The Power of Watsu (Water + Shiatsu)

By Valerie A. Kremer, 1st Year Naturopathic Doctoral Medical Student, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

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Dr. Frances Turk, N.D., performing watsu on me during Unity Summit at Lake Couchiching, ON, Canada. (Photo by Kieran O’Hagan-Wong)

I woke up to the ringing of my phone alarm at 7:00A.M. to do something incredible and disturbing — get out of my comfort zone. As I got up out of my sleeping bag in our wood cabin and started getting dressed into my bathing suit, it was like my body knew exactly what to do. My mind, on the other hand, wasn’t so convinced. Going swimming in a lake at 7:15A.M. on a September morning in Canada sounded horrible but somehow life-changing at the same time.

It was the last day of our two-day Unity Summit, a time when first year naturopathic medical students bond and get to know one another before starting an incredible four-year journey together and then graduate and become naturopathic doctors.

I heard about Watsu the night before from an incredible naturopathic doctor, Dr. Frances Turk, N.D., who spoke to our class about her life-changing experience being an ND and the lessons she learned while in her practice. She had the most soothing and exuberant energy about her. She told us that Watsu (water + shiatsu) was a massage technique that uses the pressure and resistance from the water to help stretch and move the spine in ways that could not be achieved on a massage table. I was intrigued. She also told us that she wouldn’t let us drown, so my trust was building.

Hoping that I would be one of the 10 people that would get to experience Watsu that morning, I started walking out the cabin door down to the lake. But before I opened the door, on my way out, I woke one of my cabin-mates, telling her what an amazing experience she should not miss and that she should get out of her toasty bed to jump into a cold lake. I trusted my intuition that this guarantee would pay off. Thankfully, she agreed to come with me, and off we went, shivering all the way.

Since the lake temperature was not as warm as the typical pool watsu is often performed in, Dr. Turk suggested we get into the lake before it was our turn in order to warm up. She could not move our spines and muscles easily if we were shivering and tense. We sat on the dock, watching each person get in the water to warm up.

Then we watched Dr. Turk help each person on the dock to put on “floaties” around their calves to help them float better during the session. Once Dr. Turk got the person in the water, the Watsu dance began. It really looked like a coordinated water ballet with Dr. Turk cradling each person, rocking their bodies back and forth, and stretching the muscles with ease. Dr. Turk spent about 10 minutes with each person.

Watsu video (By Catherine Rabo)

Then, it was my turn. Previous to my “appointment,” I warmed up by doing laps for about 15 minutes in the lake. Dr. Turk helped me put on the floaties around my legs and then brought me to the shallow part of the lake where she could still stand. Then, my incredible experience began. I was ready and fully trusting in the process.

As I put my head in the water, I could feel the water go up over my ears. I didn’t panic. Dr. Turk held my head so the water never came near my eyes. I was supported and felt my body completely relax. In my relaxed state, I heard the sounds of the other students talking on the dock in a muffled way through the water. They sounded so far away. I imagined this is what it may be like in utero in a safe, watery environment, hearing far-away sounds.

I listened to the sound of my own deep breathing with the water over my ears. I felt like I was being transported to another time in my life when I first learned to swim when I was four years old. In my relaxed state, I felt my past trauma from that time float away. “It’s safe to trust,” my intuition said. Just then, I could feel the sun’s warm rays on my face, deepening my relaxation.

While Dr. Turk held my head, she started walking backwards in the water and pulled me toward her with a swaying motion so my spine was like a water snake in the water. I felt an incredible and freeing stretching in my spine. It was like all the tension in my back was being slowly shaken off of me.

I came back to my breath and center. I was remaining to breathe deeply and my body felt like a wet noodle — no stress, no tightness. I lost track of time as Dr. Turk did her Watsu water ballet of stretches and movements.

When my time was up and I slowly opened my eyes, I started to smile. Then, I tried to stand up and felt extremely drunk. My body was trying to collect itself in space and time. As I stood up, I stumbled five or six steps all the way to the dock. I couldn’t imagine what I would have felt like after an hour of Watsu.

I am so thankful that day that I got to start my ND education with such a gentle and magical experience. I will forever remember the freeing and powerful effect of Watsu.

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Staying Open to the Journey in Med School

By Valerie A. Kremer, 1st Year Naturopathic Doctoral Medical Student, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

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Nervous. Anxious. Excited. Fearful. Sometimes a combination of all of these. This definitely describes my emotional whirlwind during the first week of naturopathic medical school. It seems like I have a thousand questions zipping through my mind every minute. “Will I be able to handle the course load? Does my financial aid cover my on-campus rent? Do I need to buy all of my medical equipment yet for all four years in the first week of school?” Endless questions.

In preparation for all of these questions and emotions, the amazing staff at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine was prepared. I brought the ball of emotions I felt inside me to orientation. I felt pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. On the second day we had a panel discussion where the second year, third year, fourth year students, and a successful CCNM naturopathic doctor spoke about their experiences. Suddenly, I felt all of the anxiety, fear, and nervousness melt away.

I started to get excited. Excited for the path I have chosen with all of my heart to make a difference in the world as a naturopathic doctor. A path to help people get better and lead their best life in health and harmony. I suddenly remembered WHY I started on this path in the first place – because my ND lit that spark in me.

During the panel discussion, I raised my hand and asked, “How do you stay open to the journey?” I know I have an idea of what type of environment I want to work in after I graduate from CCNM. I know what type of population I would like to work with. But, that may NOT be THE PLAN in how things play out. Who knows what will happen in four years?

