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by Alex Medin November 05, 2023
In the dynamic landscape of therapeutic practices, Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu have emerged as profound modalities for treating stress, fostering peacefulness and promote deep healing. The essence of these water-based therapies lies in their capacity to not only reduce stress and anxiety by lowering the body's cortisol levels, which spike during periods of stress, but also to facilitate the deep and often elusive process of releasing and resolving deep seated trauma. By immersing oneself in the warm, womb-like sanctuary of this experience, these therapeutic modalities provide everyone a path to healing that is both gentle and profound.
To understand how Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu help in treating stress, anxiety and trauma, we need to first understand how our nervous system works.
Our nervous system is a complex network that regulates our body's response to internal and external stimuli. It's the command center for both voluntary actions, like movement, and involuntary actions, such as the heartbeat and digestion. To grasp how we respond to stress, it's essential to delve into the central nervous system, particularly its two critical components: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
The SNS is often described as the body's accelerator in times of peril. When you perceive a threat — whether it's a physical danger or psychological stress like a tight deadline — the SNS springs into action. It primes your body for immediate action. Here's what happens:
The SNS response is crucial for survival, equipping the body to either confront danger head-on or flee from it as quickly as possible. Hence its called the fight & flight response.
In contrast, the PNS is like a brake. It promotes the 'rest and digest' response that calms the body down after the danger has passed. Its role is to conserve energy and undertake restorative processes. The PNS facilitates:
Understanding these two systems provides insight into how chronic stress can impact our health. When the SNS is activated too frequently or for extended periods — a common occurrence in our fast-paced, high-stress society — the body doesn't have adequate time to recover and heal. This constant state of alert can lead to a plethora of health issues, including cardiovascular disease, digestive problems, and a weakened immune response.
Thus, activities that stimulate the PNS, such as Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu, meditation, and deep breathing exercises, are invaluable. They help to mitigate the effects of chronic stress, allowing the body to rest, digest, and heal as nature intended.
Cortisol it is an essential hormone that's crucial for various bodily functions, including regulating metabolism, reducing inflammation, and assisting with memory formulation.
It's also part of our body's alarm system, our Sympathetic response, giving us the energy and alertness we need in response to stress. It's often called the "stress hormone" because it's released by your body during times of stress. Imagine you're an ancient human and suddenly you spot a saber-toothed tiger. Your body would release cortisol to help you either fight the tiger or run away from it—this is known as the "fight or flight" response.
Although the release of cortisol is part of a natural and healthy response to stress, it has a complex relationship periods of chronic stress and trauma, which can create a vicious cycle that hinders healing and resolution.
Here's a simplified explanation of the process:
Stress and Cortisol Release: When a person experiences a stressful event or trauma, the body's immediate reaction is to enter a "fight-or-flight" state, which is mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. This triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases heart rate and energy, while cortisol releases glucose into the bloodstream, enhancing the brain's use of glucose and increasing the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Chronic Stress and Elevated Cortisol: With acute stress, the body typically returns to normal once the stressor is removed. However, with ongoing stress or unresolved trauma, the body can remain in a heightened state, leading to chronically elevated levels of cortisol. Over time, this can cause various health problems, including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep disturbances, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.
Perpetuation of Trauma: High cortisol levels can alter brain function, particularly in areas like the amygdala (which processes fear and emotional responses) and the prefrontal cortex (which is involved in executive function and decision-making). This alteration can lead to increased fear and anxiety, making it harder to process and resolve trauma.
Impaired Recovery: Furthermore, chronic stress and elevated cortisol can impair the function of the hippocampus, which is vital for memory and learning. This impairment can disrupt the consolidation of positive experiences and the contextualization of the traumatic event, which are both crucial for recovery from trauma.
Negative Feedback Loop: The body has a natural negative feedback loop meant to regulate cortisol levels. However, when stress is chronic, this feedback loop can become dysregulated, leading to a state where cortisol production does not adequately shut off, contributing further to the cycle of stress and trauma.
Cortisol Resistance: Just like insulin resistance in diabetes, prolonged high levels of cortisol can lead to cortisol resistance, where body tissues become less sensitive to the hormone. This can lead to an inflammatory response, as cortisol also has anti-inflammatory effects, and when these are diminished, inflammation can get out of control, contributing to the potential for further health problems.
Water has a profound therapeutic benefit that is deeply rooted in the earliest stages of human development. This connection begins in the womb, where human life is nurtured in a sac filled with amniotic fluid—a watery environment that provides the developing fetus with protection, consistent warmth, and the ability to begin movement.
