By Peter Lukes
Watsu (Water Shiatsu) is a well-known form of aquatic bodywork that incorporates the principles of Zen Shiatsu and other therapeutic modalities in a facilitated aquatic therapy. It is well loved by those who know it, and continues to consistently astound people in the many countries all over the world where it is practiced.
Held and supported by the therapist, the recipient of a Watsu therapy session floats in body temperature water. The therapist uses their hands, arms and shoulders to support and move the receiver, whose face is kept above the water at all times. The therapist moves the receiver through a series of stretches, compressions, vibrations, undulations and still points while massaging tissues, mobilizing joints, and moving energy through touching Shiatsu points and meridians. Combining the stretches of Zen Shiatsu with gentle wave-like motions in the buoyant weightlessness of water, Watsu melts tensions away; freeing the spine, allowing increased flexibility and greater range of motion, while profoundly calming the mind. As the body is moved, the buoyancy, resistance and hydrostatic pressure of the water support, stretch and stimulate the body. Blood circulation is increased, chi meridians are cleared from energetic blockages, and the spine is given a dynamic freedom to reintegrate spontaneously. The therapist’s awareness is drawn to the client’s breath and natural movement, bringing about a rhythmic connection that can help facilitate a very nurturing, deeply relaxing, mind and body experience.
Aquatic bodywork seems to have come about when a kind, gentle being, a poet in fact, began, with healing intent, to hold and touch people in body temperature geothermal water. Harold Dull had returned from Japan where he had studied Zen Shiatsu with its creator, Shizuto Masunaga. Shiatsu is a system of health and healing based in energy and touch and Mr. Dull decided to try its techniques in the most relaxing, rejuvenating environment he knew: a body temperature hot springs pool. Serendipity. It soon became evident that there is a profoundly synergistic, compounding effect to the combination of the weightless freedom of floating in warm water, being safely held, receiving healing touch, and a rhythmic, energetic connection to a therapist utilizing Shiatsu techniques. Over time it evolved to a series of dance-like forms that transition into each other, creating a journey- like experience for the recipient. It became called Watsu from Water, and Shiatsu.
“What did you just do to me?” is the question often asked with delighted wonder immediately after an aquatic bodywork session. Often the recipient is astounded by both the profound physical relaxation as well as the surprising mental journey they often spontaneously take. The question is often repeated days or weeks later with comments like “I have not slept like that in years” or “I cannot remember the last time I was without pain like this.” Given the freedom to heal, both the body, as well as the mind, will always choose to do so. Aquatic body work simultaneously frees the body physically, and nurtures it energetically with unconditional Love, both of which give the mind a profoundly calm place in which to explore itself and often find self-Love and acceptance.
Things happen just as they do. No Blame. Everything that occurs in the unfolding of our lives becomes part of who we are, both mentally and physically. Our mind and body are inextricably linked. They intertwine, and when either is gently touched, just so, the tendrils of all we think, feel, remember, and believe, can find new ways of organization and prioritization, new ways of being, new ways of meaning. Onward growth and evolution, perhaps without so much fear, pain, and confusion, become greater possibilities. The body’s organization and functions, profoundly affected by our mind’s processes, can make profound changes on many levels, from the biochemical to the physical. As mental shifts in how we think, feel and remember occur, the body’s circumstances can change in ways where disease, disorders, and physical limitations begin to fall away. When we find the safety to consider what is real in the here and now, who we really are right now, we can find that our minds have the opportunity to reorganize, to let the best of what we have now escape out from under debilitating fear. The past no longer needs to affect us if we get the chance to realize that as the past, it is no longer relevant.
Aquatic bodywork gives both the mind as well as the body, the safe, relaxing circumstances in which to have the freedom to reorganize and heal. Kind, nurturing touch encourages the body to relax, which by its connections, nudges the mind to reconsider and resettle its processes in ways that might very well make for a happier existence. The potential to shed great emotional and physical pain and disorder is immense. People can come to realize that forgiving themselves for things for which they never needed to be forgiven can free them to move onward through life, leaving behind fear and both physical and mental pain.
Peter Lukes has been a practitioner of water therapy for over 15 years. He has studied at the Harbin School of Shiatsu and Massage with Watsu originator Harold Dull and other excellent teachers. Having completed WABA certification as a Watsu practitioner, Peter continues to explore Watsu as well as underwater aquatic bodywork, through private sessions, explorer path gatherings, and classes. The relaxation, exploration and healing of both body and mind that continually flow from this work fill Peter with wonder and gratitude.