WATSU® – History

Memoirs (2018) by Harold Dull

The version that follows is intended for those that already know Watsu. If you don’t, go to www.watsu.com and look at the descriptions and videos posted there before your read this memoir.

All that follows are my mind’s renewal or reconstruction of my memories.

Rather than going back (or rather coming up) period by period. I recreate the Memories up through four lines or paths:

We share here the 4th part, about Watsu and WABA.

IV Watsu

I search through the woods for hot springs. I happen upon a woman sitting in a pool. I ask her if she would like a massage. I am forty years old. I have never had a massage, let alone given one. She says yes. She shows me how to get under her shoulder blade. We become friends. She teaches me massage. I set up a padded board in the hot tub pool I had built in my backyard to massage people on. I call it Wassage.

My friend practices on me the Zen Shiatsu she had just studied. I love it. I take classes with Reuho Yamada. I go to hot springs and practice on whoever is there. One morning at a hot springs I wake up before dawn and go down to the pool. A woman is in it. I give her a Shiatsu while she sits in the water. When I finish she turns her head from side to side and says she hasn’t been able to move like that since she had been in an accident. She says she felt healing in my hands. I thank her. My joy at hearing that stays with me as I stride up the side of a mountain, in awe that something like this could happen through me. At the top the circle of trees are filled with light. God is here. I drop to my knees. He bends down and lifts me. Holding my arm, He walks at my side along the ridge. He guides me down a stream. The streambed below is tangled in brush. There is an easier path along the gully’s side. “Which way do I go?” “Whichever way you go I am with you.” -words that never leave me. I sit out on the bank over the pool – such brightness- the pool, the children splashing in the water, the trees, the birds singing in the branches, are all sitting in God’s hand. We are all sitting in God’s hand. I look down at my own, open to hold others.

I continue studying Zen Shiatsu with Waturu Ohashi in New York, and offer Zen Shiatsu classes in my home. I study with its creator, Shizuto Masanaga, in Japan and offer classes at Harbin Hot Springs.


A woman floats me in the warm pool one night and a body wave takes me up into a world of light. I want to take others to that place. I apply the stretches of Zen Shiatsu while floating people. My students watch and want to be shown how to do what I just did, but as in Zen Shiatsu, stretches open the flow of energy. I follow wherever that energy takes us around the pool. I can’t repeat it. When I lean someone against the wall, as I lift my hand off their crown chakra, we spiral heavenwards, two intertwining dragons.

I slow down, stay in one place, and drop into the emptiness at the bottom of the breath. The getting lighter of the one in my arms draws me up out of that emptiness. This Waterbreath Dance opens every Watsu. I am amazed at how much oneness I have with whoever I float at my heart, even those I would never have imagined being one with. I am no longer amazed. The heart holds, wraps around whomever we float. It is our oneness with everything. Once felt, there is no way we can violate the trust with which someone lies back in our arms. 

Zen Shiatsu’s principal of being, not doing, finds a home in the water. The more we hold somebody’s whole body, the more the stretches and moves come out of the depths of the breath that we share. With the help of many, those stretches and moves evolve into a form that can be learned and adapted to anybody.

I, and some of our students, start introducing Watsu into facilities around the country. I am surprised how quickly it is accepted as something their clientele need.

My assistant, Minakshi, and I drive to the first facility that invites us to teach their staff. I wonder if I should leave Watsu’s more intimate moves out. I don’t. They invite us back. I tell them I was considering leaving those moves out. The staff are glad I didn’t. Those are what their special needs clientele most need.

I am invited to Israel to teach the staff at their largest facility. To this day hundreds receive Watsu there every week.

I am invited to Phoenix to teach the staff at their largest facility. I do and receive reports at how much it is helping their clients until I am told the corporation is shutting down the pool. A building with doctor’s offices will generate more income.

I am invited by Cameron West to teach at an Easter Seals pool. An Occupational Therapist, she becomes a Watsu Instructor and to this day volunteers to help us on the new WABA board.

Michele Chelenza becomes a Watsu instructor and develops a Watsu Instructor Training Program. She also donates a lot of time and money in getting Watsu out to spas.

Another early arrival on the path to become a Watsu Instructor from the Therapy community is Peggy Schoedinger who still introduces Watsu around the world. As the head of a committee, she blocks the Physical Therapists attempt to have a law passed that only Physical Therapists can work in the water. She continues to add to the list of conditions Watsu is found to alleviate.

Another therapist to become a Watsu Instructor, Mary Seamster, invites me to teach at her center in Northern Washington which, unfortunately, has since been closed by the authorities when they saw a glowing report about classes there in a newspaper. She has since built a beautiful center in southern Washington where classes and Instructor conferences are held. She too, continues to volunteer her service on the WABA board.

The latest Watsu instructor to have her center shut down is Anat Juran who has been working for years to establish a Watsu School in Australia and has been taken to court by a neighbor.

The same year I develop Watsu, I bring its close unconditional whole body holding back onto land in Tantsu. Students at Harbin from Europe ask me to come and teach Tantsu in Geneva, Paris and Munich. My organizer in Paris is the head of the French Shiatsu Association. He brings me back to Paris each year. In Geneva I do the first Watsu in Europe in Lavey les bains. In Germany, Helen Schulz and others find pools where I can teach Watsu. They begin learning and training to teach it.

A student in a Watsu class in Germany offers to give me the experience of a wonderful form of Aquatic Bodywork that he just learned, Waterdance. He has me put on noseclips and takes me under. He doesn’t bring me up at the right time to breathe and my head hits the bottom. I am afraid that if this is someone’s first experience of Aquatic Bodywork they would never want a Watsu.

Next year Aman Shroeter and Arjana come to my Watsu class in Germany. They had been developing Waterdance. Arjana gives me a Waterdance session and, not hitting my head on the bottom, brings me up when I need to breathe, I enjoy it. Arjana goes on to study Watsu with me and Minakshi at Harbin. She becomes a Watsu instructor.

Minakshi proposes we invite Arjana to teach Waterdance at Harbin. We do. I, and several Watsu instructors at Harbin, enjoy sharing that first class. It is a completely different experience than Watsu. My body wave goes into multiple dimensions when Arjana or Minakshi Waterdance me. When I am brought up I want to go right back under. Not everyone is ready to face the challenge of being taken underwater. I encourage its being added to our program after someone has had or studied Watsu without having to face the challenge of surrendering their breathing.

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WABA – History