Origins of Watsu
Watsu® (Water Shiatsu) began in 1980 in the warm pool at Harbin Hot Springs when Harold Dull started floating people while applying the stretches and principles of the Zen Shiatsu he had studied in Japan. In the Orient, stretching as a way to open channels through which our Chi energy flows is even older than acupuncture. Stretching strengthens muscle and increases flexibility. Warm water, which many associate with the body’s deepest states of waking relaxation, is the ideal medium. The support of water takes weight off the vertebrae and allows the spine to be moved in ways impossible on land. Gentle, gradual twists and pulls relieve the pressure a rigid spine places on nerves and helps undo any dysfunctioning this pressure can cause to the organs serviced by those nerves. The Watsu receiver experiences greater flexibility and freedom. During Watsu a range of emotions can come up and be released into the process of continuous flow. This reprograms receivers to face life out of the water with greater equanimity and flexibility.
Another principle of Zen Shiatsu, that of connecting with the breath, takes on a new dimension in Watsu. On land, the breathing is coordinated with leaning into points. In water, our most basic move is the Water Breath Dance, in which we float someone in our arms and let them sink a little as they breathe out and let the water lift us as we both breathe in. Repeated over and over at the beginning of a Watsu, this creates a connection that can be carried into all the stretches and moves. This Water Breath Dance, and its stillness, is returned to throughout the session.
Experiencing both giving and receiving this most nurturing form of bodywork can help heal whatever wounds of separation we carry and renew in us our sense of connection and oneness with others. For this reason Watsu is Rebonding Therapy. Watsu is used around the world by professional bodyworkers, physical therapists, psychologists, as well as the general public.
Watsu, and the way it is taught, has evolved over the years. In the beginning the focus was primarily on stretching. With the Waterbreath Dance and the greater connection of moves to the breath, a more meditative stillness entered in. The use of flotation devices on legs that would otherwise sink has widened the possibilities and the ease of a Watsu.
Once a practitioner has reached the level of presence and connection that the carefully evolved Watsu Forms instill, they are taught and encouraged to explore the creative potential in Watsu Free Flow.
I was lucky to try this therapy form out a few years back in New Zealand. A female certified teacher of Watsu simply asked my if I would like to try.. I can only add that Watsu to my experience and understanding is a true Zen practice.
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