AT THE HEART OF WATSUby Harold Dull
I continue to be in awe of the connection we feel when we co-ordinate our breathing and float someone level with our heart center. Research at the Institute of HeartMath sheds light on what I’ve called a ‘heart wrap’ ever since I began developing Watsu twenty years ago.
Listening in on the heart, and tracking its effects, researchers confirm what traditional cultures take for granted. The heart has a mind. Its forty thousand neurons store information and make decisions. Through nerves, pulse, hormones and an electromagnetic field five thousand times stronger, the heart communicates with the brain, and every part of the body.
When someone feels the kinds of feelings often felt during a Watsu- care … appreciation … love … the variability in the Heart’s rhythms show up as regularly recurring waves. The heart is the body’s strongest oscillator. The same waves show up in the brain, respiration, and other systems. This coherence allows the heart to fulfill its role as the manager of our emotions. Entrained to the heart, the brain can focus on areas where its more analytical intelligence is needed. Our overall creativity is enhanced.
Those at HeartMath also find that under stress these waves become chaotic and disconnected. When we experience (or recall) anger the chaotic rhythms continue for many hours afterwards. In this chaotic state our immune system is weakened and our sympathetic, fight or flight, nervous system over-activated. The perpetuation of this state, and the increasing difficulty to return to coherence, underlies most of our modern illnesses.
The nurturing holding and gentle movement of Watsu can bring both giver and receiver into heart coherence. I have always felt that the connection that comes with our ‘heart wrap’ is a connection to everything, a oneness, a level of being from which we can look with equanimity on what would otherwise disturb us. I realize now that that is heart coherence. If the person in our arms is in their own coherence, it may be a unique opportunity for them to let whatever they have been suppressing, or obsessing on, with the emotionally incompetent brain, find a place in the heart’s understanding. In Watsu we call this ‘letting things go into the flow’. We never interrupt a Watsu to ask what is wrong when we see tears come to someone’s eyes. At the end of a session, we never pry for details. Asking someone to recall events behind whatever came up may throw them back into the chaotic state that Watsu has been leading them away from, and undo Watsu’s most valuable gift. Watsu is at the opposite pole from therapies that posit reliving past traumas or catharsis as the way to release them, something that those at HeartMath also find counterproductive.
Since both giving and receiving Watsu enhances one’s ability to move into coherence, the next step to further the healing received from Watsu is to share it with others. I realize now that the ‘presence’ we look for in our Watsu students is heart coherence. Our earlier trainings burdened our students with too much material. The stress of learning so much kept them in a chaotic state that made it difficult to develop presence. A few years ago this changed when I introduced the Water Breath Dance. Its breath connected heart wrap in which giver and receiver surrender together to the water helps students develop presence from the beginning. This move (or non-move), and the way we come ‘home’ to it throughout a session, distinguishes Watsu from other forms of water work. It brings into reach our goal of making the benefits of both giving and receiving the simple forms of Watsu available to everybody.
The HeartMath findings show us why we have taken the direction we have and point to the work that lies ahead- helping people access and stay longer in their coherence in and out of the water. For some the way on land may be recalling being watsued, letting everything go into that flow. Those who experienced giving Watsu may return to that state by watsuing others in their heart-mind. The author, Alma Flor, once told us how she ‘watsued’ her academic colleagues as they argued around a table ... and whole audiences as she lectured to them. If, as they say at HeartMath, not being able to forgive someone can keep us from coherence, what better partners could we have in our arms than those we most need to forgive? Imagine a city in which everybody walks down the street lovingly watsuing each other.
The way I find to return to the coherence of Watsu on land is to sink into the emptiness that we sink into at the bottom of the breath in the Water Breath Dance. In HeartMath I finally find an explanation for the wave that vibrates my body when I sink deepest into that emptiness. It is the body’s entrainment to the heart’s coherent rhythm. Because I often feel it initiated at the level of the heart when I embrace a friend and ‘listen’ to his or her heart with my heart, I’ve been calling it a heart-bodywave. We occasionally see this wave in someone when, after strong stretches and moves, we bring him or her home to the stillness of the Water Breath Dance. It was my own experience of this the first time someone floated me at Harbin Hot Springs, and wanting to share it with others, that started me developing Watsu, incorporating the stretches and moves of the Zen Shiatsu that I practiced and taught there.
Our waves resonate with those we float. At HeartMath they record the change of rhythms in people touching and find resonances that point to some kind of shared coherence (a coherence I feel as rising to, resonating with, everything).
Their research makes it clearer what is at the heart of Watsu. My heart mind feels understood. We can all have a little more clarity about the waves our love is making in the world.
Watsu- Freeing the Body in Water
Watsu I, II, III by Harold Dull, 1998, videos available through www.waba.edu
HeartMath Solutions by Doc Childre and Howard Martin, HarperSanFrancisco, 1999.