I started asking fourth year students their experiences with how their path changed. I listened to them talk about how they could not have imagined that they would be working with a certain population or in a certain location. Most of the time they had no intention of going the path they did, but they just showed up and did the work and amazing things happened.

I know I have to keep my options open. But HOW do you do this when you are supposed to be networking and creating space for a practice once you graduate? I don’t want to have blinders on through school, only focusing on MY plan, while having great opportunities I might not have considered pass me by.

Here are the tools that I received that I would like to share with you. I know I will have to be reminded of them as I continue on this journey.

  1. Keep the big goal in mind. Studying for exams and completing assignments are important but ask yourself WHY you want to become a great ND. Focus on the type of ND you want to become. What type of qualities do you want to possess? How do you want to interact with your patients? What does a successful ND look like to you?
  1. Create a dream board. Take a bunch of cut out magazine pictures and paste them on a board to give you a vision of maybe what area, what type of population, and what success looks like for you in your future practice. This is totally fun to do in a group to see what people come up with.dream-board
  1. Be grateful for the opportunities that present themselves while in school. Networking starts from day one of naturopathic medical school. Keep your options open to the opportunities that come your way and get out of your comfort zone. Sometimes you don’t know where an opportunity will lead you.
  1. Ask yourself again and again, “How are you staying open to the journey?” That may change along the way. We never stop learning once we graduate. We need to stay open to new information, continuing education, and to our patients’ needs. It’s ok for your practice to change and evolve once you are established.

I am very excited to be on this amazing journey to be a licensed naturopathic doctor. I really have no idea what will happen in four years after I graduate but I am starting to make peace with this fact. It means I don’t have to control everything in life. Thank God/Goddess for this! In the meantime, I will continue to show up, do the work, ask questions, and be present and loving to those around me. Thank you for letting me be of service.

Preparing for Naturopathic Med School

By Valerie A. Kremer, 1st Year Naturopathic Doctoral Medical Student
Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

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I sat on the beach in Florida last May, not sure what to do with my life. I watched the gentle crashing waves and felt the soft sand on my toes and heaviness in my heart.

I was working as a traditional naturopath at six physical therapy clinics, in what I thought was my dream job, but something just didn’t feel right. I had already completed a naturopathic doctor program at Trinity School of Natural Health as well as traveled around the U.S. for over a decade completing dozens of natural health and healing certifications. I felt like I was heading in the right direction, but not quite on the right path.

Not sure what the right answer was, I brought my dilemma to the universe. I asked, while looking out onto the beach in front of me, “Ok, if I could leave this earth or do something, what would I do?” (I didn’t have a functional rocket ship so I knew that wasn’t a viable option.) Then out of nowhere, it HIT me! I would go to a four-year accredited naturopathic medical school to become a licensed Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.). But HOW would that happen? WHERE would I go? I left all of the HOWs to the universe and started to take ACTION.

My skills as a journalist and excitement kicked in. I first went to Twitter and searched “ND” and “naturopath” and found a host of NDs and students who were from Toronto. I started reaching out to them and following them on social media.

I was ecstatic to tell my best friend, Laura, about my new epiphany! Meanwhile, I was looking at attending another ND school on the west coast since it was close to a beach. “Who doesn’t want to go to school by the beach?” I thought. Laura knew I needed some guidance and connected me with Dr. Jennifer Karon-Flores, ND, a successful naturopath in Portland, OR, who gave me the best advice and helped put me on my path. I want to share that amazing advice with you!

  1. Fall in love with the curriculum! You are not going to have a ton of time to be at the beach while in school. Coming to terms with the voice of reason, I started analyzing the curriculums at each accredited naturopathic medical school. I suddenly came across the curriculum at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) and fell in love! I remember I couldn’t sleep that night. I was so excited!
  1. Interview people who have graduated from or are in the program you are interested in. Looking at the curriculum is a great place to start, however, talk to people who have gone through and experienced the program. I interviewed a CCNM teacher and graduate as well as a few successful NDs in the field.
  1. Go to the school and take a tour. Once you set foot on the campus, you will have a better idea of how you feel being there. You may be able to envision yourself going to class there. The moment I walked into the doors at CCNM, saw the naturopathic doctor’s oath on the wall near the entrance, and felt the healing energy of the school, I knew it was the place for me.thumb_img_0093_1024
  1. Support your adrenals before you start! In order to effectively deal with stress, your adrenals need to be working properly. The high-stress position I left before starting on my ND path left me with adrenal fatigue. (If we don’t have the proper fight or flight hormones and are adrenals are weakened, we won’t be able to handle stress in a healthy way.) Before starting school, I made an appointment with a local ND, had my adrenals evaluated, and started taking a tincture to help support my adrenals. I no longer rely on coffee as an energy source to get me through the day!
  1. Take ACTION and leave the rest to the universe. You don’t have control over people or how every detail will work out, but you have control over what you can do and your intentions. Once I submitted my application at CCNM, I waited a few weeks and with relief, I was accepted! I also had to apply for a student visa, which was a yearlong process. I didn’t know how my tuition was going to be paid for but I just kept saying, “I am going to the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine to be a naturopathic doctor.” I had faith that it would all work out.

Once I decided to go to CCNM, I started signing up for my pre-requisite courses. I had to take a full year of anatomy and physiology, a full year of biology, intro to organic chemistry, and psychology. The whole process to start ND med school and complete all of my prerequisites was a little nerve-racking but do-able. I often felt alone since I was the only one from my school going to ND school, but its good to stand out from the crowd. You don’t have to be like everyone else and that’s ok.

I am excited for my full week of classes this week at CCNM. All of this preparation was worth it! AND, my adrenals are ready for the challenge!