Aquatic Bodywork – Watsu
Imagine yourself floating in body-temperature water, eyes closed, ears immersed and skin lapped in warmth. You are aware of a gently supportive presence that follows and facilitates your own body’s tendencies to movement or stillness. Noticing your breath moving with your body, you sink into deeper and deeper levels of awareness and begin to dream…
Originating in the primal soup, nurtured in the watery womb, made mostly of liquid substance ourselves, the aquatic experience can be a homecoming. Both physically and psychologically we resonate with the qualities of this most vital of substances, water. Taking it for granted, we drink it and wash with it. But if we allow ourselves to become totally immersed in it, we may find that it is metaphor and more for our existence. The Taoists and the ancients of all cultures understood this: they lived in a dialogue with water that linked physical, emotional and mysterious worlds. Water yields and flows; it offers both resistance and support; it dissolves boundaries and transmits information.
A special form of aquatic bodywork has inspired in me a profound connection with water and become a life and spiritual path. In the simplest terms, it involves floating and gently massaging or mobilizing another in warm water. No doubt this tender way of sharing was practiced by our ancestors wherever they had the opportunity to enjoy natural hot springs. Today, it deserves to be a sought-after contemporary therapy, reflecting the trend for experiences that integrate mind and body as well as providing pleasure and relaxation.
In North America the most well-known method is Watsu (water shiatsu). It was developed at Harbin Hot Springs around 1980 by Harold Dull who adapted the creative principles of Zen shiatsu to great effect in the water. Along with its derivatives, Watsu presents a huge variety of movements, both above and below the water’s surface, designed not only to mobilize the entire body but also to influence its subtle energetic qualities. According to Chinese medicine, the chi energy (life force) of the body is ideally in continual motion, meeting no resistance . The nearest approach to this optimum may be when the body is afloat in water; once we step out our fluid systems, soft tissues and bones must hold us up against gravity. Water, by contrast, offers buoyant and hydrostatic support allowing us to settle into a more harmonious state.
Conventional science tells us the following about water’s therapeutic benefits: Buoyancy causes joint decompression and unloads the resistance to stretch. Heat reduces the viscosity of muscles and increases circulation. Hydrostatic pressure increases lymphatic and venous return, helping to clear waste products. Sensory input (warmth, turbulence, vestibular stimulation) can help to inhibit sensations of pain that restrict movement. Movements that increase range of joint motion help to distribute synovial fluid evenly over joints so that they are more responsive to stretching. Gentle massage can help to restructure shortened fascial tissue, release contracture and remove metabolites. Physiotherapists have made good use of this in medical hydrotherapy.
Newer science explores physical forces in dynamic interplay with complex energetic forces. Water is the master element here. It has an ability to receive, store and transmit information that depends on rhythm, movement and temperature. Water affects and is affected by everything in its environment in ways we are only just beginning to understand. It is, in effect, a living entity. As a large component of our own bodies, it influences our health all the way down to the spirals of DNA whose threads open and close in response to cellular waters. Whether on land or in water, our cells are immersed in this constantly moving and vibrating fluid. Aquatic bodywork can put us back in touch with this.
In aquatic bodywork the receiver experiences a comforting and blissful sense of well-being that very often allows them to venture beyond the physical body and towards less tangible experiences. WaterJourneys is an aquatic art form designed to encourage creative inspiration and individual transformation. It draws on dream psychology, subtle and eastern healing modalities, Taoist philosophy, shamanic journeying, dreamwork, music and dance and focuses on encouraging each person’s unique process to unfold like a journey. Flowing movements and moments of stillness help the receiver to access personal intuitions about their lives. As the body relaxes, there is opportunity to get in touch with the self more. Some people experience a tranquillity and clarity of mind that is like meditation. Others enter the imaginative realm of dreams. Above all we rediscover our intimate relationship with water.