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What is Watsu?

Watsu is form of massage, often described as Shiatsu in water, and is a deeply relaxing combination of water-based exercise, flotation and massage. Watsu is gentle, assisted stretching and movement, massage and dance that takes place in a pool of warm water (around 35ºC). It is a form of therapy based on the principles of Zen Shiatsu. It is sometimes referred to as "aquatic bodywork" or "aquatic physiotherapy".

What is Watsu good for?

Watsu has many positive benefits. It is a great treatment for anyone with mobility problems, and is often used in rehabilitation. As the movement is assisted and supported, by the therapist, and the resistance and buoyancy of the water, it is both gentle and effective. Watsu increases flexibility and strengthens muscles, and is also very deeply relaxing.

Watsu affects and assists different people in different ways. When used in rehabilitation it is focused on targeting specific muscles and joints, as well as being a holistic whole-body therapy. It can also help with general flexibility and core strength.

Watsu is a meditative treatment, very relaxing. It can leave you feeling very sleepy and light-headed. As such, it can improve your sleep, relieve anxiety and help digestion.

Before you go

Pack your swimming costume and clear your schedule for a few hours, so that you can really maximise the benefits of the treatment.


As with all therapies and treatments you should make sure that you disclose any and all health and personal information to the therapist that may be relevant. You should always inform your therapist if you are or might be pregnant; only eat a light meal and take no alcohol prior to the treatment.

What to expect from Watsu

Your therapist will talk you through the treatment, asking you for key health and personal information and explaining the process of the therapy. It is a very supportive treatment, so you can expect to be guided wholly through the process.

Dressed in swimming costumes you will both get into the pool. Once in the water, your therapist (or "practitioner") may wrap small floats to your limbs to help keep you afloat more easily - you won't have that feeling of treading water.

Your therapist will then cradle and support different areas of your body at different times as she moves you through a variety of different movements and positions, and applies finger, hand and limb pressure to your body. You will at times find yourself being "wrapped up" with your practitioner. It is a very hands-on treatment so trusting and feeling comfortable with your therapist is really important.

Throughout the treatment your ears and the back of your head will be under the water. Your face will remain above water. Sometimes, Watsu practitioners will offer you ear plugs or even a nose clip if you're concerned.

Watsu is a flowing therapy that moves through different stages. Sometimes you will be still, sometimes guided through gentle rhythmic movements. Your spine is supported by the therapist and the water throughout.

At the end of the session, your therapist will help you to an upright position. You'll probably feel a bit out of it, and may well be a bit reluctant for it to finish!

Hot tips!

Firstly, remember that the therapist is in control of the treatment - don't worry about them, or try and anticipate the movement and "help them out". They will guide and support you. It can be quite a funny concept at first as you have so much freedom of movement and it's quite an intimate treatment in some ways as the therapist is actually as "undressed" as you, and in the pool with you. But don't be put off - it is a highly professional and specialised treatment and you will be in good hands. And it's really worth it as you'll feel so great during and afterwards!

Make enough time for Watsu - don't rush off afterwards. Make sure you have time for a snooze or a lie down afterwards. This is where having Watsu at a spa can really deepen and intensify the effectiveness of the treatment - in an environment dedicated to relaxation and escape, you'll be able to stretch the pleasure and benefits to the max!


Have a snooze and drink plenty of water. You really will need to take it easy for the rest of the day. As with a flotation treatment, Watsu is very affecting and if you don't rest and have plenty of water, you could find yourself feeling washed out, and having headaches if you don't look after yourself.

Different types of Watsu

Different versions of Watsu are being developed all the time. One of the most common is Waterdance or Wasser Tanzen (WATA) which involves you being gently submerged underwater. It incorporates movements based on those of aquatic animals - dolphins, etc - rolls, shapes and dance positions.

The Jahara technique is a more meditative style of Watsu, and is very supportive, focusing on the alignment of your spine, and muscle work.

You may also come across Free or Free Flow Watsu which is an even more flowing and nurturing form of the therapy which increases relaxation and movement.

There are also new pools being developed to vary and intensify Watsu - some include hydromassage - rolling water and jets that incorporate hydrotherapy to the massage.

Courtesy of the Good Spa Guide

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