By Phyllis K. Kennemer
Can you imagine the feeling of having no sense of gravity? I am not talking about going into outer space. It is possible to have this sensation right here in Colorado. It happens during Watsu sessions. Watsu is a form of aquatic bodywork used for physical rehabilitation, muscle therapy and deep relaxation.
Watsu is performed in a pool filled with chest-deep salt water. Unlike most therapy pools with higher temperatures, water in Watsu pools is maintained at body temperature. Thus, the body does not need to exert any energy to warm up or cool down. The client (receiver) is continuously supported by a practitioner (provider) while being back floated, rhythmically cradled, moved and stretched. Body work in warm water frees the person from the effects of gravity which allows the body to release holding patterns from old injuries and stress related tightness.
The provider involves the receiver in a progression of breath coordination and movement patterns which are based on that person’s specific needs and responses. The provider constantly monitors the state of the receiver, mindful of subtle changes in muscle tension and respiration and adapts the treatment accordingly.
The effects of warm water, gentle touch, and flowing movement produce a deep state of relaxation. Watsu is used as a form of passive aquatic therapy for physical rehabilitation of illness, injury and disability. Healthy people engage in Watsu for relaxation, muscle stretching and profound meditation.
Harold Dull is credited with developing Watsu in Harbin Hot Springs, California, in the 1980s. He combined methods used in Shiatsu (a Japanese muscle treatment performed by therapists with clients lying on mats on the ground) with flowing movement techniques made possible by doing the treatment in water.
Deb Evangelista of Essential Element Bodywork is an integrative aquatic therapist. She offers Watsu sessions in a large salt water pool located on her family’s property near Longmont. Deb sees her role as holding space for the individual and for wellness through creating a place of safety and peace. Her somatic therapy is based in understanding the connection of the mind and body for maintaining optimum health. Most of her clients climb an outside ladder to step into the pool, but she also has a hydraulic lift chair for use with those who are physically challenged.
Deb talks fondly of the installation of her pool, the amenities she provides, and recycled materials she used to create an inviting and spiritual environment. She describes her pool area as sacred space. Most of her clients experience meaningful meditation during treatment. Many of them tell her that ideas or issues bubble up to the surface of their conscious awareness where they can be recognized and released. Deb explains that clients often come to her with physical problems, such as aches and pains or muscle issues. The water therapy relieves these symptoms, but clients report that the greater good from the session is the spiritual sense of well-being that results.
Aimee Heckel, a reporter for the Boulder Camera, wrote an article about Watsu for her newspaper (February 12, 2014) describing her experience in a couple’s session with her husband. Deb and a local colleague provided the treatment for the two of them simultaneously. Heckel described her experience as freeing and spiritual. She stated that Watsu taps into a deep part, far beyond the physical – a space accessed only in rare breakthrough moments of deep mediation.
Maura Clare, a Boulder resident, contacted Deb as a result of reading Heckel’s article. She started seeing Deb in search of relief from muscle tension. She reports that the tension has been relieved and that she continues with monthly sessions as part of her self-care practice. Maura feels a complete release from tension during her treatments. The feeling of weightlessness begins with a sense of freedom, almost like flying, and then places her in a deep meditative state. She has discovered profound observations within herself that go beyond intellectual description. Every session continues her progress in self-knowledge.
The healing qualities of Watsu have become more widely recognized in recent years. Watsu is offered in many spas and treatment centers, as well as with private practitioners. More information can be obtained by at www.watsu.com.