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Exploring the benefits of Watsu therapy

By Tracy Dye

“I think the reason I’m so good at what I do is because I can relate to so many people’s pain and injuries,” said Linda Phillips, Aquatic Team Leader at Haven on the Lake.

Shortly after Phillips began teaching a class at Haven in May 2015, she suffered a brain injury and put her class on hold in order to receive treatment. Despite being sidelined for five months, she was able to return to work and later secured a supervisory position.

“They held onto me and I couldn’t be more thankful,” Phillips said.

As a result of her injury, Phillips experienced migraines that lasted entire days. She was prescribed several different medications, but the migraines persisted. Finally, the cycle of pain was broken by a combination of ai chi — a form of tai chi that takes place in an aquatic environment — and an aquatic form of bodywork known as watsu.

Developed in 1980 by Harold Dull, watsu — also known as water shiatsu — is a gentle form of mind body therapy performed in warm water by a certified watsu practitioner. During one-on-one sessions, you are continuously supported while being floated, cradled, rocked and stretched. Individuals who receive watsu often appear to be asleep or in a trance-like state, as the aquatic environment paired with the bodywork fosters a profound state of relaxation. In an article for Mind Body Green, author Joanne Fedler described her experience with Watsu as “the enactment of every experience of love you’ve ever had, and never had.”

The therapy can also help eliminate chronic aches and pains and restore mobility in those with various ailments. Watsu has made its way into headlines for the advantages it offers to those with special needs, as the aquatic environment allows for movement and activity that cannot be achieved on land for many individuals with disabilities.

Even before therapy begins, the simple act of being submerged in warm water catalyzes a variety of physiological changes that encourage long-term effects on overall health. Several research studies have observed the benefits of using aquatic environments for treating a broad range of ailments, such as:

  • Decreased stress
  • Improved memory and cognitive functioning
  • Pain reduction
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Relief of joint pain caused by conditions like arthritis

Dive in

Haven offers several aqua classes tailored to different levels and needs. You can find more detailed information about classes and scheduling here or by calling 410-715-3020.


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