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Taking on the Difficult Task of Researching Water Massage

HOT SPRINGS, MT– In this area, it isn’t always about 9 to 5, which means that sometimes my job requires working evening and/or weekends. And every now and again, like on a frozen day this January, it requires both. So I found someone to house sit, take care of the dogs, and keep the fire going while Linda and I headed out to Hot Springs.

    A little after 5 pm last Friday we were in the hot pool at the Historic

Symes Hotel. The warm water was relaxing and soothing after a long week of grinding deadlines. I was taking it easy—the primary reason for the trip was yet to come. Saturday we were to have a Watsu massage by Kathy Kendall, the massage therapist at the hotel.    

    Kathy Kendall has always been drawn to water. Growing up in San Diego she was a body and board surfer. She completed a business degree, worked as an escrow officer and one day got lost while trying to find her cousin’s ranch. She found herself in Hot Springs. She eventually made it to the family reunion, returned quickly to Hot Springs and due to a breakdown of her car, ended up staying a month instead of a week.     She went home but was back  within two months. That was 14 years ago. At that time, there wasn't even a bank in town, and not very much work for an escrow officer.     Kendall was drawn to the healing waters of the area and knew there was a growing interest in alternative healing modalities. So in 1993 she returned to San Diego for an intensive massage school education.

    Upon her return to Hot Springs she learned the chiropractor that had been practicing at the Symes had recently retired and she was offered his office space to use as a practice site. This is just one of the many occasions of what she calls divine intervention that have paved the way for her continuing journey.

    Initially, Kendall practiced the Swedish massage learned during her training in San Diego. Business was slow at first—sometimes she performed only one massage a week. But her enthusiasm for what she did and her adopted community kept her going.

    She became an active member in that community, serving on many local boards and committees. Her service included the Sanders County Coalition of Families. She also was a member of the Friends of the Water, a group dedicated to the maintenance of the original springs until they were closed.     Being of service to the Hot Springs area was as important to her as helping people through massage.

    A few years after starting her practice she discovered information about Watsu massage while on the internet. Watsu is a form of bodywork that incorporates gentle stretching, acupressure and other techniques while being supported by the therapist and moved through the water. The combination of techniques, the warm water and the nurturing of the therapist provide a deep sense of relaxation.

    The name, Watsu, is from the words water and Shiatsu and was developed by Harold Dull at Harbin Hot Springs in California. Dull found that in the water the body glides easily and naturally in many relaxing positions that are not possible on the massage table. He

incorporated the support of the water with meridian pressure point techniques from Shiatsu to begin the development of Watsu.

    Kathy took her first Watsu training in 1998 near Seattle at Whitestone Retreat. “I was born to Watsu,” she said. Watsu is being used in many different ways and by many kinds of health care professionals. About one-third of the people who learn Watsu are massage therapists, another third are physical and occupational therapists and another third are psychotherapists.

    There are several levels of training and Kathy has completed all of them. She believes that Watsu and all the forms of bodywork that she does are her way to be of service, to be a facilitator for helping people relax, heal and grow. She feels this is an outgrowth of her own personal and spiritual journey.

    Watsu is one of the most nurturing, relaxing forms of bodywork that we have ever experienced. Floating in water has an incredible way of altering the senses. When walking around on the earth, tethered by gravity, there is a definite awareness of one's physical presence. While experiencing Watsu, as you float in the water supported by Kathy, there is a sense of weightlessness and a different perception of time and space. Her nurturing presence creates a sense of trust that facilitates a deeply relaxed state.

    There are many techniques of bodywork and even psychotherapy that talk about the value of connecting with your client, breathing with them and connecting on a deeper level. There is that connection and more with a Watsu session. An amazing sensation of peace and contentment comes from being held, cradled and rocked in the warm water.

    In the safety of that holding, combined with the massage, pressure points, gentle stretches and healing mineral waters, there is first a physical and then a mental, emotional and spiritual release of tension and toxins that have been held in the body. Muscles seem to settle into a place where they are supposed to be when freed up from stress and tension. There is a sense of a less constrained energy flow throughout the entire body, a greater sense of peacefulness and a more loving nature. This process facilitates finding that “still point within.”


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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

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