Stretching in Warm Water

Hydrotherapy is a term that may sound familiar. However, many people don't understand the various forms and the benefits. Here's a look at Watsu.


Have you noticed the occasional grumpy body-builder who walks funny? Or the step enthusiast whose high-pitched shoulders match her highly strung personality? Maybe you've wondered if all that virtuous aerobic or macho weight-bearing exercise you do could be causing you more harm than good?

The pain of contracted or over-inflated muscles and the consequent distortions of posture are a big price to pay for that momentary, natural pain-reducing endorphin rush - no different here than a large scotch? Isn't it an insult to the innately graceful beauty of a human body?

Muscles that are long and supple and joints that are loose and limber allow us to move through our lives with greater physical and, interestingly, emotional flexibility. The key is the primitive art of stretching, as practiced by cats and dogs. Sadly, for many, this slow and sensual experience is considered an indulgence or, if left until too late, yet another source of discomfort. But there is one way to tap into the ecstatic experience of movement and override the pain -- and that is to be floated, quite effortlessly, in warm water. This relatively new form of hydrotherapy is called Watsu™(water shiatsu).

The practice of Watsu is a celebration of freedom and flexibility. It translates the qualities of water for our bodies to integrate into a new language of movement.

The physical benefits of Watsu include:Diminished muscular tension; increased range of motion; augmented circulation and respiration; normalized muscle tone; and clearing of metabolites such as lactic acid. The aim is to release the body from physical (and often psychological) tension. This reminder of an inherent capacity for grace can then carry over into a desire to stretch actively on land by oneself.

Here are some of the reasons why Watsu in warm water can help your stretching.

Watsu makes use of many static and dynamic passive stretches -- your job is simply to relax and let go as much as possible. Immersed in water, all movements are three-dimensional so that the stretches are full-body stretches. The upper body can be held so that the lower body moves freely and fluidly in ways impossible on land. The support of the water makes it possible for the practitioner to carry and mobilize you almost effortlessly. Accelerating the movement through the water against water resistance or lifting you partly out of the water can enhance the stretch. There is little need for verbal discussion with you or active participation on your part. Your body receives direct messages about its capacity for movement and release of holding patterns. You learn how important breathing and timing are to achieving a full stretch in movement. If you choose to stay present to what is happening in your body, your self-awareness is enhanced and you discover new ways to move but not abuse your body.

If weight lifting, step aerobics or any other activity is your passion, you can still enjoy it knowing that you have the skills to help you treat your body with respect -- pace, stretch and sufficient recovery. Be warned, though, after a while you may find yourself drawn to meditative practices such as yoga, tai chi or aikido.

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