by Stacia Friedman
Wyndmoor resident Julie Angel (her real name), 55, is a healer. She has made a career out of helping people conquer long-held fears, get in touch with deeply buried emotions and release themselves from stress, pain and anxiety. Her journey started with healing herself.
“I became anorexic when I was 16,” she said. “It was my form of rebellion against my parents. My weight was normal, but I decided that I would be much more beautiful if I were thinner.”
Like most anorexics, Angel’s self-image was deeply flawed. “I had been a chubby child and still saw myself that way,” she said. She put myself on a Weight Watchers diet and got up an hour before school every day to exercise. Angel compulsively weighed herself on a scale every day to monitor her “progress.”
“In four months, I lost 40 pounds,” she recalled. “My parents didn’t know what to think. We lived in a small town in Virginia, and there was no language for such things. They took me to the family doctor, who threatened to put me in a hospital and feed me through a tube if I didn’t start to gain weight within two weeks.”
The threat worked. Angel started to gain weight. More importantly, she left home. “First, I attended a camp in the mountains and participated in a massage workshop. It was my first experience with massage and, coming from a family where touching wasn’t part of the normal routine, I thought — wow — this is for me!”
Angel went to college as a psychology major but left after two years to attend massage school in San Diego. “I didn’t want to just talk to people about their physical, emotional and psychological pain. I wanted to help them release it,” said Angel, who opened her first massage practice in Virginia Beach in 1985. Ten years later, she relocated to Philadelphia.
“I was always more interested in the spiritual and emotional component of massage than in body mechanics,” said Angel, who over the years studied a wide range of massage techniques and healing processes. “My ah-ha moment came in 1995, the first time I witnessed Watsu therapy.”
Never heard of Watsu? Neither had Angel.
“I was on a group tour of sacred spaces in New Mexico, and we visited a hot spring where Watsu was demonstrated,” she said. “I had no idea what was going on.” Angel watched as a therapist gently moved a client in a warm pool, combining shiatsu stretches with aquatic therapy. Water plus shiatsu = Watsu.
“Growing up along the Virginia coast, I always loved being in the water. Watsu was a way of taking all of the practices I had learned to the next level.”
A week after that introduction, a colleague invited her to join her at a Watsu workshop in the Florida Keys. There she learned the difference between Watsu and other aquatic therapies.
“In Watsu, you don’t control your movements. You let yourself go into a deep, relaxed state and allow the Watsu therapist to gently manipulate your arms, legs and torso,” says Angel. “The goal is to make you feel safe, nurtured and totally at peace.”
In her Wyndmoor home/office, she works with clients in an 8′ x 14′ heated pool. “It’s important that the water be body temperature, 98 degrees,” said Angel. “If it’s any cooler, you will not get the same benefits.”
She works with people suffering from arthritis, low back pain, fibromyalgia and limited range of motion. “I also work with victims of sexual, physical and emotional trauma,” said Angel. “My interest is to create a safe place that allows clients to go wherever they need emotionally.”
There’s another group Angel wants to help — veterans suffering from PTSD. “I was inspired by a study at Johns Hopkins and by work done at the Wave Academy in San Diego. They found that Watsu therapy helps vets overcome physical and emotional trauma. It reduces insomnia, depression and anxiety.” No small order in a group at high risk for suicide.
Meanwhile, Angel is taking on yet another challenge. “I want to build a house,” she says. Not just any house. Angel is attending a two-week permaculture workshop in Costa Rica where she will learn how to create a sustainable, natural shelter using earth and straw that minimizes the ecological footprint. And just maybe that house will have a Watsu pool.
For more information, contact Julie at 215-836-9779 or www.watsuwoman.com.