pungent smells and tastes, air, cooler temperatures and physical contact. Within each of us, a system of energy exchanges were perfected to keeps us breathing, our hearts beating, our brains operating and our consciousness alert.
It was our beginning.
WATSU® (also referred to as Aquatic Shiatsu) is fundamental to effective Aquatic Bodywork Therapy. Rooted in Eastern Philosophy which focuses on whole body health, balance and holistic healing practices, WATSU® was developed by Harold Dull at the Northern California School of Shiatsu and Massage. Inspired by his Zen Shiatsu studies in Japan, Dull incorporated the Shiatsu stretches and methodologies into his water practice while floating students in warm water. With his deep understanding of our body’s ability to store trauma and the blocks it creates—as well as our body’s ability to release trauma and renew – he knew that freedom rests in unlocking those blocks to bring about a healthy state. Like Shiatsu, WATSU® focuses on releasing impediments along our meridians, the channels through which our “chi” or life-force flow.
WATSU® sessions are held in 96-degree saltwater – the same temperature as our skin – and incorporate a series of stretches that gently strengthens muscles while increasing flexibility and range of motion. The recipient is cradled in a floating position by the WATSU® practitioner, with their head resting just above the water and their ears just below it. Noise is quieted, and with eyes closed, the buoyancy of the warm water relieves the weight on the body which frees the spine, takes pressure off the vertebrae and relaxes the muscles. When the spine is freed, the pressure points along the body are slowly opened, blood circulation improves, breathing becomes deep and even, and energy begins to flow. The support of the water allows the spine to be moved in ways that are impossible on land, in gentle, gradual twists and pulls that relieve the pressure a rigid spine places on nerves. This movement can help to undo the dysfunction such pressure can cause to the organs serviced by those nerves. The WATSU® recipient experiences the benefit of greater flexibility and freedom, which can unlock the blocks created by past experiences.
Throughout the journey of our lives, as our bodies adapt and our brains develop, we encounter incidents, accidents and traumas that impact our bodies, minds and spirits. Each creates memories that are recorded in our tissue, much like muscle memory. While most memories keep us informed, active, engaged and moving toward the future, traumatic events leave their imprint in a different way, in specific areas of the body. These records can create blocks that lead to compromised immune systems, increased physical injuries, anxiety, pain, emotional turmoil and unhealthy decisions. When our bodies are in a state of reaction by holding onto that incident, it becomes a challenge to stay in present time; letting go into the flow of life becomes nearly impossible. WATSU® strives to open those blocks – not by reliving the past, but by creating new pathways in the present that lead to a better, healthier, more fulfilling existence.
WaterDance®: A Dance of Physical, Mental & Spiritual Freedom
WaterDance® extends the principles of WATSU® to an underwater meditation of slow-motion dance. It is grounded in the philosophies of WATSU®, beginning with being cradled above the water by the practitioner who floats and stretches the recipient as they ease into relaxed breath. From there, it broadens to an underwater meditation that deepens with flowing movements, waves, rolls, twists, inversions, and quiet stillness in a slow-motion dance. Between being floated above the water to being gently submerged with a nose clip to the buoyancy of the 96-degree saltwater, this recreates a womb-like experience. External sounds are diminished, light is dimmed, internal noise is quieted and the warm saltwater flows over, under and around the recipient. Tension is released, the present is welcomed and a dance of physical, mental and spiritual freedom alchemizes.
WaterDance® was developed in 1987 by and is a registered trademark of Arjana Brunschwiler and Peter Aman Schroter.
The full number of benefits that WATSU® provides continues to grow, as more and more people with different ailments participate in the practice. As the water’s buoyancy provides relief from compression forces on the joints and the movements help stretch and strengthen muscles, WATSU® practitioners report that their patients have experienced the following benefits:
Immediate Benefits from First Session:
- Increased range of motion
- Increased muscle relaxation
- Decreased muscle spasm
- Decreased pain
- Decreased spasticity
- Decreased feelings of stress
Long-Term Benefits After Multiple Sessions:
- Improved sleep patterns
- Improved digestion
- Improved healing and immune system response
- Greater decreases in pain
- Decreased anxiety
- Many clients report a decrease in their emotional pain
In fact, many clients report that nothing else is as effective in decreasing their pain and improving their ability to move.
WATSU® is a registered trademark of Harold Dull.
The above is from Benefits of Watsu® For People With Orthopedic, Neurologic And Rheumatologic Special Needs by Peggy Schoedinger, PT.
Peggy Schoedinger is an instructor of Watsu® 1, 2 and 3 who has taught Watsu® since 1990 in aquatic therapy seminars on five continents. She has used Watsu® in thousands of hours of work on individuals with special needs. Ms. Schoedinger has contributed an expanded chapter on Watsu® for those with special needs in the third edition of the above-referenced book.
As WATSU® becomes more widely known and therapists are impressed by its benefits, more rehabilitation centers, clinics and hospitals are integrating this therapy into their practice. Some of the many populations who have benefited include those with:
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Cerebral Palsy
- Chronic Pain
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Post-Thoracic Surgery
- Post-Traumatic Stress
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Spinal Cord Injury