Accessing a Deep Meditative State Through Warm Water Watsu Massage

By Kathleen Christ, LMT, NCMBT Aquatic Therapist

When a person becomes ill or suffers an accident or trauma, the stress and suffering of the body may induce a state of hyper-vigilance within the nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system remains on and is monitoring continuously. With each passing day, it becomes more difficult to access the parasympathetic nervous system, which has the ability to return the body to a state of peacefulness, biochemical balance and harmony.

Watsu is a form of shiatsu massage performed in warm water. As a Watsu practitioner for the past 10 years, and seeing many patients a day, I can attest to the nearly magical qualities of warm water (95 degrees) and the gentle and rhythmic movements of Watsu. The two groups of people that respond best to Watsu are people with chronic pain, i.e. from arthritis, fibromyalgia, whiplash, and people who are suicidal.

The key to the profound shift is the body's ability to access the parasympathetic nervous system. The body is gently cradled in the buoyant environment of warm water, while being rocked, floated, stretched, and rolled. What the body actually experiences, sometimes for the first time, is a dancing meditation. The experience induces a very deep state of meditation similar to what monks develop after 20 years of practice, namely, the healing frequency. Not only is the body altered deeply and profoundly, but so is the mind. The balanced biochemistry resets the entire being. It is a delicious and sweet feeling, which one may not have experienced for a very long time, perhaps not since infancy or in utero or perhaps if ever.

Since healing requires the movement of energy within the body, and since energy moves in the body 100 times more powerfully in water than on land, Watsu becomes a most potent and powerful force of energy and bodywork. The body also does not experience pain as much in warm water, so the practitioner is able to move the body in ways that are impossible in any other environment.

A comforting and deep state of relaxation is felt in all the muscle groups, as the body literally melts into the water. The eyes are closed and the ears are in the water and gradually this hypnotic state releases the whole body and mind. This altered state does not last for just a few minutes, but for an extended period of time. Clients have commented that they escaped for a while, when in truth, they returned home to who they really are. And the more they receive this bodywork, the quicker, more deeply and more profoundly they receive and enter this meditative and magical space.

"It was said in Egypt, water is given to the soul as compensation for taking a bodily form. In water our bodies find the freedom the soul has lost."
-Harold Dull