Michael Nichol, 61, from Wakefield, felt like he was in the “pitch black” after a number of physical and mental health problems left him feeling like he had no future. However, Michael found hope in an unlikely place when he was introduced to a new form of water therapy.
Michael was one of the first people to try out South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s Watsu therapy. Watsu stands for ‘water shiatsu’ and involves a therapist gently moving a service user around in a pool of warm water. Being in the water takes pressure off the vertebrae and allows the muscles to be stretched in order to increase strength and improve flexibility, while the calm and peaceful atmosphere can help to improve mental wellbeing.
Michael told us about the therapy he’d experienced with specialist physiotherapist Helen Anderson, health and exercise practitioner Nicola Mirfin, and physiotherapy assistant Carol Denton:
“I have both mental and physical health problems and it had got to a point where I couldn’t see a future for myself. I had limited mobility, breathing problems, and I felt so negative.
“When the therapists at Priory 1 at Fieldhead in Wakefield suggested that I take part in Watsu, I didn’t know what to think. It was all explained to me very clearly, but I was still anxious as it was new to me and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I decided to take part, as I wanted to give anything that could improve my life a chance.
“As soon as I got in the water, it felt like being back in my mother’s womb. All you can feel is the movement of the water and everything is so still and quiet. I knew I would be safe.
“Everything about the sessions makes you feel good. The lights, the music, the touch, the warmth – it’s such a wonderful therapy.
“As my sessions went on, I began to experience some special moments. One of the sessions took place around my birthday, and during the session I had a flashback to me and my twin brother, who died 18 years ago, as children. In another session, I was talking about my time as a joiner, and I could feel and sense the objects I had made so clearly while I was in the water.
“I found these experiences so wonderful. The thoughts I experienced about my brother were so positive and I didn’t want them to end. After this, I said I had fallen in love with Watsu – I love the rewards you get from it and everything that it brings to you.
“People could see how my mood and attitude changed every time I came back from my Watsu sessions. I couldn’t stop talking about it – everyone would joke with me and say, ‘Are you talking about Watsu again?!’
“The sessions can be hard sometimes because they can get quite intense – but the rewards are worth the difficulty.
“I had become so enthusiastic about my therapy that I was asked to speak to a man who was about to take part in Watsu, but was feeling very anxious about it. I told him that the feeling you experience after your session will far outweigh any worries or concerns you have. I told him that he had nothing to lose and if it works, it will stay with him for the rest of his life.
“Watsu gives you time to reflect and helps you to see things in a different light. It reaches to touch your emotions and guides you towards what is good in your life. Everyone’s lives are so rushed – but with Watsu you are given the time to go slowly and think about your recovery.
“For the sessions to work, you have to have passion and trust, and all the therapists at Priory 1 do. Helen, who carried out the Watsu, has an amazing attitude. I was feeling slightly anxious about the touching part of the therapy, as a therapist supports you and moves you around in the water, but Helen and the whole team made me feel so at ease.
“Helen made me feel relaxed just by talking to me. She really gets into you. Her calmness and gentleness flows through her – it’s like having an umbilical cord between you. I think if you didn’t have faith in the technique it wouldn’t work – but the whole team at Priory 1 do.
“After taking part in Watsu, my breathing improved and my physical health got better because of the exercise and movement I did in the water. My mental health also grew because Watsu made me feel so worthwhile. Whenever I feel low, I think about my Watsu experiences and I feel instantly better.
“Watsu changed everything. It gave me a life. All I can do is grin!”