Watsu - Water therapy designed to free mind, body

February 20, 1998|By Teri Johnson

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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watsuWatsu - Water therapy designed to free mind, body

Lie back in warm water, experience your body slowly being stretched and feel your tensions melt away.

Add your most nurturing memory of someone holding and supporting you. The only sound you can hear is your own breathing.

Welcome to Watsu, or Water Shiatsu - body work done in the weightless environment of a heated pool.

Its goal is to increase range of motion and circulation, decrease pain, reduce stress and balance body energies, says Elaine Lutz, a Watsu practitioner.


The client is moved, stretched and massaged by the practitioner and the water, says Lutz, a registered nurse and aquatic fitness specialist who lives in Boonsboro.

'Like my mother's womb'

watsu"Every client I have ever floated has said 'I felt like I was in my mother's womb,' " Lutz says.

Almost anyone can benefit from Watsu, says Carol Jacob, a Watsu practitioner and licensed massage therapist who lives near Flintstone, Md.

"Being held like that is a gift; you feel safe with someone cradling you," Jacob says.

While physical therapy concentrates on specific body parts, Watsu focuses on the whole person and works simultaneously on the physical, emotional and spiritual levels.

Watsu is very relaxing, says Penny Alexander, a Hagerstown resident who has experienced it twice.

"It's like an allover body massage," Alexander says.

Alexander has arthritis and suffers from scoliosis, bursitis in both hips and phlebitis. She says Watsu helped alleviate the pain in her back.

"I would recommend it to anyone," Alexander says.

Carole Socks of Hagerstown first had Watsu when Lutz wanted to demonstrate it at a YMCA open house more than a year ago. Socks, a nurse at Washington County Hospital, hurt her hip at work and had Watsu with Lutz again last April.

"The massage and positioning she does is wonderful," Socks says.

She says the benefits lasted three or four months.

Socks' daughter, Shawn Rodrigues, is aquatic director at Hagerstown YMCA and has had Watsu several times.

Rodrigues says Watsu brings another dimension to the YMCA's aquatic program.

Watsu is a form of preventative medicine that allows you to manage stress ahead of time so you don't get sick in the long run, Rodrigues says.

Jacob and Lutz, the only Watsu practitioners in Maryland, met at an aquatics therapy symposium in Washington, D.C., in September 1996. Since March they have been practicing together on Wednesday afternoons in the shallow pool at Hagerstown YMCA.

watsuLutz will lead a class called "Watsu for Two" at the YMCA beginning Saturday, Feb. 28.

Watsu can help people with a wide range of health conditions, including pregnancy, arthritis, spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, fibromyalgia, Parkinson's disease, post-mastectomy and cancer, Lutz says. Those with medical problems should consult their physician first, Lutz says.

Watsu also can help those with insomnia, Lutz says.

"People have said they've had their best night of sleep in years after a treatment," she says.

Watsu helps the elderly due to improved circulation and breathing. Children also can benefit, especially those with cerebral palsy or autism or those who have been abused.

When you shouldn't Watsu

People with a temperature above 100 degrees, open sores, incontinence or vertigo shouldn't have Watsu.

watsuThe ideal water temperature for doing Watsu is 94 to 96 degrees. Cooler water would reduce the body's temperature, while warmer water would heat the body's internal core too high, Jacob says.

Before sessions start, clients are asked questions such as if they are in any pain, whether medications are being taken, if they are subject to dizziness or if they are afraid of water.

Watsu began in 1980 at Harbin Hot Springs in Middletown, Calif., when Harold Dull began applying the moves and stretches of the Zen Shiatsu he had studied in Japan.

Lutz is training to become a Watsu instructor. She says she hopes to help Watsu become established in the area, because there is a need for it.

Watsu is as much a treatment for the practitioner as it is for the client, Lutz says.

"It's so energizing for me," she says.

She says people feel they've been zoned out of the planet when they've had a one-hour session.

"You're not aware of where your skin stops and the water begins," Lutz says.

Try Watsu for two

"Watsu for Two" begins Saturday, Feb. 28, at Hagerstown YMCA, 149 N. Potomac St.

The course, instructed by Elaine Lutz, will be on five consecutive Saturdays from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

The cost is $75 per pair for YMCA members and $100 per pair for nonmembers.

Pairs don't have to be couples; any two people can participate together.

To register, call the YMCA at 301-739-3990.

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