This prenatal environment plays a crucial role in the formation of the body and its systems, offering a unique state of weightlessness that allows for the development of muscles and bones without the constraints of gravity. The consistent pressure and warmth of the fluid also play a role in developing the nervous system and sensory organs, laying down the foundations for sensory integration.
When an individual engages in aquatic therapies such as Aquatic Healingwork or Watsu, which are performed in warm, body-temperature water, they are subconsciously reminded of this primal, womb-like state. The experience of being supported by water and the diminished effects of gravity allows for a return to those earliest developmental stages. This resemblance to the womb can be incredibly comforting and reassuring, signaling to the body that it is in a safe place to begin healing.
Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu harness the gentle power of deep relaxation in body-temperature water to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is central to our body's rest and digest response. This aspect of the nervous system counterbalances, as we explained earlier, the sympathetic nervous system, which governs the fight-or-flight response activated during stress. When the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, it signals the body to conserve energy, slow the heart rate, increase intestinal and gland activity, and relax muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.
In the supportive environment of floating in warm water, the body is buoyed and can be manipulated with ease, promoting a feeling of weightlessness and freedom. As the practitioner cradles, stretches, and gently moves a person through the water, there is a harmonious flowing dance that occurs, reminiscent of the amniotic fluid in the womb. This replication of a womb-like environment is deeply soothing and can evoke a primal sense of security and calm.
This sensory experience during an Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu session, naturally guides the body into a state of deep relaxation, allowing for the reduction of cortisol levels. By decreasing cortisol, they are able to facilitate a restorative state where deep healing is possible.
The warmth and pressure of the water during a session also encourages the body to produce relaxation brain waves, such as alpha and theta waves. These brain waves are associated with deep relaxation and meditative states, which are often linked to healing and regeneration. The alpha state acts as a bridge between the conscious and subconscious mind, promoting mental coordination, calmness, alertness, and learning. Theta waves are deeper, associated with profound relaxation, meditation, and creativity. In these states, the body's healing processes are enhanced, from improved circulation and digestion to immune response and emotional processing.
Moreover, the PNS plays a crucial role in the body's healing process. By fostering a restful and digestible state, it allows the body's internal systems to repair and grow. When the PNS is activated, the body can more effectively manage its immune response, repair damaged tissues, and rejuvenate itself.
Research into the effects of Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu has shown significant reductions in cortisol levels, indicating a lower stress response. This other study has shown a reduction of cortisol levels in women during pregnancy.
Additionally, the sensory experience of being in water has been linked to the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and healing. For those with trauma, the safe and supportive nature of water can foster the reclamation of trust in their bodies and environment.
In essence, Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu's capacity to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system while providing a regenerative, womb-like experience is a potent combination for healing. It not only soothes the immediate symptoms of stress and tension but also creates the necessary conditions for long-term physical, emotional, and psychological healing.
The use of body-temperature water in therapeutic practices like Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu is key to their deeply relaxing and healing effects.
The human body continuously regulates its internal temperature. When the external environment is either too hot or too cold, the body must expend energy to maintain its core temperature, either by generating heat or by cooling down. This process requires the nervous system to be actively engaged.
In body-temperature water, approximately 34.5 to 35.5 degrees Celsius (94 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit), the body does not need to work to compensate for external temperature differences because the water is similar to the body’s natural temperature. This lack of thermal stress allows the nervous system to relax at a deeper level, reducing the overall energy expenditure and helping the body to achieve a state of balance or homeostasis.
When the body reaches homeostasis in warm water, the parasympathetic nervous system — responsible for the body's 'rest and digest' functions — is activated. This contrasts with the sympathetic nervous system, which governs the 'fight or flight' response and is active during periods of cold or heat stress. Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system in the warm, body-temperature water facilitates deep relaxation, slowing down the heart rate, and lowering blood pressure. In this state, the body can focus on internal processes such as healing, digestion, and cellular repair.
Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu take the therapeutic relationship to the next level by incorporating elements of massage, joint mobilization, muscle stretching, water-dance and energy work, all performed within the stress-free, womb-like environment of a warm pool. Additionally the buoyancy of water reduces stress on the body, allowing for pain-free movement.
This harmonious blend of techniques not only soothes aching bodies but also quiets the mind, reducing the production of cortisol and encouraging a meditative state. Through this process, Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu can be powerful allies in trauma recovery, offering a space where healing can occur without the weight of the world upon the shoulders.
By replicating the womb-like experience, Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu can trigger the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing down the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and promoting deep breathing, which all contribute to a state of relaxation and healing. This therapeutic milieu is especially beneficial for individuals who have experienced trauma, as the water can create a space that feels separate from the outside world, providing a sanctuary where healing can commence.
