Warm, safe, buoyant, connected and evolving. Before we were born our mother’s womb prepared us for the world. She provided us with a body of water where we were nurtured in a perfect environment, where our needs were met. As we evolved, we developed limbs, bones, blood, tissue, organs including a brain, heart and lungs, and memory. They all worked in tandem to give us life. At birth we were introduced to light, distinct noises, pungent smells and taste, 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® principles are rooted in Eastern Philosophy that focus on whole body health, balance, and holistic healing practices. WATSU® (also referred to as Aquatic Shiatsu) is fundamental to effective Aquatic Bodywork Therapy. The practice was developed by Harold Dull at the Northern California School of Shiatsu and Massage. Inspired by his Zen Shiatsu studies in Japan while floating students in warm water, Dull incorporated the Shiatsu stretches and methodologies into his water practice. With his deep understanding of our body’s ability to store trauma, to release it and renew, he knows 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 as their head rests just above the water and their ears are 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 impossible on land as gentle, gradual twists and pulls relieve the pressure that a rigid spine places on nerves. The movement can help to undo the dysfunction this pressure can cause to the organs serviced by those nerves. The WATSU® recipient experiences this greater flexibility and freedom which can unlock the blocks created by past experiences.
Throughout the years, we grow, our bodies adapt, and our brains develop. At some point along the journey we encounter incidents, accidents and traumas that impact our bodies, minds and spirits; each creating memories that are recorded on our tissue, much like muscle memory. While most memories keep us informed, active, engaged and moving toward the future, the 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 and 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 in a present state to create new pathways that lead to a better, healthier, more fulfilling existence.
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 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 the 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 Mastectomy
- Post Thoracic Surgery
- Post Traumatic Stress
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Spinal Cord Injury