Spa Review: Watsu At Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay, Bodrum

Johnny Morris, The Daily Telegraph, November 29, 2013

The goal: Unlocking tension and unwinding. Too many hours spent hunched over my computer had fossilised my neck and shoulders and my default mood seemed set on snappy.

The treatment: Watsu, an aqua therapy that combines the comfort of warm water with the therapeutic benefits of shiatsu massage (pressure-point manipulation). An American poet, Harold Dull developed the technique in the 1980s around the hot springs of California. Since then, Watsu has spread globally and has allegedly helped treat a range of problems including high blood pressure, depression, backache and accumulated stress (that was me).

The place: A luxury low-rise resort hotel on the shores of the Aegean Sea, a 20-minute sail east of Bodrum in Turkey. At the centre of the resort is an enormous spa that comfortably accommodates 16 treatment rooms, a lake-like indoor pool, two cavernous hammams and a custom-built Watsu pool maintained at an inviting 34C.

The therapist: Deniz Susever, the hotel’s consultant practitioner, trained as a yoga instructor in Rishikesh, India. After pioneering her own form of underwater yoga, it was a natural next step to master Watsu. The calm and confident Deniz speaks excellent English (and appropriately her name in her native Turkish means “sea water lover”).

How it went: Forgetting my swimming trunks wasn’t the best way to start a relaxation session. Fortunately, the water in the Watsu pool was deep enough (about 5ft) to hide my boxer shorts and Deniz was kind enough to ignore my spa faux-pas. She strapped a pair of buoyancy bands to my legs that allowed me to stretch out like a starfish in the unchlorinated water. After a spot of synchronised breathing, she began to swing me gently around the roomy pool. Working like an acrobat, Deniz used the centrifugal force from the weight of my body to stretch my muscles and joints. She applied pressure at specific points while bending me around herself like a bow. Gradually she folded me into a foetal position and the water became still.

Bobbing close to Deniz’s waist felt primitive, peaceful, reassuringly safe. The water waltz of stretching and massage then resumed and culminated in my head being cradled on her shoulder. Hearing Deniz’s heartbeat heightened the intimacy of the therapy and it was at this point that I began to cry. Not huge sobs, just soft tears that merged with the water. Deniz then assumed a prayer pose to mark the end of the 50-minute session. I felt reborn.

Later in the week I tried a Waterdance treatment, but the nose clip and the underwater manipulation felt like waterboarding rather than therapy, and I panicked. Deniz explained that I needed many more Watsu sessions, and perhaps a night in the steam rooms before I was ready for the advanced technique. More conventional Watsu sessions were no hardship and my accumulated tension began to flow away in the warm water of the pool. On my last morning, as I drove away from the shores of the Aegean Sea, my body felt unfurled and my default mood had been reset to mellow. Good work Mr Dull – and thank you Deniz.

The details: A double room at the Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay costs from £200 per night. Each 50-minute, one-to-one Watsu session costs £90.