WATSU® (Water Shiatsu) has been an enigma to me since I started visiting The Ranch. It’s one of our most popular treatments, but the guests that I’ve asked about it have been unable to explain it, other than expressing that it was a mind blowing experience. Some laughed, some cried, some felt relief and a new direction in life.
I’ve walked by the WATSU pool countless times and have socialized with our WATSU therapists, but had yet to schedule a session. Finally Erin O’Rourke, one of our therapists, convinced me to take the plunge and experience it for myself. She told me about the amazing healing qualities it has on vets with post-traumatic stress syndrome. I knew that if it had a positive impact on those with severe trauma in their lives that it could only benefit me.
I scheduled an appointment with Dave Towe who heads our WATSU department and owns Warm Water Alchemy in San Diego. Dave explained that WATSU is a gentle water therapy used to lightly stretch muscles and ligaments. There is also an emotional side to WATSU that many guests experience. It can bring out feelings and release issues that one may be dealing with. Everyone reacts differently and the experience varies depending on the therapist’s style.
Below is a description of WATSU from Warm Water Alchemy:
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 knew freedom rested 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 Fahrenheit 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.
Before the treatment began Dave asked me if I wanted to experience water dancing, or go deep under the water during the treatment. I said yes, although please take note, that by no means you have to go completely underwater. You will still receive the benefits of the treatment without being completely submerged.
As opposed to water dancing, with traditional WATSU, your ears are underwater throughout most of the treatment, while your face is above water with your eyes closed. I loved this because I was unaware of anything outside of the pool. I couldn’t hear external noises because my ears were covered by the warm water. It felt like I was in my own little world. The treatment brought me back to my childhood when I loved to play and swim in the pool for hours on end. The way Dave moved me around the pool took me back to a time when I did not have a care in the world except playing in the water!
I felt extremely relaxed and joyful throughout the first portion of the treatment. When it came time to go completely under, I tensed up a bit. As Dave coached me through the process, I realized that if I was to reap the full benefit of WATSU, I would have to completely let go and depend on Dave. This was not easy for me – I don’t relinquish control easily! But I felt the lesson I needed to learn was to let go. Being completely underwater was an incredible experience that brought me back to my childhood even more. When the session was over, I was completely blissed out.
While researching for this article, I realized that everyone has a different experience with WATSU, but in almost all cases, there is a sense of release. With Dave, I experienced giddiness and childhood joy. It was an experience of letting go. I would love to have another session with a different practitioner to see if anything else comes up. The beauty of WATSU is that it is a unique experience every time.
About Dave Towe: As founder of the Wave Academy, Dave’s vision is global education and implementation of the most significant physical therapy available today. His mission to be of service to people making a difference in our world is being accomplished through widespread multi-media introduction, practitioner training, and one-by-one individual experience of the freedom and flexibility aquatic therapy brings. A one-hour session is $145.
WATSU® is a registered trademark of Harold Dull.
The Ranch offers a variety of workshops, presentations, entertainment, and learning experiences to accommodate all of our guest’s request and interests.
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