Therefore, water's resemblance to our time in the womb is not just a metaphor but a tangible, physiological state that can be leveraged to promote healing, growth, and well-being long after our initial nine months of aquatic life.
The therapeutic embrace of a Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu practitioner during a session is a powerful component of the healing process. This human connection, combined with the support of water, creates an environment that facilitates physical, emotional, and psychological healing. Here are several aspects of how the embrace in Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu can be healing:
Psychological Safety and Trust: When a Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu practitioner gently holds a client, it can create a profound sense of safety and trust. The secure, supportive touch is reminiscent of a nurturing embrace, which can be deeply comforting. This can help to establish a therapeutic relationship where the client feels safe to relax and let go of tension and stress, which is critical for healing.
Non-Verbal Communication: The non-verbal communication that occurs through touch can convey empathy, presence, and understanding without words. This can be especially therapeutic for individuals who have experienced trauma, as it allows for connection and support without the need for verbal interaction, which can sometimes be challenging.
Physical Support and Relaxation: The practitioner's embrace provides physical support, allowing the client to completely relax their muscles and let-go. This relaxation can alleviate chronic muscle tension and pain, which are often exacerbated by stress. The gentle movements and stretching involved in the embrace can also help to improve flexibility and range of motion.
Stimulation of the Parasympathetic Nervous System: The warmth and gentle pressure of the embrace can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, encouraging the body to enter a state of rest and digest. This state is essential for healing as it slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and promotes deeper breathing—all of which contribute to relaxation and recovery.
Emotional Release: The safe and caring touch of a Watsu session can also facilitate emotional release. Being held in water can create a space where emotions that are typically guarded or suppressed can surface and be processed. This emotional release can be an important part of healing from trauma and stress.
Decrease in Cortisol Levels: The supportive touch and movement in water can lead to a reduction in cortisol, the body's primary stress hormone. Lower cortisol levels are associated with a decreased stress response, which can improve overall health and well-being.
Sense of Wholeness: The integrative approach of Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu—combining touch, movement, and the therapeutic qualities of water—addresses the person as a whole. It can help individuals feel more connected to their body, often leading to a greater sense of wholeness and integration.
Mimicking Early Developmental Stages: The embrace in water can mimic the earliest experiences of being held and nurtured, which can be deeply regressive and healing. It can provide an opportunity to experience developmental stages that may have been disrupted by early life stress or trauma, offering a chance for healing and growth.
In sum, the therapeutic embrace of the Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu practitioner can offer a multifaceted healing experience that encompasses emotional support, physical relaxation, and a profound sense of being cared for, which can be transformative for those on a journey of recovery and healing.
In a state of deep relaxation, the body’s unconscious defense mechanisms can begin to melt away. Defense mechanisms, which can include psychological strategies like repression and denial, are often employed by the unconscious mind to protect the individual from perceived threats or stressors. These mechanisms can be beneficial in the short term but may prevent emotional processing and healing if they become chronic.
In a supportive, caring and non-threatening womb-like environment, the need for these defenses decreases as the blissful experience of letting oneself go increases. The nervous system no longer feels under attack from external stimuli, and this can lead to a deep psychological letting down of guards. As these barriers dissolve, repressed emotions and memories that have been held in the body can surface and finally be released and healed.
Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu facilitate the release of contained emotions, usually associated with trauma, through the supportive and therapeutic environment. The practitioner’s presence and empathetic touch can help guide and support the client through the experience of releasing these emotions, which can be a powerful part of the healing process.
The womb-like experience being held and embraced offers a unique combination of safety, support, and comfort, which can be difficult to replicate in other environments. This can lead to a deeper emotional release than might be achieved in a more traditional therapeutic setting, as the individual is not just cognitively but also physically supported in letting go of emotional burdens.
Thus, the deep relaxation promoted by this womb-like experience is not only physically restorative but can also be a conduit for emotional and psychological healing, making it a potent therapeutic tool.
Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu are not just about finding relief through bodywork; they're about re-discovering that sense of Oneness we once had inside our mother's womb, where deep peace and regeneration is possible. By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu help in reducing cortisol, alleviating the fight & flight response generated by stress and trauma. These water-based therapies offer a profound form of healing that resonates with the very fluidity of our being.
As we navigate through the depths of stress and past traumas in our lives, the healing properties of Aquatic Healingwork & Watsu remind us that sometimes the best way to move forward is by going back to where everything started, the healing womb of our moms.
Keywords: Aquatic Therapy, Watsu, cortisol, stress reduction, trauma healing, hydrotherapy, relaxation, water-based healing
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