AquaCranial Therapy: A Spa Treatment for the
On the spa menu at the Four
Seasons Resort & Spa on Maui, AquaCranial Therapy is listed
as a specialty treatment along with Ayurvedic massage, Thai massage
and Hawaiian temple lomilomi. For those who have experienced this
technique, however, it may seem appropriate to also list it with
outdoor adventure activities such as scuba diving, windsurfing,
downhill bike tours on the volcano and crater hikes. It’s
not the typical private ocean-side resort massage experience one
might expect. Rather, it’s an adventure into the greatest
wilderness of Hawaii: the ocean.
AquaCranial Therapy is a water-based
therapy developed by Rebecca Goff of Maui. Goff, a licensed massage
therapist and a certified marine-mammal naturalist, developed AquaCranial
Therapy by combining lessons learned from studying the behavior
and movement of dolphins and whales with CranioSacral Therapy (CST),
the model of craniosacral manipulation developed by John Upledger,
CST uses precise, gentle touch
to improve the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the
brain and spinal cord, thereby improving the functioning of the
central nervous system. The practitioner applies gentle pressure
to the bones of the skull and along the length of the spine, and
then allows the body’s natural healing processes to take over.
In AquaCranial Therapy, the movement of waves and gentle currents
accentuate the CST manipulations.
The profound impact of this
therapy has raised much interest among spa therapists wishing to
offer their clients the newest, most interesting techniques. AquaCranial
Therapy is increasingly being offered in resorts around the country:
throughout the Hawaiian Islands, in the swanky ski resort community
of Sun Valley, Idaho, in Florida, and in Maine.
Learning From Dolphins and Whales
Goff has studied dolphins
for 15 years, and has been integrating what she’s learned
of their movement and behavior, in and out of the water, into AquaCranial
Therapy for six years.
Goff explains, "When
a whale or dolphin beaches, for example, they lose their equilibrium.
They are used to swimming with currents and waves in the water,
so on land they end up with an imbalance in the liquid of the inner
ear. Rocking them back and forth helps them regain their equilibrium."
For whales, this rocking also
reduces muscle stiffness and balances the circulatory system. Goff
says that when they are rocked gently in the water, human beings
receive similar benefits.
Goff said that marine animals
frequently come into the treatment area during deep-water sessions,
and occasionally during the shallow-water sessions. She said that
dolphins have shown her how to work with a client by coming up and
touching the client’s body during a session. "Once they
came up and pushed on the bottom of someone’s feet. So we
learned to take the reflex points on the bottom of the feet and
then push the client through the water just like the dolphins push
with their noses," she said.
Using the lessons culled from
these cetacean friends, along with yoga poses, meridian work, and
CST, Goff says that she is able to increase the mobility of the
recipient’s craniosacral system and facilitate releases in
I had the good fortune
of experiencing an AquaCranial session with Goff. She greeted me
early one morning with a knowing look and a compassionate nod, commenting,"
A bit of stress for a Maui girl, eh"" What transpired
over the 25-minute session still confounds me. I remember feeling
stressed about accumulating voice-mail messages and looming deadlines
as I climbed into a wetsuit. I recall walking into the water, resting
back into a neck pillow, floating easily and feeling safe and supported.
I still recall how I was cradled, rocked and gently guided through
the water with gentle pressure being applied along certain points.
But after the session, I somehow lost all conception of deadlines
and messages, and ended up curled up like an infant in a bed of
lava rock next to the sea. There I lay for what seemed like hours
in a waking dream while experiencing a timelessness I had never
Benefits As A Therapy
AquaCranial is a fairly
new modality, so its therapeutic value has yet to be researched
and documented. However, Goff said that she has found the therapy
to have a profound healing effect for individuals with high levels
of stress, chronic pain, frequent headaches, sleep apnea and other
sleep disorders, chronic-fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. She
has helped children with autism, attention-deficit disorder and
immune-system problems, and she has assisted women experiencing
difficult pregnancies and those healing from difficult childbirths.
AquaCranial Therapy has also
helped many clients release phobias, even fears of water or the
ocean. "People who have been traumatized by the water have
come here specifically to heal this," Goff said.
AquaCranial Therapy client
Barbara Brookins of San Francisco, California, is one such client.
