How Aquatic Bodywork Transformed My Work, Life and Outlook.
The Australian Institute of Aquatic Bodywork and Aquanat founder, Anat Juran, February 2021
When it all began…
Twenty years ago, before relocating to Australia with my family, I was a young mum to 3 kids and an owner and manager of a swim school which operated out of the back of our property in Israel, specialising in teaching aquatic skills to babies and toddlers and providing individual aquatic care for the fragile, with over 440 students and clients a week.
With a business to run, a home life to keep together and 3 young children to take care of, I was constantly overstretched both mentally and physically.
My work life involved long hours in the pool, management and problem solving, and the mental pressure of always having to think ahead.
I look back on this time now and realise how stressed I was, how often haunted by feelings of guilt for missing parts of my kids' lives, and how much pain and fatigue I continuously endured.
I was committed to holding it all together.
Being highly motivated I couldn’t resist opportunities to add more skills to my professional toolkit, and learn new techniques and methods so that I can offer the best experience both to my staff members and my clients.
So when the opportunity presented itself in September of 2000, I ignored the signals of over stretching myself, thinking that if I only applied “will power” and “time management skills” I could survive with less sleep, and that relief is just around the corner… I honestly believed that I was invincible.
Without thinking twice, I of course enrolled into an intensive training course in Aquatic Bodywork that year - my first Watsu course!
This course, Watsu I, was to be 6 intensive days in which, I was told, we would spend about 7 hours a day in warm water.
I had no idea that within the next two decades Watsu sessions would become available in every warm pool in Israel, performed by various practitioners.
And, I had no idea the journey these practices would take me on…
At the time I couldn’t foresee how much this therapy will impact my personal life and professional career.
My first Watsu® course:
I showed up for my first day of the Watsu I course in a whirlwind of enthusiasm and energy, determined and restlessly eager to learn the techniques as quickly and productively as possible.
To my surprise, instead of efficiently going through the techniques as I had expected, we spent the entire day holding each other, following the rhythm of our own and our partner’s breath, and for about 7 hours we were just holding and held in a slow and gentle pace.
My teacher said: “This is the essence of Watsu”.
And I remember saying to myself: “Just accept it”.
Surprisingly, the more time I spent in the warm water, holding and being held by others, the better I began to feel.
It seemed it wasn’t just me who felt it, but the entire group gradually transformed from emitting a super industrious energy to a relaxed and spacious energy.
Tones of voice became softer...
Hugs were frequently offered and received...
Smiles, and even tears of joy, became part of our daily experience...
I gradually became aware of how the meditative absence of thought that came with the slow swaying motion of the warm water (about 35°C) had transformed my internal sense of being, together with the group energy.
I felt how the water itself was breathing me up and down like a wave, and how my concerns slowly and gradually melted away, as if absorbed by the liquid space that contained me.
I experienced moments of new acceptance and gratitude for all that surrounded me.
As the course progressed and the group developed a trance-like state of mind, members expressed how they appreciated giving up expectations of what 'should’ happen.
By the end of these 6 powerful days, I felt as though I was enveloped in a warm womb-like place, experiencing the pure magic of… simply being.
What a gift!
After my first Watsu® course:
As I went back to my daily life, I enthusiastically started offering one-hour Watsu practice sessions for free.
My first “client” was my life partner, following with the rest of my family members, then friends, and finally I managed to conjure up enough courage to put up a flyer on my swim school notice board inviting my swim students to receive free sessions.
I found it challenging to conceive a description for the flyer that could somehow communicate to others all of the wonder that Watsu is.
So, I ended up writing something along the lines of: “A Relaxing Experience in Warm Water” , which doesn’t fully describe the practice and essence but was enough to bring forth quite a few volunteers.
By the time I enrolled into the intermediate Watsu II course I had given about 50 free sessions.
And I continued offering free sessions during my training and even after becoming a fully qualified Watsu practitioner.
You may ask: “why”?
Because Watsu helps me reconnect with the best parts in me.
Because I always long to feel the sense of serenity I get while inside the bubble of giving a Watsu session.
Because it continuously teaches me to trust myself and the process.
Because each session reminds me how kindness and gentleness helps to re-calibrate our nervous system.
…I could go on and on, but trust that you grasp the essence of it 😊
Over many years of practice, I have been continuously fascinated by watching my clients’ faces softening, heard their deep breaths of relief, felt in my arms how they gradually release patterns of holding tension, and loved listening to what they sometimes share after their sessions:
“I feel so calm…the calmest ever….”
“I remembered being held like this as a baby…”
“The world seems different now…. somehow brighter”
“The sky is so blue…. the trees are so green…. where was I before?”
“I feel optimistic…relieved from my worries…more free ”
“I have no pain….”
“I feel lighter…”
And so much more... (Read some of these by clicking here).
Many years later and I’m still amazed to witness how often even one session impacts my clients.
If they feel the desire to share their experience with me at the end of a session, I gratefully listen to them reporting being calm, pain free, feeling loved, finding their own ability for self-compassion, feeling self-love, some of them discovering new realisations about their lives, and some looking like 20 years have been lifted off their face.
Watsu® was and is a transformative practice.
Watsu keeps reminding me to hold a non-judgmental attitude towards myself and others.
