A treatment in the pool.
A treatment in the pool. Mysterious power.
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The Greek philosopher Thales said 2,600 years ago that water was the primary basis for all things. In a conversation a few weeks ago, Libi Eshet of Moshav Rishpon, between Kfar Shmaryahu and Shefayim, improved upon this saying: “We are water, the world is water − everything that happens is water,” she declares.

Two years ago Eshet, 38, opened the country’s first ecological therapeutic pool, the Mayana pool, along with her friend Hagit Morevski, 41. Since then, you could say, business has been flowing. Mayana offers a myriad of physical and psychological treatments, some with New Age names like Watsu, Waterdance and Jahara. For NIS 300 one can disengage from the world and enter a shanti atmosphere for 50 minutes. ‏(There are discounts for couples.‏) Some people come just for fun.

Mayana uses a water-purification system based on mechanical filters, natural bacteria and vegetation − without any chlorine or chemicals. The water is circulated and refreshed every six hours, and does not need to be drained and replaced with fresh water. In fact, says Eshet, laboratory tests show the water is even potable.

“Lake Kinneret and the Sachne springs have more germs and coliforms than our pool,” she notes, adding that after taking a dip there, a shower isn’t required. On the other hand, guests are asked to wash well before entering, to remove all remnants of chemical materials such as deodorants and lotions, which could throw off the pool water’s natural balance.

On the way to the pool, which is not big − six meters long, four meters wide and at most 1.30 meters deep − one can look through the latest professional literature on the wonders of water. A booklet called “The Message from Water,” for example, says that water “asks us to look at ourselves.” It contains chapters featuring what it calls “ever-changing water stories,” and tackles questions such as “does water listen to sounds” and “how does one play music to water?” A sign at the entrance to the pool provides a calming message: “Only love will beget love.”

Mayana’s six therapists meet their patients in the water. Nurit is a 48-year-old, athletic Tel Avivian. She came to Mayana following a stint working with computers; in the past, she was a competitive swimmer and a professional dancer. After she returned to the water, this time as a therapist in Watsu underwater massage, she realized she had come back home.
“The water provides an experience that no other system of treatment, on land, can provide,” she says, “involving an encounter without the impact of gravity, without the great burdens we bear − but are no longer aware of − on a day-to-day basis.”

Water therapy involves close contact between the two people involved. To someone observing from the sidelines, this contact may seem a bit too close, but Eshet stresses that proper boundaries are maintained under the water as well.

“This is a journey in the water,” says Nurit, who explains that part of the treatment is done with one’s ears submerged to neutralize the sound − “even though there are many sounds under the water, too. Upon emerging, the patients report a sense of hovering, separation, lightness and complete freedom.”

“The treatment is like going back to the womb, like a baby clinging to its mother. Emerging from the water is like being born again,” adds Morevski. “It brings out great strength and power in you. It frees you and fortifies whatever is in need of that.”

Eshet became acquainted with the world of water therapy in Thailand, where for four years she managed a guesthouse with a small pool where treatments were provided.

“It was more of a preliminary test, from which the present dream emerged,” she says, explaining that in between, she was a flight attendant for El Al and she opened a cafe in Rishpon. “I have always preferred a rather unusual life and being free,” she says.

At present that freedom allows her to take a midday dip in the pool − “and to emerge a different person,” she says, adding that her 8-year-old daughter also enjoys this sensation. “Sometimes instead of asking her to take a shower, I send her to the pool.”

Co-owner Morevski, of Even Yehuda, brought to the business the know-how and experience of an entrepreneur. Her career to date has included the interior design of six private homes; at present she is also working on a recycling project. When she is not busy with those pursuits or working at Mayana, she can be found at the dolphins reef in Eilat, where she works as a volunteer alongside the dolphin trainers. “I prepare the food for them, clean up the pails and feed them,” she says.

A mutual friend introduced her to Eshet. “We took [financial] risks, lots of risks,” says Morevski. “But we are thankful, every day, for the risks. Each time, after emerging from the water, I call Libi and tell her, ‘Isn’t it fun that we took all those risks? What a beautiful gift our pool is.’”

While the overall ambience at the pool is laid-back, Eshet described herself as “a person with both feet on the ground, but also as someone who believes there are phenomena beyond us, that cannot be explained.”

One of these, it seems, is what she sees as the mysterious powers of water, one of which she calls its receptiveness. “The water accepts you the way you are and gives you freedom to be whatever you are. That is great − true freedom. It does not matter if you are skinny or fat. In the water you are weightless.

“There are people whose mother stopped hugging them when they were 2 years old and they do not have any intimacy at all. The water gives them unconditional love. In a clean and genuine way − as it should be. The water lets you feel loved,” Eshet says. “Water is a feeling. After an hour in it, something in you opens up and is released. The water softens you, and also makes it possible to open up in preparation for other psychological treatment.”

If every person were to be treated once a week, she notes, “we would be calmer, more accepting of each other, especially in hot and hectic Israel. I think a maximum number of pools of this kind should be available.”

Fish and algae

The pool’s purification process has several stages: Probiotic bacteria break down any pollutants in the water naturally, plants feed off the products of that disintegration and the process is completed by exposure to ultraviolet rays that destroy harmful microorganisms and algae, before the water flows into the bathing area.

Mayana was built by the Hydros company, based at Moshav Zipori, which in the Galilee, and is owned by four women partners. One of them is Alice Miller, who gained some publicity 17 years ago when she successfully petitioned the High Court of Justice to force the Israel Defense Forces to open its pilots course to women. Thereafter, Miller opened an “ecological village” in the Himalayas, married and had a child − and once again petitioned the High Court, in 2010 − this time, against the Ministry of Health regulation requiring the use of chlorine and its derivatives ‏(salt, etc.‏) to purify public pools. Miller and other petitioners from Kibbutz Hukok near Lake Kinneret are trying to realize a dream of opening the first public “ecological” swimming pool in the country. The legal proceedings are still under way.

Hydros, a pioneer in constructing such facilities in Israel, has since built four other ecological treatment pools similar to the one in Rishpon, plus some 40 other natural pools around the country, as well as gray-water purification systems for use in irrigation. It is marketing its natural system for purifying pool water also as a means to purify drinking water, locally and abroad; so far it has been successful in such ventures in India and China.

Thus, not only patients and therapists enter the Rishpon pool, but also living organisms and plants − tiny fish, snails and algae, for example.

Eshet: “We bring nature into our pool. The snails come from natural springs, the fish do their environmental ‘thing’ and eat harmful bacteria. One can see that the water here is totally natural, which is not self-evident: It would be much easier to pour in chlorine.”

The fact that they use no chemicals also saves Eshet and Morevski lots of money: While it is more expensive to build a natural pool, on a day-to-day basis they say there are smaller expenses in terms of routine maintenance. And the plants, fish and snails work for free, round the clock.