Her fear of the water was so great that during her first session
of AquaCranial Therapy she required two extra people to be in the
water to support her. (Typically only the therapist and the client
are in the water together.) But then something changed.
"I began to feel safe,
and I was able to relax. I went into this blissful state,"
Brookins recalls. "Two or three days later I actually went
down to the ocean and floated on my back alone! I never would have
done that voluntarily before."
Goff also recommends AquaCranial
Therapy as a bonding experience for husbands and wives. "We
will have them floating next to one another in the ocean and bring
them very close together without touching just to bring their energetic
fields together," she says. "Afterwards they will swear
they touched, because they can really feel their spouse."
At The Spa
Andrea Schaub works
at the front desk of the spa at Four Seasons Resort. She will typically
recommend AquaCranial Therapy to hotel guests who are already familiar
with CST or other forms of bodywork. "Or," she says, "those
that have an adventurous spirit and are just ready to go for it.
"This is a service that
definitely needs the mind to be open so that the body can be open,"
A massage therapist herself,
Schaub always tells guests, "Let go of the body, know that
you will be supported and taken care of. In your mind you might
think that you want to have this and that fixed. But that is not
how the body works. It has a higher intelligence."
She adds that everyone’s
experience will be different. "One person could have an intense,
profound experience where they see colors and lights and go places,"
she says. "Other people just feel very calm, as if they have
reached a meditative state without actually sitting to meditate."
In the winter and on days
when the ocean is rough or the weather is stormy, the sessions are
held in a pool or hot tub. Dechen Goode, a therapist at the spa
since 1991, says that she prefers the outdoor hydrotherapy experience.
"A warm ocean environment is best. The salt helps you float,
there is the rhythm of the waves - you just let go in the ocean,"
she says. Goode says that the next best place for AquaCranial Therapy
would be naturally heated hot springs that are big enough to move
Madir Scolponi, an AquaCranial
therapist who also works at the Four Seasons’ spa, says that
clients are always amazed with the altered state they experience
after the session. Before the session, she says, they might think,
"OK, I am going to float in the ocean for 25 minutes. What
is the big deal about that"" Then, she says, "Between
floating in the ocean, feeling safe, and the [CST] techniques used
on them, they reach a state they never expected."
Goff explains what may cause
this altered state: "Imagine you have a garden hose and you
bend it in half so that the water doesn’t come through any
more " a person may have restrictions in their spine or cranium
from slipping as a child ice skating or [from] a fall while skiing,
all the while thinking it was no big deal. When we release these
restrictions, we unbend the hose. There is much more of a flow of
fluid in the [craniosacral] system, so all of a sudden they are
much more relaxed than they are used to being."
Goode says that clients sometimes
report that they wanted to weep during a session. "It’s
a very sensuous sensory experience," she says. "For people
who are not used to relaxing in the water, when they go into this
womblike environment, floating in the ocean and being supported
and held in a very gentle way, there is something very deeply therapeutic
Aoy Austin, of Los
Angeles, California, is a seasoned bodywork recipient. After her
first AquaCranial Therapy session on a recent trip to Maui, she
immediately booked four more.
Austin says that from the
work she experienced prolonged relief from chronic back pain she
attributes to a "sway back."
"After most regular treatments
you feel good for a day or two after. This treatment lasted for
several weeks," she said.
James Waslaski, an author
and international lecturer on chronic pain and sports injuries,
received an AquaCranial session while he was in Maui to teach a
seminar on orthopedic massage.
"For about the next day
and a half, I had so much calmness," he said. "I saw things
I never noticed before: the clarity of the sun, the sunset, the
clouds, birds flying over, sounds. Everything was so different and
so bizarre, but it was all very peaceful. It changes your proprioception;
it changes your equilibrium.
"What was amazing was
that I had a lot of memories of childhood through adulthood that
just flashed by," he added. "It was almost like a life
experience of memories that accumulated into the most calming state
I can say I ever experienced before in my life." He adds, "The
interesting thing is that I’m not an energy worker. I am very
clinical. I work on muscles and tendons and ligaments and bones
and structure and pain management. But this experience opened me
up to a whole new healing arena."
Courtney Mather is a free-lance
writer living in Hawaii on the island of Maui. Her articles have
appeared in several
national periodicals, including Healing Lifestyles & Spas and