Hot Spots: Watsu means wetter, better bodywork


Driving down a busy street in Oceanside, you’d never suspect that behind one of the ordinary-looking 1950s houses is a tropical lagoon, a veritable Watsu heaven.

What’s Watsu? It’s a form of aquatic bodywork created in the 1980s by San Francisco massage therapist Harold Dull. Combining stretching techniques from Japanese shiatsu with the comforting weightlessness of floating in body-temperature water, he developed a system that relaxes both body and mind, and is now used around the world in clinics and spas.

In his backyard pool, surrounded by lush greenery, Watsu practitioner Dave Towe takes the experience to a whole new level. But five years ago, he didn’t even know what Watsu was.

An avid mountain climber and long-time executive at the outdoor adventure equipment company REI, he had a sudden change of life when two of his team members nearly died on a South American climb.

“Extreme mountaineering gave me some of my most important experiences,” Towe said. “But I decided to get out while I was still alive.”

He quit mountaineering and his job and began searching for new directions. Drawn to physical therapy, he tried many different treatments for himself. His first Watsu experience was what he calls “a transformational moment.”

“My body was electrified, like a light bulb, and the feeling spread to my head. I said: This is it! This is what I’m going to do with my life!”

He started taking classes and spent a year designing a special Watsu-friendly environment in his backyard. He filled the pool with water samples from places like Maui’s Seven Sacred Pools and Peru’s Laguna Negra. He then invited 50 friends to a groundbreaking party, asking everyone to bring a small tropical plant in keeping with the sacred sense of place he wanted to create.

Today, the plants are full-grown: four kinds of bamboo, three kinds of bananas, plumeria, heliconia and ginger, all watched over by stone Buddha’s, tikis, and a statue of Kwan Yin, goddess of compassion. It’s more like Hawaii than Oceanside.

But the real draw here is the water and Towe’s gentle, nurturing Watsu technique. You put on your swimsuit, step into the warm water and get a brief intro to the session, plus a nose-clamp that you’ll need when he takes you beneath the surface.

For the next hour you’re completely in his hands, being cradled, stretched and led in a graceful dance above and under water, with only the soft whisper of the water - and sometimes the deeper sound of waterfalls - in your ears.

It feels strange at first, especially getting used to the nose-clamp, but little by little you start letting go. Aches and pains float away. Problems too. It’s like being a baby again.

You’re all one big smile.

If you go

  • Ask about special three-session packages
  • More information: (760) 889-3949,