I am resting with my back against the wall of a warm pool, my hands over my heart, my body swaying in the water like a branch in the breeze. My eyes are closed, and my mind is clear, but silent. I have never been more relaxed in my life, and I am grateful for the lip of the pool wall, cushioned by soft towels for holding me up, lest I slip under the surface. This blissful moment is mine because I have just received a Water Flow Therapy session at Rancho La Puerta; one of the best hours I’ve spent in my time there thus far.
I am delighted to share that Rancho La Puerta is offering Water Flow Therapy treatments. Watsu® has been on the list of treatments for several years, and still is, but it is not the only form of Water Flow Therapy offered. Although Watsu® has commonly, albeit mistakenly, been used as catch-all name for all aquatic bodywork modalities, it is technically a surface-only technique that was developed by Harold Dull in the late 1970s when he attempted to perform Shiatsu massages on clients in California hot springs. Over time, the table was discarded, and the practice transformed into what we know as Watsu®. Other therapeutic aquatic techniques include WaterDance™, Healing Dance®, Aquatic Integration™, Janzu, and Jahara®. In several of these modalities, clients have the option of being guided beneath the surface of the water. Rancho La Puerta has broadened its scope on Water Therapy beyond Watsu® to include many of these variations, providing practitioners the opportunity to specialize sessions to clients’ specific needs, and allowing them to receive the maximum possible benefit.
As a first timer to Water Therapy, I was a bit hesitant when I arrived. My session began with a conversation with my practitioner, Ben Coolik. Ben is a certified Watsu® and WaterDance™ practitioner, as well as a Fluid Presence™ Provider, which is an “integrative, holistic warm-water therapy and land-based approach to awakening and living from our intrinsic wholeness”. As I adjusted to the 96°F, ozone treated South Pool, we developed a rapport while discussing what I could expect in the session, and set boundaries based on what I was comfortable with. I appreciated the thoroughness of the conversation and the insight he provided about the various Water Therapy disciplines. He immediately made me feel at ease. Given his impressive résumé, I decided that I was open to trying any technique he felt would work for me. Ben made it clear that he had no set plan for the session and would decide the course based on how I was responding to the treatment. By the time we moved to the wall of the pool to put floats around my legs and to secure the noseclip, my nerves had vanished, and I was eager to try it.
Next came the most restorative hour I have ever experienced. Ben supported my head through the whole process as he guided me through the warm water. At first, I had trouble releasing the tendency to try to “float” myself. I am an avid floater whenever I encounter a body of water, so it was tempting to try to hold myself up. I have never been great at relaxing, especially in the presence of other people; it’s usually my greatest challenge when I get massages, which is why, in my opinion, Water Flow Therapy is even better than massage. Ben helped me to resist my effort to control by gently massaging my back and neck under the water and by guiding me to loosen my limbs until I felt like a water snake, or one of those wacky inflatable balloon guys, although I moved much more slowly through the water than they do through air. When I got the hang of it, my mind followed suit and slowed until all I was left with was the subtle sound of the bubbles under water. These were coming from the ozone pump which was adding oxygen to the pool. Once I got used to them, the real meditation began. It was amazing to witness my body and thoughts without the desire to change them. I was surprised by a few moments when I noticed my chest swell and my breathing tighten. It felt like I was on the verge of laughter or tears but couldn’t tell which. Unconscious fears and past emotions were rising, and I released them into the water, watching them go like leaves on a stream.
Breathing through my mouth was another small challenge at the beginning of the session. In all my previous pranayama practices, inhales were generally taken through my nose, which was made impossible by the presence of the noseclip. I quickly became very grateful to the noseclip when I got to go under the surface for the first time. To make it clear to me that I was about to be submerged without saying a word, Ben would cup my cheek, raise my head up slightly on my inhale, and time the plunge with my exhale. I was a bit awkward the first time, overexerted my exhale, and panicked that I would run out of air before I made it back to the surface, but Ben never let that happen. He was following my every breath. Over the next few dips, my body began to release my breath slower and slower. My inhales arrived easier and became deeper. It was the best pranayama I have ever done.
The session ended when Ben led me back to the side of the pool where we, and this article, began. He laid my head on the towel-cushioned pool edge and removed my leg floats (he had already removed the noseclip after the underwater part of my session). I felt the weight of my body begin to be transferred back to me as he put me down on my feet and slowly backed away. In this stationary position, my body continued to flow. I was slow dancing by myself, swaying to the rhythms of my breath and the water. I wondered if the feeling was something similar to what babies experience while they are still in utero. I wished I could remember and felt saddened that we forget that feeling as we grow up. I’m grateful to have gotten it back. When I reentered the world, all I could do was smile. I felt nourished, restored, and brand new.
I want to give a huge thanks to the talented Ben Coolik for the incredible session he provided and his stellar support with this article. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to experience my Fluid Presence with his guidance. Rancho La Puerta has a Water Flow Therapist every week of the year. Ben will return from December 3 through 16, 2022 and many weeks throughout 2023. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.