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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2006

Some pain sufferers warming up to watsu therapy

By Laurie Steelsmith

A Watsu therapist holds her client in warm water while applying pressure to acupuncture points to stimulate the flow of qi.

Courtesy of Laurie Steelsmith

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Q. What is Watsu therapy?

A. I first saw Watsu therapy being done several years ago in one of the natural hot springs on the Big Island. In the warm water, a female therapist was cradling another woman. The therapist moved her client's body with slow, gentle movements. The client's eyes were closed, her neck and head supported, and she seemed to be floating in a nebulous bliss. I wanted to learn more about this form of therapy.

The term "Watsu" is a combination of "water" and "shiatsu." Watsu therapy is a passive form of bodywork that involves holding the client in warm water while applying pressure to acupuncture points. This helps to stimulate the flow of qi (chee) in the meridians the body's channels of energy through which qi moves.

Watsu therapy was founded by Zen shiatsu therapist Harold Dull, who discovered that warm water could make stretching and shiatsu techniques more effective. The buoyancy of water makes Watsu therapy ideal for people who have joint and muscle pain.

Terry Walker, a massage and Watsu therapist on the Big Island, has been offering Watsu therapy to her clients for 10 years. She loves her work because it can help people release stress while experiencing what she describes as a profound state of "impersonal intimacy."

She treats people with chronic neck, shoulder and back pain, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and those who are recovering from strokes. She also helps people who are afraid of getting in the water. She worked with one man in his 50s who had tried for years to get over his lifelong fear of swimming. After a single Watsu therapy session, he spent the rest of the day swimming happily on his own. Watsu therapy also can be used for chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep disorders, anxiety and depression, repressed emotions and other stress-related conditions.

Watsu therapy should not be done on people who have a fever, uncontrolled epilepsy, congestive heart failure, open wounds or infections, or bowel incontinence.

Watsu therapists must complete 500 hours of training to be certified through the Watsu Institute of the School of Shiatsu and Massage, in California. In Hawai'i there are a number of Watsu therapists on the Big Island, and at some resorts on other islands. To find a Watsu therapist, see www.waba.edu or www.kekukui.net.

Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu. Reach her and read her past columns at www.drlauriesteelsmith.com. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.