It continues to invite me to be a more sensitive observer
It brings me closer to what feels important and meaningful.
If I feel myself getting off track or struggling with aspects of life, I know the path to my personal peace lies in the water.
Through participating in many hours of training as a student and then as a facilitator of Watsu training I have become a more present and calmer mother, my relationship with my partner improved, I found new joy in spending time with friends and in helping others, and have become more awake and present to everything!
Even though I had taught students of all ages to swim and to move in the water, Watsu illuminated the importance and healing potential of touch and skin to skin connection. It's such a simple, yet powerful thing; and key to our human experience.
I believe Watsu offers the opportunity to re-invent our inner space, to choose how to relate to the external world from a position of peace and acceptance.
As my first teacher said a long time ago: “...the essence of Watsu is to be like water with each movement and ripple that is continually changing”.
Each breath is both a fleeting moment and the whole world.
Being “Watsu®ed” is like being a cosmic baby:
When people ask me what these experiences are like, I may liken them to being a baby that is born with the sense of birthright entitlement to be loved and cared for.
Long before life became busy, demanding and hard, before bad things happened, we were open and curious loving beings and we lived in each present moment.
Expanding the practice:
Excited to keep growing and sharing this amazing practice, I accepted an invitation in August 2004 to travel to Harbin Hot Springs in California, the international Watsu centre, to be trained as a Watsu instructor by the late Harold Dull.
It has been, and continues to be, more than a Watsu specific journey as I continue to explore more ways of enriching, enhancing, and complementing my professional toolbox and the experience of my students and clients.
To this day, I have undertaken around 1500 hours of training as an Aquatic Bodywork student, and taught a further 1000 hours as a certified instructor.
Since Aquatic Bodywork therapy is one that so obviously works on the various intertwined planes of our human experience, being at the same time physical, mental, emotional, (and even relational, spiritual, and so on...) it is quite natural that what often unfolds during sessions is more than just an experience of the body being floated, moved and stretched in warm water.
I started to notice that much more than purely physical sensations have emerged for my clients during sessions (as it did for me during my own journey), and I wished to be able to support those of my clients who wished to explore further in a safe and therapeutic space.
This led me on a different but related journey of becoming a somatic psychotherapist, further enriching my therapy practice, my personal life, and my approach to work in the water in general.
As you probably gathered so far, I am extremely passionate about this practice and sharing it.
This is why I formed The Australian Institute of Aquatic Bodywork, a training organisation created to make Aquatic Bodywork more accessible to Australia and those wishing to visit us!
My wish is to promote the use of this incredible and somewhat young practice in Australia as well as the rest of the world. And to help Watsu and Aquatic Bodywork grow in Australia, similarly as it did in Israel and other countries.
My mission as a teacher:
As an Aquatic Bodywork teacher, I believe that it is my job to teach my students good techniques so that they are able to effortlessly give smooth aquatic sessions.
It is also my job to teach students the language of touch, the intuitive skills of responsiveness, and to invite students to harness the many ways Watsu can soothe the mind and body by calming the central nervous system.
Equally as important is teaching students that the full beauty and power of these techniques evolve from being present, focused, attentive, attuned, and continuously holding a nonjudgmental and caring attitude.
I hold a passionate belief that Watsu like its origin the Zen Shiatsu is intended to authentically connect with other people in a loving healing way, so that we as Watsu therapists bring good to humanity, help others reach higher mountains, and find peace in the water!
Furthermore, it is my duty to ensure students and future practitioners are ethically aware and conscientious in following professional expectations and considerations that are crucial to maintaining a highly professional and healthy industry.
I also believe that Watsu and Aquatic Bodywork therapists and instructors should be highly trained to notice and respond to subtle movements, impulses and nonverbal cues and it is my job as a trainer to unleash the natural skills (you already possess).
Did reading my story create a sense of curiosity or calling for you? Here are a couple of things you may wish to do:
Either with me, or another qualified practitioner.
Learn to practice Watsu®…
The first Watsu course (Watsu I) is designed for just about anyone to take. It can be undertaken for self-development as well as for professional development, or as your first step towards becoming a certified Watsu practitioner.
As you now know it was a whole new path in life for me. Perhaps you feel like you’d like to explore it too.
You may be interested in keeping up to date with Aquatic Bodywork Courses available through The Australian Institute of Aquatic Bodywork.
Enrolments are now open for a limited number of students.
...who knows what waits for you in the healing warmth of the water!
What students have said...
"...such a present, I was in a bubble full of healing and love. Anyone can do this and everyone should. I strongly believe that this...journey was as deep for me and other thanks to the experienced and passionate group leader... If you’ll take this course with Anat you'll probably need no words to describe the essence of this work once in her hands."
"After just one professional session of Watsu I was so amazed about this blissful way of treating people. For me it the experience went far beyond the benefit for my physical wellbeing, but it reminded me of how we can spread so much peace by the the use of gentle touch... Anat you did a wonderful job teaching us...far beyond teaching us just the essential knowledge. You shared with us some of your beautiful insights, about what you get, if you open yourself to interact with people in such a peaceful way!"
"Anat, your total commitment to each one of us separately and as a group, with so much creativity, yet full of joy and humour made a significant impression on us all."