As I float on my back, weightless in the 33°C enriching mineral spring water at Castle Hot Springs, I close my eyes and let go, giving in to the warmth and relaxation of the natural pool. My head is cradled in a buoyant sling, and although I wear earplugs to prevent water from getting in my ears, I can still faintly hear the soothing trickle of a waterfall. Bands on my legs keep them from sinking.
My therapist, Juliet Rozo, standing in the chest-deep water, supports my back and uses my arms to gently guide my body in rhythmic circular motions around the pool. She simultaneously massages acupressure points to boost my well-being. The sensation is a surreal combination of flying and floating, with a deep, meditative feeling of peace and tranquility. I am fully immersed in the Watsu experience.
Watsu is a combination of water and shiatsu. It takes the traditional Japanese shiatsu massage, which uses acupressure to promote relaxation and adds the element of warm water to facilitate stretching, providing an even richer treatment. “Watsu entails what we like to call a 3-D massage,” Rozo says. “The client is in zero gravity, allowing the spine to move freely. It is a series of assisted stretches and movements that increase flexibility and range of motion in the client’s body. It also calms the central nervous system to enter a deep relaxation.”
Although Watsu has been around since 1980, there seems to be a trend amongst high-end resorts to add, or reopen, Watsu pools at their spa facilities in the past few years. Castle Hot Springs, 80 kilometres northwest of Phoenix, Arizona, in the serene Sonoran Desert, opened its Watsu pool in September 2022.
The resort’s Watsu-trained therapists use the aquatic bodywork technique to achieve physical and emotional health benefits such as improving range of motion and flexibility, relieving pain and tension, releasing blocked energy, increasing blood circulation, reducing anxiety, boosting the immune system, and promoting better sleep.
As I continue with my 60-minute session, it evolves into more elaborate manoeuvres, including adding a nose plug and allowing the therapist to position my body into underwater headstands and somersaults. There is stretching, massaging, cradling, swooshing, twisting, rocking. As with other body treatments, it requires a bit of vulnerability and trust, but the therapists are professionals who make the experience calming and comfortable.
Castle Hot Springs offers a blend of history, wellness, luxury, and adventure. It is renowned for its naturally heated, mineral-rich hot springs, which have been enjoyed for their healing properties for centuries. With a diverse range of activities that cater to all interests, from guided desert hikes and yoga classes to invigorating spa treatments and a via ferrata, there is something for everyone.
Guests can stay in a Spring Bungalow alongside the bubbling creek and with an outdoor spring-water tub or in a Sky View Cabin, featuring a wooden deck and a telescope for stargazing. The all-inclusive resort also offers gourmet farm-to-table cuisine with award-winning chefs using ingredients grown in the property’s garden to craft an array of delectable dishes. The resort’s recent reopening as a National Historic Landmark, its commitment to sustainability with 80 per cent locally sourced ingredients, and its focus on environmental responsibility make it a timely and compelling destination.
The Phoenix area is ideal for a rejuvenating escape, with some of the most luxurious and restorative resorts in Arizona. Here are additional resort spas in the area that offer the Watsu treatment.
Sanctuary Camelback Mountain, A Gurney’s Resort and Spa: The 90-minute treatment takes place in a warm saltwater pool, with an option to add soothing sound bowl therapy.
Civana Wellness Resort & Spa: Guests can enjoy a 60-minute Watsu experience in resort’s private outdoor pool, as well as experience the hydrotherapy thermal circuit.