What Is “Watsu”? A Slightly Frazzled Editor Finds Out

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When it rains, it pours [proverb]: misfortunes or difficult situations tend to follow each other in rapid succession or arrive all at the same time.

Sound familiar?

It does to me. With everyday nuisances – downright stubborn plumbing problems at home, overlapping deadlines at work, daily parking hurdles, copious amounts of paperwork for a loan, a busted cell phone, the arrival of Dubai’s infamous summer heat and the migraines that ensue – colliding with my attempts to work through some of life’s toughest and most ambiguous questions, I’ve found myself on the wrong end of the sanity spectrum as of late.

And then, out of nowhere, I received an e-mail that seemed to say all the right things within the subject itself: Relax and unwind with Watsu. The words “perfect for everyone including expectant mothers or those of us who require extra rest and relaxation” seemed to lift right off my laptop screen and look me dead in the eye. Admittedly, I am not “with child” nor did I have any idea what Watsu actually was, but I was pretty sure that I had earned said extra rest and relaxation – and that’s how I found myself at L’Atelier Aquafitness on a Thursday evening.

In retrospect, I’ve realized that Watsu is an exercise in letting go as much as it is in relaxation.

Converted from a private villa, this boutique exercise studio located on Al Wasl Road is known amongst the city’s health freaks as the definitive place for all things aquafitness. It recently started offering 45-minute sessions of Watsu, which I learned is a combination of water and shiatsu. Gabriela, a coach at L’Atelier Aquafitness and my “therapist” for the session, explained that the practice of Watsu had long been used in places like Europe and South America but was relatively new to the region.

It all started out with a straightforward form to complete – you’re expected to arrive about 15 minutes before the start of your one-on-one session and answer questions about relevant medical history, problem areas, etc. I was told that Watsu is great for those with persistent aches as it involves applying manual pressure to specific points on the body in an attempt to relieve tension and pain by combining elements of massage, joint mobilization, and muscle stretching. So if you spend long hours at your desk and are looking for a massage with that elusive novelty factor, this one’s for you too.

Interestingly, those who do not know how to swim are more than welcome. If you’re hydrophobic, however, it’s probably best to avoid this particular type of therapy. With no such issues on either of the two fronts, I changed into my swimsuit, as instructed. My session started off with a few basic, deep-breathing exercises in order to decompress. Next, I was gently floated, cradled, rocked, and stretched by Gabriela in a series of rotational movements – all while continuously being supported by her. For reasons I can’t quite articulate, the term “underwater ballerina” came to mind almost as soon as we got started.

Admittedly, you might feel a little awkward being cradled by a complete stranger in the beginning, but that feeling will soon pass.

I’m happy to report that all of the short-term benefits that I had been promised – fuller breathing, a reduction in stress levels, increased flexibility, and muscle relaxation – were delivered during the course of that session. I left feeling a little less anxious, a little more at ease. I also slept more soundly that night than I had in weeks. And while I’ve only had the one session to date, experts claim that Watsu helps maintain a lower rate of respiration and heart rate, increased peripheral vasodilatation, and an enhanced immune-system response in the long run.

In retrospect, I’ve realized that Watsu is an exercise in letting go as much as it is in relaxation. For one, you’re encouraged to keep your eyes closed throughout. Also, the more you trust your therapist, the more she can help. Don’t be afraid to voice your preferences – the more circular movements made me feel slightly queasy, so Gabriela graciously obliged and switched to another sequence. Admittedly, you might feel a little awkward being cradled by a complete stranger in the beginning, but that feeling will soon pass. You may even drift off, as many do.

Coincidentally, my session took place right after an aquabiking class, so the water – clocking in at 26ºC – felt a little chilly for my liking. For Watsu, the pool at L’Atelier Aquafitness is generally set at a temperature of 31ºC, which is why an advance booking comes highly recommended. Here’s hoping it takes a little less stress to prompt it.

AED 380/SAR 388 per session
Al Wasl Road
(+971) 4 338 8323
www.latelieraquafitness.com

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