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What Are the Health Benefits of Watsu Massage Therapy?

Kristie Leong M.D. is a family practitioner who believes in the power of nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to prevent and fight illness.

Watsu massage therapy is a form of aquatic bodywork that uses the healing power of water to provide profound relaxation and wellness. The term Watsu is derived from the shiatsu, a type of Japanese massage, and water. It’s a Japanese technique that combines elements of traditional Shiatsu massage with the water pressure of hydrotherapy.

Watsu massage therapy was developed in the 1980s by Harold Dull, a massage therapist. The goal was to help people heal from stress, trauma, and disease. However, it didn’t take off until the 2000s when resort spas began to offer it.

How Watsu Massage Works

During Watsu massage therapy, you lie on your stomach while the therapist supports you with their feet in the water. The therapist gently moves you through the water, creating a sense of weightlessness. This frees you from gravity's pull and allows your body to relax into its natural state of balance.

In this mellow state, you experience a profound sense of peace and well-being that brings about healing on all levels — physical, emotional, and spiritual. While in the water, a Watsu therapist may twist or rock your body and stretch your muscles and increase your range of motion. A session usually lasts around an hour.

Watsu therapists are trained in the art of floating; they help guide you into proper positions while floating on the surface of the water so your spine is aligned naturally. Your head, neck, and spine will be aligned in an easy-to-breathe position that feels good to you and is therapeutically beneficial.

What Are the Benefits of Watsu Massage?

Water has therapeutic qualities that helps treat a variety of conditions, including muscle soreness and arthritis. The buoyancy of water reduces stress on joints, tendons, and ligaments — which can help ease discomfort caused by strain or injury.

Research also shows Watsu massage therapy may be effective for fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes widespread muscle pain, fatigue, and a number of other symptoms. In one study, fibromyalgia sufferers who got Watsu massage therapy reported less pain and discomfort.

Watsu works well for people who have trouble moving normally because they have pain or stiffness in their muscles or joints. The buoyancy of the water helps maximize joint range of motion while giving the sensation of floating in a suspended, ultra-relaxed state.

The physical health benefits of Watsu include:

  • Decreased muscle tension and pain
  • Increased range of motion
  • Improved circulation and lymphatic drainage
  • Release of muscle spasms and tightness

The Mental Health Benefits of Watsu Massage

Watsu massage therapy is also used as a treatment for people with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. The warm water helps relax tense muscles and reduce stress. This relaxation can help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, which may be caused by over-thinking, chronic pain or other physical issues.

The benefits of Watsu massage mental health may include:

  • Increased sense of well-being
  • Decreased stress and anxiety
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Reduced depression

How to Get a Watsu Massage

To find a Watsu therapist, call your local pool or spa, or ask your massage therapist if they offer Watsu. If you have a local spa or wellness center, inquire as to whether they offer Watsu therapy.

Your doctor may also be able to recommend a certified Watsu therapist who provides services in your area. These professionals will have received specialized training through a certification program recognized by the Worldwide Aquatic Bodywork Association. This organization also offers an online directory of members who provide Watsu services across the United States and internationally.

Conclusion

Watsu is a form of aquatic bodywork that combines the benefits of water with the healing power of massage. It has a variety of physical and mental health benefits, especially for people who have chronic pain and a restricted range of motion.

Floating on water is a satisfying experience mentally too. However, it’s important to check with your physician first, especially if you have movement restrictions to ensure Watsu therapy is right for you. Then find an experienced Watsu practitioner to guide you through a session.

References

  • "WATSU® Aquatic Bodywork and Therapy." https://www.Watsu.com/.
  • "Watsu Massage Therapy: What Is It and What Are the Benefits? - Healthline." 10 Mar. 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/Watsu.
  • Leite JRS, et al. (2013). Watsu therapy in the treatment of fibromyalgia syndrome. DOI:
  • 10.1016/j.sleep.2013.11.424.
  • Schitter AM, Fleckenstein J. Passive Hydrotherapy WATSU® for Rehabilitation of an Accident Survivor: A Prospective Case Report. Complementary Medicine Research. 2018;25(4):263-268. doi:10.1159/000487768‌

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.