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One of the most powerful techniques used in aquatic therapy today owes its origins to a poet and massage therapist.

Watsu was developed by Harold Dull in 1980 and has developed into its current presentation over time. Birthed from a mixture of Zen Shiatsu and its creator’s natural affinity for water, the term Watsu was coined from the phrase “Water Shiatsu.”

Watsu is performed in a warm-water pool and is a wholly passive technique. Each session begins with the practitioner establishing a connection between the patient’s breathing and the way the body is moved in and by the water. Watsu is always performed in a hands-on manner by the provider. (For illustrations on Watsu positions, click here.)

The client is usually held or cradled in warm water while the provider stabilizes or moves one segment of the body, resulting in a stretch of another segment due to the drag effect. The client remains completely passive while the provider combines the unique qualities of the water with rhythmic flow patterns, which attempt to facilitate improvements in the body’s neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory, metabolic and psychosocial systems.

There is no special equipment to purchase for Watsu. Instead, the therapist’s body becomes the treatment equipment, and the water itself becomes a treatment table. However, Watsu is a very size-dependent technique. Smaller therapists many need a set of flotation cuffs — or even a half noodle — to successfully manage a larger patient, especially if the patient is a “sinker.”

For your facility to successfully offer Watsu, you will need a warm-water pool at least 10 feet in diameter. Temperature is very important for this specialty technique: The water must be at least warm enough to be thermoneutral at rest, usually between 93 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water depths should be between 3.5 to 5 feet to allow practitioners of different heights to remain grounded while holding patients. Shallower water depths (3 to 3.5 feet) and an available flat wall surface are necessary for the provider to execute some Watsu positions such as the upright “Side-Saddle” position. The pool should have a flat or gently sloping bottom to allow free movement throughout the water.

A quiet pool environment is ideal. Some providers use soft “nature” or classical tapes as background music. The provider usually does not speak to the patient during Watsu except to assess comfort.

Therapists may use Watsu-type movements without special training, but may not advertise as Watsu practitioners unless registered by the Worldwide Aquatic Bodywork Association. Aquatic providers who want to incorporate Watsu-type movements into their practices without becoming Watsu practitioners may attend one-day experientials, which provide an overview of the specialty technique.

WABA offers Watsu certification as well as Watsu trainings across the globe. Note: WABA makes it clear that obtaining the Watsu certification does not, in itself, constitute legal permission to perform hands-on health care. Individuals who wish to practice Watsu as a billable therapeutic intervention must already be licensed or certified as a health care provider.