Watsu is an aquatic shiatsu massage, developed at Harbin Hot Springs where Harold Dull brought his knowledge of Zen shiatsu into a warm pool. Zen shiatsu incorporates stretches that release blockages along the meridians — the channels through which chi or life force flows. Dull found the effects of Zen shiatsu could be amplified and made more profound by stretching someone while having them float in warm water. By supporting, rocking, and moving the whole body while stretching a leg or arm, Watsu lessens the resistance there is when a limb is worked in isolation. When the whole body is in continual movement, each move flowing gracefully into the next, there is no way to resist or anticipate what is coming next. Warm water and the continuous support it provides are ideal for freeing the spine.
How does it all happen? From the receiver’s point of view.
For someone receiving a Watsu, a session can seem deceptively simple. You put on a bathing suit and get into the warm water, you receive a few instructions from your therapist, and are gently lifted off your feet and supported floating on your back. You don’t see anything but the interplay of light and shadow, because your eyes are closed. You don’t hear anything but the water, because your ears are submerged. What you feel is the water’s warmth, and the weightless movements of your body as it gently waves and sways through the currents. Occasionally you might be aware of some deep massage in a tight muscle, or a big stretch. But very quickly all the touch and movements blend together into one harmonious, timeless, flowing dance. What you notice is not the work being done on your body, but the results of it: a profound physical release, letting go, and relief from tensions and pain.
At the same time as your body is letting go, so too is your mind. There is a theory among bodywork researchers that every physical pain carries with it an analogous mental thought pattern. If you’re holding onto soreness in your toe, for example, you’re also holding onto the emotional story about the circumstances surrounding the injury or accident. In Watsu, as your body thoroughly lets go of its physical discomforts, the corresponding mental stories are released as well. Not that you’ll necessarily notice your mind letting go; in fact, it’s more like the absence of noticing. You might not have any thoughts – just a mental quiet and peace that accompanies the physical freedom of your body.
Once your body is free and your mind is at peace, there is nothing left to keep your spirit from shining through.
Taken together, all these aspects of Watsu – and more – combine to create a profound and holistic bodywork experience that is literally like no other. Part soothing massage, part return to the womb, and part expansion to everything beyond. It’s soft, effective bodywork. It’s mental peace. It’s a spiritual coming home. And if you’re looking for the one word that would best describes it all, the closest must surely be “healing.”
Baja Wellness has two Watsu practitioners in its team, trained and accomplished in Watsu and Healing Dance at Harold Dull’s Harbin Hotsprings.