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What, what? Combining water and Shiatsu, Watsu is a form of aquatic bodywork that focuses on stretching and massaging movements whilst your body is submerged in warm water. As the buoyancy of the water takes the weight off your feet (and your vertebrae), you’ll be guided through a series of stretches to help promote flexibility and improve your spine’s suppleness. And even if you can’t swim for toffee, you’ll still have the ability to become water bound as there’ll be a therapist by your side every step of the way.
Everyone knows that a failsafe way to unwind after you’ve been slogging your guts out all day is to dip your toes in a toasty warm bath and soak away your stresses and strains. So combine massage therapy with warm water and you’ve got a fast-track pass to relaxation city.
Performed in a small pool heated at around 35 degrees, Watsu isn’t a case of sink or swim. The only two moves you’ll need to make are from standing vertically to floating horizontally, but your therapist will be there to guide you from one to the other. In fact, the trickiest part is learning to put all your trust in the hands of your Watsuer (therapist), as you’ll spend most of the time floating in their arms (literally). A very hands-on treatment, it’s advisable you feel at ease with your therapist - especially as all that’s between you and them is a swimming cossie - but normally you’ll have an initial consultation first so you can decide whether they get the thumbs up or not.
By cradling and supporting different areas of your body, your therapist will steer you through a variety of different moves and positions whilst applying pressure to specific points on your body and lightly massaging muscles. The programme will also be interspersed with moments of stillness and gentle stretches timed to your natural breathing pattern, all of which help to give a feeling of freedom and boost your body’s energy flow (chi). Because the support of the water leaves you weightless, it also means the spine can be moved in ways impossible on dry land, which serves to heighten your flexibility and increase your relaxation levels.
Although your face won’t get wet, the back of your head and your ears will be under water so if you suffer from sensitive lugholes, you might want to invest in some earplugs. Either way, whilst you’re getting wet behind the ears, it means you’ll be able to tune in to the soothing sounds of the water. Acting as meditation in its own right, it makes switching off from the outside world much easier as you won’t be able to, or expected to, hear a peep. Each session lasts about an hour with 45 minutes of that time spent in the water, so expect wrinkly fingers and toes by the end of it.
Because Watsu requires no swimming ability, it’s suitable for people of every age and gender, especially because each session is personalised. It also comes highly recommended for women sporting a baby bump as the warm water relaxes lower back pain and the floating sensation helps sooth and relax any pre-tot tension. If you’re considering a waterbirth, Watsu is also said to be the perfect preparation for a readymade waterbaby.
Working to combat common problems such as anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, poor circulation and stress, it can also serve a purpose in helping to treat more severe conditions including multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic pain sufferers and those dealing with brutal sports injuries.
Watsu was founded in 1980 by Harold Dull. A constantly evolving therapy, there are now several variations, the most common being Waterdance (or Water Breath dance) which incorporates movements such as rolls, shapes and dance positions whilst underwater, and Free Flow Watsu - an uninterrupted flow of movement dictated by your body’s own energy. There are even new pools being developed to intensify the treatment which include high-tech features such as power jets and whirlpooling water.