I Got An Underwater Massage And Lived To Tell About It

by Stephanie Montes

I’m all about new and interesting beauty treatments, so when I first heard about an underwater massage, I booked it—no questions asked. Acting on impulse and knowing nothing about the treatment, I later learn that Watsu is an aquatic massage that takes place in a saltwater pool heated to 98 degrees (is it just me or does that sound really hot)? The treatment mostly focuses on stretching, deep relaxation and is said to mimic a womb-like experience. Color me intrigued.

Once I’ve booked it, I get a little nervous, and all kinds of questions start running through my mind: Will I be completely submerged? How will I breathe? (My fiancé thinks I will be wearing an oxygen mask, which I tell him is ridiculous.) I imagine that there could be a massage table in a pool. Whatever it is, I’m in too deep (almost literally), and there’s no backing down now.

I arrive at the Rancho Valencia Spa near San Diego and check in for my 6o-minute Watsu massage. The girl at the front desk tells me she’s heard a lot about it but never actually tried it herself. She goes on to tell me some people have said it’s “life-changing.” Color me even more intrigued.

I put on my bathing suit and walk back to a beautiful private pool. Soothing music is playing, and I meet Sonia, the Watsu Practitioner. She instructs me to slowly get in the pool and get comfortable with the water. (Not knowing exactly what that means, I basically walk around the 3-foot-deep pool in circles like a crazy person.) She then ties a floating device to each of my legs to help my lower body float while she holds my head above water. My intrigue has turned into a mix of extreme curiosity mixed with a little fear.

The sign outside the private Watsu pool.

It’s time for my treatment to begin. No one is around; it’s really quiet; and—for a lack of a better way of describing it—a stranger is “carrying” me in a pool. I realize I am feeling insanely uncomfortable; a few times I almost laugh. I don’t want to be disrespectful, so I close my eyes and try to relax. She twirls me around in the water, and I quickly realize this treatment isn’t actually a massage at all.

Sonia continues to stretch and twirl me around, all while still holding my head above water. I am never completely submerged, although the only part of my face above the waterline is my nose. I get to the point where I am so relaxed my body feels lifeless, and the only movements I am making are at Sonia’s will.

Sonia and I at the beginning of the treatment.

Halfway through the treatment, all I can think about is how thirsty I am. (I later find out that is because I was sweating profusely—remember how hot the water is. My body was detoxing, causing me to become dehydrated.) The second thing that comes to mind is how this treatment is not for people who like their personal space. Sonia is cradling me like a baby and brushing my hair out of my face. I weirdly miss my mom.

Before I know it, the treatment is over. Sonia props me up against the pool wall and anchors my head on the ledge. I feel relaxed, but what is most surprising—almost shocking— is that I can’t seem to move my body. It takes me a minute to take my first step. I feel like I am learning to use my legs again. Perhaps this is the rebirth experience I have heard so much about? I’m assuming this is because I’ve felt completely weightless for the last hour, and Sonia has been the one in charge of my movements. Nonetheless it’s an incredibly strange (and a little scary) feeling.

I ask Sonia about the reactions other people have had. She says everyone has a different experience: Some people laugh uncontrollably (that might be because they’re uncomfortable); some cry hysterically; others claim to have an almost out-of-body experience. I experienced none of those. However, when it was all said and done I did feel deeply rejuvenated and relaxed—what more could you really ask for from a spa treatment?