Drawing techniques from both shiatsu massage and acupressure, Watsu massage is a unique type of relaxation massage. Unlike most therapies, Watsu massages take place in a pool of water with a temperature of approiximately 96 degrees Fahrenheit. The warm water encourages muscle relaxation and promotes circulation.
Developed in 1980 by Harold Dull, this type of massage is extremely gentle, yet effective. Besides being an extraordinarily comforting and peaceful experience, Watsu massage is also useful as a tool for assisting clients in overcoming water-related fears. Because the massage takes place in a pool, but the client is always supported, a sense of safety is expressed. During the hour long session, the masseuse (or, in this case, watsuese) remains with the client in the pool and guides the client through several moderate stretches. The client feels physically supported throughout the massage session. Though acupressure may be used in a session, the primary focus of Watsu is on stretching the muscles.
Watsu massage begins with what is called the Water Breath Dance. The watsuese supports the client, and as the client breathes in and out, the watsuese allows the client’s body to rise and fall slightly while matching the client’s breathing with his or her own.
Watsu massage is a wonderful alternative for individuals with physical limitations, such as fibromyalgia, spina bifida or generalized chronic pain. By receiving a massage in the “weightless world” of water, a client’s muscles are able to more deeply release than on a standard massage table. A client’s spine is able to better extend and decompress without the full force of gravity found on land.
Watsu massage also has emotional and psychological benefits. Because a client’s eyes stay closed throughout the massage, and because the client’s ears are primarily below the water’s surface, a state of deep meditation is often achieved. Many people who have experienced a Watsu massage find the process highly spiritual and enlightening. The properly trained watsuese will connect the stretches and acupressure to a client’s breathing patterns. This union allows the body and mind to become more connected, which in turn enables the client to “listen” to his or her body’s needs once out of the water.
There are many lasting benefits of Watsu massage. Clients often experience decreased pain and improved flexibility after just one or two sessions. Long term benefits include decreased heart rate, increased immune system responsiveness and improved digestion and sleep patterns. Watsu can also offer long-term decreased anxiety levels.