Aquatic Body Work

by Paula Simpson

Water has positive associations for many of us: the relaxation of a hot shower at the end of a long day, the giggles of a young child being bathed in a warm tub, or even the nurturing water-like atmosphere we all experienced back in the womb.  This innate healing quality of water is a unique and powerful feature of aquatic body work.

What is Aquatic Body Work?

Aquatic body work is a combination of Watsu and Aquatic Integration.  Watsu was developed by Harold Dull and it was the first form of aquatic body work in the world  and has been around for 25 years.  Dull explains Watsu as a "single unbroken movement, ongoing, modulation, sometimes subtle, sometimes full and manifesting."   If a person were to categorize the movements, some would consist of opposite movements including:  arching vs. rounding, movement vs. stillness and close and being held vs. free and floating.  Other movements include rainbows, pendulum swings, spirals and waves.

Aquatic Integration was developed by Cameron West and uses a soft material-like noodle and pillow-like head float.  Using these supports gives the client the ability to freely relax in the gravity-free surrounding in a warm water environment. The floats give the therapist the opportunity to move around the body and work on various parts of the body like the legs and feet while keeping the head afloat.  Aquatic Integration is a whole-body therapy, and the entire body receives a treatment.

What Does a Session Look and Feel Like?

Aquatic Body Work can be like a beautiful dance when being moved through the water.  Others interpret it as a nurturing emotion, like a mother holds her child.  Many people flow into various states of consciousness while receiving a session.  "Wow!" is a common response after receiving an aquatic body work session.  Being totally supported and feeling weightless while deeply relaxing and floating in warm water distinguishes Aquatic Body Work from land-based therapies and can be a profound experience.  A session can last from thirty minutes to one hour, depending on the needs of the client.

What Are Some Possible Therapeutic Benefits?

Aquatic Body Work affects people on many different levels including: emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual.  People can experience a variety of outcomes after receiving aquatic body work.  These outcomes may include: relaxation, tension release, decreased pain, as well as feeling lengthened and stretched.  Since Aquatic Body Work can calm the sympathetic nervous system, it can have a positive effect on individuals with disabilities that are stuck in a flight-fight state.  There have been reports of better sleep and improved digestion.  Some individuals have overcome a lifelong fear of water!

Who Can Benefit?

Aquatic Body Work therapy can be used with adults and children with or without a disability, including those with orthopedic and neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and chronic pain conditions.  The warm water and buoyancy achieved while being fully supported can help relax tight muscles and calm the mind. For individuals who are under a doctor’s care, it is strongly advised to receive a written recommendation for any type of massage or body work.

The Future

Aquatic Body Work is a new and exciting field.  We are only beginning to understand the possible benefits of water therapies to improve the quality of life of individuals with disabilities in decreasing pain, reducing stress, improving mobility and much more!


Paula Simpson has a degree in Therapeutic Recreation, has received additional training in Watsu and Aquatic Integration, and has worked with individuals with disabilities for many years.
For more information on Aquatic Body Work, contact Paula at at Courage Center in Stillwater, Minnesota.