What to expect from a Watsu massage and other aquatic bodywork
If the thought of floating in warm water while also receiving a nurturing massage appeals to you, Watsu massage therapy may be just the ticket.
Why massage in water?
Warm water is, in and of itself, relaxing to most people. By removing the effects of gravity and taking the weight off your joints, the water creates more freedom of movement in stretching your muscles and moving your joints through their range of motion. In particular, your spinal vertebrae can move in ways in the water that they cannot move on land.
People commonly experience deep relaxation and increased range of motion after a session. Benefits attributed to water massage include relieving stress, reducing the pain of arthritis, relaxing tight muscles and helping relieve various conditions, including insomnia and anxiety disorders.
Watsu and other aquatic bodywork
Watsu is a combination of Zen Shiatsu, a variation of the Japanese technique of shiatsu that uses acupressure and meridian stretching techniques, and movement through the water with rocking and rotational movements. Watsu is the most widely available, but not the only, form of aquatic bodywork.
Other techniques include Aquassage, Waterdance, Healing Dance, Dolphin Dance and Jahara Technique. Some of these techniques are used for medical rehabilitation purposes for people recovering from injury or a condition such as a stroke.
What to expect
Before starting your massage session, the massage therapist asks you about your expectations, physical condition and any issues that might affect your reaction to the massage, such as fear of drowning.
For a Watsu massage session, you enter the pool wearing a swimming suit, and the therapist may attach floats around your ankles or knees. Your therapist uses one arm to support your knees and the other arm to support your back, literally cradling your body, and moves you around through the water. The therapist stretches and applies pressure to your muscles, always keeping your face above water, although your ears are often underwater during the massage.
The details for other water massage styles vary. For example, other aquatic bodywork may use massage techniques other than acupressure, some styles take you completely underwater, and some styles incorporate flotation devices in addition to the leg floats.
Water massage typically involves closer contact with the therapist than most forms of massage therapy, as the therapist must hold you to move you around in the pool. This close contact can raise emotional issues for some people.
Another consideration is that fear of water or drowning can make relaxing difficult. Some people have used water massage to overcome this fear, but you need to let your therapist know that's what you want to do.
How much does Watsu massage cost?
Because Watsu and other aquatic massage requires a heated pool, the most common place to find this massage is at a spa or resort, where one-hour sessions often run between $100 and $150. However, increasingly the massage is available from individual massage therapists who have arranged access to a pool. The cost is likely to be between $60 and $125 an hour. If you are receiving water massage for medical rehab purposes, the cost may be higher.