I am 72 years old and in generally good health, but I had to replace both my hips this year thanks to arthritis, the right on January 18 and the left on July 11. It has been a long year of pain and recuperation. I love long walks and I customarily walk three or four miles daily, but haven’t been able to take a good walk since December 2016. My body misses the sunlight, the fresh air, and any physical motion free of pain between 5 and 8 on the universal pain scale.
Thus, it was my great good fortune this year to meet Nicola Kapala through a mutual friend and to benefit from her healing talents. My opinions below are based on two sessions in the water with Nicola.
Both sessions were at Belisle Ranch and Retreat in Avery, Wisconsin. Belisle is beautifully rural and relatively remote; about an hour and a quarter in light traffic northeast of St. Paul. Belisle is buffered from the rest of the world by 1,000 acres of rolling farmland. The ranch also has an indoor heated pool, a whirlpool, fitness room, horses, cattle, and nature trails. Jeff, the owner – and master of the water – is himself a watsu aficionado and practitioner.
The pool is located in a barnlike room of fragrant cedar. Sunlight splashes through the trees outside the window. The pool is immense. The water is 94° and is kept carefully balanced by Jeff. There’s nobody else in the water but Nicola and me. All I hear is water rippling and birds singing.
Nicola speaks briefly, asking what my expectations are as she seamlessly eases into the fluid watsu movements. Initially she cradles me in her arms, supporting my head. Flotation pads around my arms or ankles add buoyancy. She moves me slowly, first in subtle wavelike motions, and then, depending upon one’s particular needs, she manipulates your body. I imagine that the routines are as varied as the people and the motion of the water. It felt like a spontaneous pas de deux we worked out on the spot.
Nicola focuses on my hip muscles. As she extends and then flexes my arm, my body twists gracefully in the water. The slightest pressure reverses my direction. The water caresses my skin. Nicola alternately flexes my arm or my leg, she rotates me, she extends me, she stretches me and then compresses me and releases me.
With my eyes closed I lose all sense of direction, of time and space. The nearly body-temperature water is hypnotically soothing and Nicola’s movements induce a deep relaxation which releases a tremendous sense of well-being. That feeling, for me, is the quintessence of the experience, the pearl in the oyster, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It lasted for a small eternity.
It is clear to me that Nicola is gifted, that this is her métier, and we are the beneficiaries of her gifts. She was trained by the founders and creators of the watsu discipline at Harbin Hot Springs in northern California. Like all shamen, she followed a calling that changed her life. She told my partner Steve that as she manipulates our bodies she is praying; that the physical motions are part of her prayer; and that is what she’s doing when we close our eyes and join the dance.
If I had to sum it up in one word, that word would be bliss.
My second session lasted an hour and fifteen minutes in the water, eyes shut, in near perfect silence, focusing on my breathing while Nicola gently coaxed the tension and stress of pain from my body. Once again I experienced an intense and protracted feeling of timelessness and well-being. For a small eternity I was a lily pad floating across a ripple on a pond.
And then it was over.
I hope to do this regularly. Nicola is a maestra and a bargain at any price. I feel particularly lucky that she lives in the Twin Cities and has access to two suitable pools to practice her particular form of healing magic. She also operates at The Marsh in Minnetonka. I haven’t been there yet, because I especially like the way Belisle Ranch, even though it is a longer drive, takes me to a world of handsome horses, barns, corrals, meadows, and rolling green hills.