Alternative Spa Series: Shiatsu Goes Aqueous


Ever feel like a fish out of water? How about a fish in the water? Literally. If the term “Watsu Flow” isn’t alien to you, you know exactly how it feels.

A therapist whisking you around in water, tranquil music playing from speakers both above and under water, total weightlessness and ability to stretch in ways you never thought possible, an altogether other-worldly experience…this is Watsu. Despite New Yorkers’ unyielding ‘don’t disturb my bubble’ attitude, the intimate in-water procedure is becoming less mysterious and quite popular.


Watsu treatment at Cornelia

There’s just one catch – you’ve got to wear a bathing suit.

Relax. It’s not as scary as you might think. I was suspicious myself when I heard the details of the treatment I was set to undergo (especially the bathing suit part). But when I heard that Cornelia Day Resort was where it would be – my skepticism quickly melted away. Cornelia, located on 5th Ave. between 52nd and 53rd, is a paradise tucked inside the everyday hustle and bustle of the city. Unfortunately, not everyone will have the opportunity to experience the lush treatments at Cornelia since it’s by no means an economical escape. Signature massage treatments run about $175 an hour, and their alternative therapies are a bit steeper. For those who can afford a day at Cornelia -regulars like Mandy Moore and Dustin Hoffman certainly can – should try the Watsu, as it is not an easy find among spas. Especially at a place like Cornelia, experiencing underwater peace in a room that looks over one of the most famous and frenzied streets in the world is utterly surreal.


Watsu is offered at Cornelia Day Resort

So what exactly is this “Watsu” I keep referring to? Its definition is actually not far from the way it sounds; a fusion of the words water and shiatsu. It is a shiatsu-style massage therapy treatment unlike any other because it offers the unparalleled benefit of weightlessness. While a traditional table massage only allows so much movement and stretching of the muscles, Watsu gives therapists the ability to go as far as your body will allow. Although the treatment is done in a pool, because the water is set to your body’s natural temperature, there is no initial “shock” upon entering the water, nor is there any discomfort due to unpleasant air or water temperatures. The Watsu recipient never has to worry about going under either, since ‘floaties’ are attached to the legs under the knee.


Cornelia’s Watsu pool

When I got in the pool with my therapist, John, he explained to me what we would be doing, and asked what ailments I have. I told him my right side is the most problematic, and before I knew it, I was floating face-up, eyes-closed and swimming through the water without ever having to move a muscle on my own.

I can’t say much about the hour-long treatment because for that hour I went somewhere I’ve never been. My mind and body were outside this universe and time completely disappeared.
What I do remember is that throughout most of the therapy, my right side was curved like a crescent moon, and John facilitated that movement by encouraging the stretch throughout the treatment.

“Your body wanted to go that way, so I went with it,” he said. John explained that many patients have trouble opening up, especially during the first treatment, and often are “stiff as a board” floating on the water. I seemed to have no trouble letting him perform the therapy – I needed the release.

Although there is a distinct method to which Watsu therapists are trained to ascribe, John told me that it’s a seldom occurrence when he actually adheres rigidly to the doctrine. Instead, he listens to the body, follows it wherever it wants to go and allows your mind to slowly float back to your body when he’s finished. The treatment lasts an hour, and your mind won’t want to ‘float back’ so easily, but eventually, you’ll find yourself back in the pool, pleasantly stretched and refreshed and ready to take on the real world yet again.

Cornelia Day Resort
663 5th Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10022
T: 212.871.3050
Mon-Sat: 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sun: 9 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.

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