Watsu: Water Massage

Water is a symbol of relaxation and peace for many individuals and cultures. Watching the gently rolling waves of the ocean from a canoe or from the beach can inspire tranquility, as can the placid surface of a lake. Water is also a vital part of our lives as human beings, which gives it special significance.

Massage is also relaxing, but when combined with water, it can be even more profound. Watsu, designed by a Zen Shiatsu therapist named Harold Dull in the early 1980’s, is a combination of the words water and shiatsu. It was one of the least commonly known forms of massage therapy, but it is becoming more popular in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia.

Since people are able to float in water, they are not susceptible to gravity, which makes certain massage and stretching exercises possible while they are not possible on land. Since different movements are used, it is not considered traditional Shiatsu, but it combines the major principles of the same: relaxation, relief of tension and accupressure.The therapist is able to rotate, flex and move muscles in ways that are not possible on a massage table, which results in a fuller, more relaxing massage.

Many of the movements used in Watsu are similar to those seen in other water exercises. Performed in an indoor pool of warm water, it looks almost like a dance, and the movements are very fluid. There should never be a time during Watsu when the patient is tense or rigid; the therapist controls the movements of the body, thus inviting complete relaxation. The water allows for freedom of the spinal vertebrae, wide rotation of the joints and maximum elongation of the muscles. The therapist will also incorporate set breathing patterns in order to heighten the sense of self awareness.

One of the most attractive aspects of Watsu is that it can be done by anyone. Children and the elderly can be massaged in this way just as well as young and middle-aged adults. The calming, fluid surface of water alleviates pressures that might be present on a massage table, and there is no need to climb or heft oneself onto a board. The entire point of Water Shiatsu – Watsu – is to free the mind from everyday stress and to escape the boundaries that gravity creates.

Most Watsu sessions last approximate half an hour, but can go as long as one hour, depending on the patient. The difficulty and level of stretch is increased as patients become accustomed to the practice, and therefore the times will increase as well. People new to Watsu should try a fifteen-minute session for to acclimate themselves to how it is done. People who have participated in traditional massage therapy might take time getting used to the new technique.

Watsu also focuses on the inherent skill of relaxation. It is more difficult than one would imagine to allow yourself to complete relax in the care of a therapist, and not to tense as soon as a new movement or stretch begins. This will be even more difficult for people who suffer from chronic pain because they have spent many months or even years learning to compensate for that pain. The water is meant to take over for those compensations, and allow the body to full stretch in beneficial ways.

The Watsu therapist will work with his or her patient to learn what it means to be completely relaxed and to let go of all muscular tension. Someone who thinks he is relaxed may have only reached a point of semi-relaxation, and Watsu serves to deepen that degree so that healing and realignment can take place.

Watsu therapy is represented by the WABA, which stands for The Worldwide Aquatic Bodywork Association. If you visit their website, you can learn about Watsu for the elderly; for special needs children and adults; and how to find a Watsu therapist near you. You can also read about Watsu for couples, which involves teaching married couples how to perform Watsu techniques on each other for day-to-day relaxation.

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