Name: Theri Thomas
Title: Aquatic Therapist
Location: San Diego
Rates: $150 per hour
Credentials: 35 years of experience as a holistic health practitioner; certified as an instructor trainer for Aquatherics, Watsu, and Healing Dance by the Worldwide Aquatic Bodywork Association.
How is aquatic bodywork different from therapies that are performed on land?
It takes a higher skill level to work with someone in the water, because you no longer have gravity integrating the body. It can actually be dangerous for the skeletal alignment and the energy systems of the body if the therapist doesn’t know what they’re doing. It can’t just be a nice float-about when you’re working with a medical client, for example. If you don’t know anything deeper than relaxation, people can still get benefits, but if you have the background and training to get more specific with the work, they get more dramatic results.
Walk us through a typical session.
You’re in skin-temperature water, 96 degrees. It’s a misconception that the practitioner is supporting the body. In fact, we need to stay out of the way and let the water support the body—although we might add a float to make a neutral alignment. We’re just joining the head at float level with the crook of our elbow, the palm of our hand, our shoulder, and lengthening the spine during the session.
Lengthening the body means you have two contact points that are eternally moving away from each other. So you’re taking up the available space in the body—which is different from stretching. You’re not pulling on the body, because it will pull back. You’re just following available openings. You’re noticing how the body’s moving and what’s available toward more productive movement.
There appear to be a lot of flowing movements. How does that work?
That would totally depend on the body—every body needs something different. I’m hypermobile, so if you try to relax my body, it just loses all integrity. I actually need the flowing movement—the water drag is tonifying my body. Another client might need you to be much more still; movement through the water might actually create more tension instead of release. So the responses of the body tell you whether to move faster, slower, bigger, smaller. You have to keep reading the body.
Why do people seek aquatic bodywork?
Sometimes people come and they just need to have something fun and relaxing. Sometimes people come and they need something specific addressed that becomes apparent. You can’t set out to have, say, an emotional release. That would happen naturally if it’s time for that to happen. You hold the space open for balance, and you follow the inherent wisdom of the body.
Is there a memorable client you worked with?
Every single client I work with who has PTSD, every client I work with who has a medical condition, anyone who has chronic pain. They get amazing results in the water. Medication can mask symptoms, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the source of their discomfort. So the water greatly improves their quality of life.