Watsu is a relatively new form of bodywork (since 1980) that has been available in the Austin area since 1994. Watsu combines working with Shiatsu pressure points in the medium of a warm (93-98 degrees) water pool. This practitioner also utilizes the ancient healing energy of Reiki during a Watsu session to help bring about a profound state of relaxation. In states of deep relaxation, the body, mind and spirit are empowered to heal in extraordinary ways.

It started in 1993 on a hot August day in Austin. A friend and I decided to escape the Texas heat with a driving tour through New Mexico, Colorado, and California. I suppose most people wouldn't think of hot springs in 100 degree weather, but we both had aches and pains we wanted to soak away and we were headed for cooler climes. We found the first one in Truth or Consequences, N.M. in humble settings. Many old motels there have their own spas where you can stay or just use the spa at reasonable prices. The one we chose is Marshall Apartments and Baths.

There has been a resurgence of interest in hot springs everywhere and Truth or Consequences hot springs are seeing improvements and new developments. There are many hot springs in New Mexico, but we didn’t want to zigzag all over the state. We picked the ones that aren’t too far out of the way (many are nowhere near anything at all). Ojo Caliente Resort (one of the best), Spence Hot Springs (natural setting), Jemez Springs Bath House(downtown Jemez) and a private one near Jemez owned by a friend made up the rest of the New Mexico segment and we then left for Colorado. Pagosa Springs is just north of the New Mexico border and watching the sunset from the outdoor pools downtown is a great experience. Ouray Hot Springs (one of my favorites), Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge (family setting), Valley View Hot Springs (combination natural setting and conventional pool), and Trimble Hot Springs (another family setting) were our stopovers in Colorado and, as in New Mexico, there are many more to choose from. After that we went to Harbin Hot Springs in California since it was highly recommended. I had no idea that I was about to see something that would affect me so profoundly and change the direction of my life.

Harbin Hot Springs is a two and a half hours from San Francisco near Middletown with rolling hills and oak trees comparable to the Texas Hill Country. The drive up from Middletown is pleasant after the busy California highways and Harbin is beautifully groomed with gardens, waterfalls, restored buildings and the main attraction; the hot spring pools. After checking into a nice room, I went to the main pool, ready to ease my body and soul into the healing warm waters. As I was getting in, I was momentarily distracted by pairs of people involved in doing something unusual in the pool. After settling in I began watching and was spellbound by the expressions on the people’s faces while they were being worked on. They were all obviously transported to a state of blissful relaxation that for all I knew could be reached usually and only by religious ecstasy or deep meditation. Although I was not ready to experience what they were doing, at this point I knew I had to find out more about this. After this both mystifying and relaxing soak, I went in search of more information on what I had just seen. A friendly resident ( Harbin is a community of over 150 people) informed me that what I had seen was called Watsu and guided me to the gift shop where I purchased a book and a video. Over the winter of 1993-94, I watched the video, read the book and realized that becoming part of this process of deep relaxation was important to. I enrolled at Harbin School of Shiatsu and Massage for being certified as a Watsu Practitioner for the following Spring.

Originator Harold Dull explains how he developed Watsu: "In 1980 I began applying some of the stretches and moves of Zen Shiatsu while floating people in the warm pool here at Harbin. Over the subsequent years, with the help of students in countless classes here and in Europe, I gradually developed the Watsu featured in this book." (Watsu, Freeing the Body in the Water) Harold Dull is the Director of the School of Shiatsu and Massage at Harbin, which offers instruction in Healing Dance and Waterdance (a step beyond Watsu) as well as Shiatsu and Watsu. He is also the author of several books of poetry. The training at Harbin is designed to open the mind, the heart, the body and the soul to the joys of total relaxation and oneness with water as the medium. Much of the class is held in the warm (97 degrees) pools where the instructors demonstrate moves, stretches and positions on willing class members. We then immediately practiced what we learned on each other during class and in the evenings after dinner. Many of us were in the water practicing eight to ten hours a day.

There are also classes out of the water on anatomy and ethics that we attended. The total of learning this process while experiencing it was exhilarating and joyful. The relaxation achieved in the magical medium of water went deeper as we continued the training. We also danced and meditated together. I feel very fortunate in having Harold Dull as one of my instructors. My other instructors, Minakshi and Alexander Georgeakopoulos (co-creators of Watsu with Harold) are both engaging and inspiring. One other life changing event happened to me while in this class and that was meeting and falling in love with Eleanor Harris, a New York based Massage Therapist and Yoga teacher. We spent years giving Watsu sessions to each other, bonding us deeply through this relaxing modality. We married in early 1998 and our beloved son, Elliot, was born December 5, 1998. Watsu is a very valuable tool in deepening intimacy and strengthening the bond between loved ones.

In the autumn of 1994, I purchased (with Eleanor’s help) a specially designed Watsu pool and the necessary equipment for heating, filtering and pumping the water. Chlorine, while it has many legitimate uses, is not an element I choose to soak in for any length of time. I found a healthier sanitizing product which utilizes hydrogen peroxide instead. I then began educating Austinites who were mostly and understandably ignorant about Watsu (whatsu?). I wrote an article about my practice for an Austin publication, "Alternative Health Newsletter," and put up flyers around town and waited for clients to pour into the pool. They trickled instead and I must say, they were daring souls to try this practically unheard of therapy. If not for Eleanor and our sessions together, my Watsu skills would have completely atrophied over the first few years (Thanks Ellie!). In 1998 I completed the second level of Reiki training and have since incorporated that into my Watsu practice. As time goes by, I find myself continually exploring the moves and positions as taught to me and finding new ways to use them with my clients. This makes Watsu an ever flowing and changing practice. With the help of my good friend, Glenn, we set up a website http://www.watsunami.com to help inform people about Watsu, my practice and some personal history.

Watsu is becoming more available in the Austin area as more practitioners are now here. Cindi Anderson, an instructor at the Lauterstein - Conway Massage School is a licensed Watsu practitioner and Kandis Hill is also licensed and practices in Round Rock at a physical therapy center. Susan Christian is licensed as a Watsu therapist and lives in the Austin area. Judy Kegg, a massage therapist, has one more class to complete before being licensed. She has her own pool already set up. She actually lives around the corner from me, so there are two Watsu pools in my neighborhood at this point! The Crossings, a learning retreat center being developed here by the Omega Institute will have a specially designed warm water pool and will be offering Watsu, among many other holistic practices, to their clients starting sometime in 2003. I have volunteered to help (and have been accepted) with the design of the pool. The Crossings will have the opportunity to help finally show Austin the value of Watsu as the healing and relaxing modality that it is.

Author's Bio: 

Tom Thacker has had a Watsu warm water therapy practice since 1994 in Austin. He calls his business Watsunami. He combines the ancient flow of Reiki energy with the flow of Watsu for a unique way to relax. He is committed to enabling his clients to reach deep states of relaxation so the client's inner self is free to find his/her solutions for freeing their body, mind and spirit to promote both inner and outer growth. Tom also plants trees and has a beautiful son who can be seen at http://www.watsunami.com (elliotsmile) in the Watsu pool. Email Tom at watsunami@hotmail.com