Waterbreath Dance-Wassertanzen: An Advanced Aquatic Technique

By Kathleen Christ, LMT, NCMBT Aquatic Therapist

"From birth, humans carry the weight of gravity on our shoulders. We are bolted to the Earth, but we have only to sink beneath the surface and we are free. Buoyed by water, we can fly in any direction--up, down, sideways--by merely flipping a hand. Underwater, a human becomes an archangel." - Jacques Cousteau

First, there was Watsu (warm-water shiatsu massage) and now there is Waterbreath Dance--aquatic therapy taken to new depths. Can this be possible, and how so?

In the weightless environment of water, the body can be gently rocked, stretched, arched, cradled, twisted, pulled, folded and swirled -- great for adjustments to the spine and other areas and especially beneficial to anyone with orthopedic and neurological problems. Watsu, or "embracing and opening the heart Chakra", brings one's full awareness to the subtle healing energies of one's body and is a passive, quiet experience for the receiver. The client is floated in skin-temperature 95-degree water, continuously supported by the buoyancy of the water and the practitioner's arms. Profound relaxation, rebalancing and a deep meditative state are the result.

The Waterbreath Dance-Wassertanzen (in German) was developed in Switzerland in 1987 and takes the flow of Watsu and moves it to the underwater realm. Waterbreath Dance is more active and participatory for the receiver and is also considered an advanced aquatic technique which incorporates elements of Aikido, dolphin movements, rolls, inversions, massage and dance. Clients experience movement in a new, playful and exhilarating way and enter more deeply into peace and tranquility. Healing is facilitated through the water, the breath and the resting between the breaths.

The Waterbreath Dance takes one much deeper into the watery, intuitive and spiritual realms magnifying and intensifying the experience of joy and healing. As with profound meditative experiences, words often fail to convey the feelings or sensations of such an altered state of mind and body. So it is with Waterbreath Dance, which enables one to return to prelanguage and preconceptual states.

The sheer physical dimension of the Waterbreath Dance deserves some attention here. We can hold our breaths easily and naturally 2 to 5 times longer under the water than we can above the water and the resting place between the breaths is greatly extended. This expands the chest cavity and the heart area, a place of constriction and tightness in most humans. As circulation in the entire body increases, a sense of well-being is felt. Under hydrostatic pressure, 60 % of a person's blood moves into the chest area, which increases the demands on the heart and easily and naturally strengthens the heart muscle, the efficiency and the overall tone of the heart. This same pressure is also felt on the lungs and increases naturally the depth and breath of the receiver. The diving reflex causes a body under pressure to absorb much higher levels of oxygen at a cellular and muscular level, which is also incredibly healing for the receiver.

The client wears a nose plug and is cued well in advance of complete immersion in the water. Several relaxed breaths are taken between each drop below the surface and the rhythm of the dance is truly composed through the practitioner following the lead of the client.

We often feel that the last breath we take before going under the water is the breath that we function on, but in fact, it is all the breaths taken before the last breath that oxygenate our bodies. Thus, taking a large last breath is unnecessary and all of our breathing can be very gentle and relaxed, almost as though we are sleeping.

As circulation increases and the body experiences greater depths of remembering health, neurological balance and left/right brain activity between the hemispheres is balanced, the body returns to a state of homeostasis that has sometimes been forgotten for a long time.

Some of the comments of clients are:

  • "Free-est physical experience I've known."

  • "Waking dream state... accessing the unconscious realms."

  • "The water touched me everywhere at once, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually."

  • "Feeling things I never felt before... understanding of what life is gets a new twist."

  • "Chaos into reorder."

  • "Unadulterated Presence."

  • "Calling me to merge back into the ocean's call... getting in touch with my primal nature, unconscious, uncomplicated animal-like movements that remind me of my connection to All Being."

  • "Whole body grounding."

  • "Water integrates spirit on all levels."

  • "Learning to take joy in going deep and coming to the surface, taking the peace of the depths to the surface again... water to air to terra firma... learning to appreciate the dance of duality.

Watsu is about the relationship between the client and the practitioner with water as the facilitator. Waterbreath Dance is about the client's relationship with the water and the practitioner is the facilitator.