To most, the modality of Aquatic Bodywork in a pool setting might look like a relaxing meditation session in the water, guided by a practitioner or ‘giver’. The truth is that Aquatic Bodywork goes far beyond simple relaxation. This practice involves floating, supporting, and providing input to a ‘receiver’ in a body of warm water that is typically around 94+ degrees. Within the discipline of Aquatic Bodywork, there are multiple bodywork forms and techniques in the water that serve the bigger purpose of providing relaxation, stretch, alignment, and calming for the nervous system.
Here at The Marsh, there are various forms of Aquatic Bodywork offered, integrated, and practiced within a single session. These forms are often combined together based on the goals, restrictions, and needs of each individual.
Watsu is one of the original forms of Aquatic Bodywork and is potentially the most widely known. As a Watsu practitioner, certified in 2000, I recognize the differences between all forms and cater to each individual as their needs arise during an individual session. Watsu (Water Shiatsu) is frequently a dynamic experience, born out of the principles of Zen Shiatsu, a land-based Japanese form transformed into “Water Shiatsu” in 1980 by Harold Dull.
The practice uses a form of acupressure and the water’s natural resistance to guide and move the body in contraction-extension-rotational ways around the practitioner’s axis. It opens up the meridians, or channels of energy housing “Qi”, and helps balance this energy flow. These movements can result in decreasing structural limitations, increasing flexibility and range of motion, as well as reducing muscle tension.
After a number of years practicing and adapting Watsu at the now Courage Kinney, a well-known local rehab center in Golden Valley, I met Cameron West in 2007, a long time Watsu and Shiatsu practitioner. Cameron was in the process of developing what began as a form of ‘Adaptive Watsu’ and is now a growing form called Aquatic Integration. In my experience, this form is more of a somatic treatment, ‘encouraging sensory integration’ and ‘especially effective for neurological repatterning for emotional and physical trauma.’ This form of aquatic bodywork relies on the magic of the moment as well as a keen ability to listen to the body, through movement and stillness.
Aquatic integration is highly focused on alignment principles, creating an environment that is comfortable and safe enough for the receiver to settle into a meditative state. The water serves as a supportive modality that allows practitioners to see, sense, and tune into alignment, lengthening, and breath. In the Aquatic Integration philosophy, only with the creation of this safe container can the receiver begin the healing process.
Benefits of Aquatic Bodywork
The overall benefit of any Aquatic Bodywork session is in the relaxation of the nervous system. But there are ample benefits that coincide with improving the function of the nervous system, on a physical, mental, and emotional level.
Aquatic Bodywork benefits are both short and long term. Increased circulation allows for improved muscle and brain functionality. For instance, someone who has incurred a traumatic brain injury may see improvements in brain function after a series of Aquatic Bodywork sessions, literally giving the brain a “re-set” for healing.
During a session, the body is also released from the challenges of gravity, something that is powerful for the healing process. As inflammation reduces, those with joint restrictions, chronic pain, and stress feel immediate benefits. Long term, sessions can improve functional movement on land, help with digestion and sleep issues, and calm the mind.
In a general sense, Aquatic Bodywork of any kind is widely received as a positive way to set aside the challenges of a fast-paced culture and sink into a place of settling and centering. In the receiver’s own words, I have heard the following statement many times: “Wow! That was the most relaxing thing I have experienced in my entire life!”
Try Aquatic Bodywork. It’s worth the wet.