Watsu's name comes from a combination of “water” and “shiatsu.” It was developed and trademarked by Harold Dull back in 1980, when he started giving Shiatsu stretches to students floating in the warm water of Harbin Hot Springs in California. In its early years, Watsu was more about stretching, but as therapists and recipients noticed the profound emotional effect it had on people, the emphasis changed from merely physical to emotional and energetic.
Watsu is a nurturing form of bodywork that takes place in warm, waist-deep water, with the therapist cradling the person who is receiving. Watsu can be a profound treatment that works on both body and mind. In fact, it is believed to help heal "wounds of separation" and renew in us our sense of connection and oneness with others.
Located two hours northeast of San Francisco, Harbin Hot Springs has always been ground zero of watsu treatments. In 2015, however, 95% of Harbin’s buildings, and the majority of its infrastructure systems, as well as its forests, gardens, and landscaping, were destroyed by fire. It is still in the rebuilding process.
Watsu is relatively unusual at spas for two reasons. First, the therapist has to have special training, usually from Harbin Hot Springs. Second, the spa has to have a special pool that is heated to the exact same temperature as your body. This is not a treatment that you can do in a swimming pool or hot tub.
Some spas have outdoors Watsu pools surrounded by walls, with cloth panels overhead to create a combination of sunlight and shade.
What Happens During a Watsu Treatment?
You and the massage therapist both wear bathing suits. The therapist gets in the water first. Then you enter the water and, while you sit on a step, the therapist puts floats around your ankles To enter the water, you put one arm around the therapist's back while he cradles you, takes all your weight, and pulls you into the water.
The therapist then twirls you through in the water, first one way then another, taking your body through a series of passive stretches and twists. Being held in the warm water is deeply relaxing.
Some people find that the first watsu session is all about learning to trust the fact that someone is there to support you.Others are trying to overcome a fear of water. (If this is you, be sure to tell your therapist.) Others are able to fully relax and find it deeply soothing from the very first session.
Watsu’s gentle stretches have a therapeutic effect on the body. The buoyancy and support of the water allow the spinal column to be moved in ways that aren't possible on land. Many people also find it works on an emotional level as well, promoting trust and connection.
If you love spas and see watsu on a spa menu, I highly recommend you get it. It is one of the most profound treatments that I have ever had.
Where Can I Get Watsu?
Because of the special pool, watsu is still a relatively unusual service. It is easiest to find in California, where many practitioners have been trained at Harbin Hot Springs. Here’s a list of some places to get a Watsu treatment:
California: Miramonte Resort Spa in Palm Springs; Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa in Desert Hot Springs; Sea Spa at Loews Coronado Bay Resort and Spa in Coronado; and Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa and Raindance Spa at The Lodge at Sonoma.
Arizona: Canyon Ranch Tucson; Mii Amo at Enchantment Resort in Sedona; The Boulders Resort in Carefree; The Sanctuary Spa at Camelback Mountain and Alvadora Spa at Royal Palms Resort and Spa, both in Phoenix.
New Mexico: SháNah Spa and Wellness Center at Bishops Lodge Resort & Spa in Santa Fe.
Florida: Spas in Florida that offer Watsu is Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa on Marco Island, Florida
Las Vegas: Spa Bellagio at The Bellagio; Aquae Sulis Spa at JW Marriott Las Vegas; Canyon Ranch SpaClub at The Venetian Hotel.
Scotland: One Spa and Health Club at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh, Scotland, offers Watsu.
You can also search for private practitioners.