Watsu 101: What is Water Shiatsu?

Health & Wellness
Last Updated Jul 17, 2020
Health & Wellness

What is watsu?

The term Watsu is derived from the combined words water and shiatsu. Developed in 1980 by Harold Dull, Watsu is a passive form of bodywork that draws on techniques from zen shiatsu, yoga, the Alexander Technique and meditation to stimulate the body's natural healing process.

How does Watsu work

Watsu uses techniques adopted from the Shiatsu massage tradition, including acupressure and gentle stretching in a chest-high, warm and aqueous environment. Watsu sessions generally run for an hour, 45 minutes of which is spent in the water. Before commencing the session, your Watsu practitioner will go over what it will entail, and will be able to answer any other questions you may have. Your practitioner use small floats that attach the your legs once you enter the water to prevent you from sinking in this session. Supporting your back and knees, they will gently start to move you in the water. As they float you in their arms, the practitioner will encourage you to 'let go'. You may either drift off, or be warmed into a deep meditative-like state with your ears are under water and eyes closed to the world. Using breath-work, the Watsuer then connects dance-like movements to your breathing, encouraging the body and minds natural healing process to take place. The relaxation found in 'letting go' stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, and soothes the sympathetic nervous system responsible for putting our bodies into fight-or-flight mode when we are stressed out. The calming physical affects triggered with the parasympathetic nervous system encourage:

  • A slower pulse
  • Slower respiration
  • Increased depth of respiration
  • Better digestion
  • Relaxed muscles
  • Increased immunity

When the session is completed your practitioner will support and help you to an upright position until you are ready to support yourself. You may like to discuss the session with the Watsuer or simply sit back quietly by the pool. It is also a good idea to drink lots of water after the session and not to plan anything too strenuous to follow it.

Other Benefits

The most reported benefits of Watsu include the relief of muscle tension, a greater range in motion and relief from compression of the joints. A series of movements in the water gently stretch the spine and other extremities, unloading the joints and relieving the pressure compounding them while it does so. Other reported benefits of Watsu include:

  • Greater range of motion
  • Reduced muscle
  • Reduced spasticity
  • Better quality, more consistent sleeping patterns
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Deep relaxation
  • Alleviation of acute and chronic pain
  • Alleviation of emotional pain
  • Increased energy levels
  • Reduced fatigue and other stress-related disorders
  • Improved awareness of posture, breathing and circulation

Who might benefit from Wastu

Recent scientific research has shown that Watsu may prove beneficial to those suffering with side effects incurred by:

  • Injuries to the brain or spinal cord
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Arthritis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Post mastectomy pain or discomfort
  • Post thoracic surgery
  • Post traumatic stress disorder

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Originally published on Jul 07, 2010

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