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TRAVEL LOG

Travel Log: A Watsu® Experience

Surrender…

Conceptually, I’m totally on board.

Viscerally, it requires a level of profound trust – of others, of our environment, and of ourselves.


And it’s a key ingredient to being “in the flow”—something I grasped only fleetingly for many years, particularly when it comes to water. I’ve had a couple of traumatic moments with water in my life so even turning my face into the hot stream from my shower head could incite anxiety!

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These days, however, I welcome opportunities to truly surrender. I find the felt experience is most easily accessed through, (you guessed it) water.

That’s why I recently found myself in a 4’ deep saltwater therapy pool just north of Longmont run by Essential Element Wellness (EEW) with owner and Watsu® practitioner, Deb Evangelista. As a Certified Rolfer™ myself, I tend to be pretty picky about bodywork and to trust my gut instinct. If it’s FOR my body, then I figure I should listen TO my body!

Clearly my system was craving a new level of surrender in the physical sense, and I was not disappointed. As Deb guided my body through the 7,300 gallon saltwater pool, time and space got a little funky. Harder to grasp. Traversing the 18’ diameter pool felt like a journey across oceans. And in just over an hour, I was transported through entire planetary eras.

By the end of that first session, I was blown away by the downshifted state of my nervous system, joining the ranks who’ve benefited from this therapeutic modality over the past 38 years.

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Watsu® was born at Harbin Hot Springs circa 1980, when Harold Dull started applying the principles and practices of the Zen Shiatsu he had studied in Japan on clients while they floated in a warm pool of water. According to the official Watsu website, this water-based approach “promotes a deep state of relaxation with dramatic changes in the autonomic nervous system.” I can verify that. The in-out breath of the planet consists of seasons, and I feel well-served to remember this slow rhythm in my physical body.

This is the nature of immersion in body-temperature salt water while being 100% held; it’s back to the womb, essentially, and the speed of life—which, delightfully, is not determined by my calendar or my task list.

That said, I blocked off two hours in my calendar for this initial session per Deb’s instructions, and arrived as requested: freshly showered without any deodorants, lotions, oils or hair/face product. This helps preserve the water quality, and there is always the option for a quick shower upon arrival as well. The guidance of two hours was spot-on, allowing ample time for completing an intake form, having some discussion, roughly 60 minutes  in the saltwater pool, and a bit of time afterward for integration and departure. The space was well-kept and relatively functional, with a three-season outdoor shower and an indoor composting toilet adjacent to the changing area.

Deb built this space a handful of years ago on her private property, and uses it for seeing private clients as well as teaching small classes; she also has a few other practitioners/instructors that rent it out for use. Knowing I’m helping create Soak Boulder, we initially geeked out for a bit as Deb shared her set-up for water filtration and purification, all of which is visible in the space as well.

After that, I changed into my swimsuit and we entered the pool together. We spoke about my relationship to water, what to expect in the session, how bouyant my body tends to be (to assist in selecting the right flotation devices for my legs), and her advice on wearing earplugs (that would be a big YES). Once I was geared up, she guided me to float on my back, cradled my head in the crook of her elbow, and we began.

I can’t really explain the rest of the session in writing; the visceral experience was….well, quite beyond words. I can say my mind soon quieted, and the movement felt continuous and effortless. Upon completion of the session, Deb had me bring my feet to the pool floor and lean against the sidewall for a while until I regained a sense of being upright.

As I stood there, I was very aware of all my senses and surroundings; I felt re-centered in my body, in myself.

The best word I can give to describe the state of being is coherence. It was as if I re-inhabited myself and so, I could be more present with everything else! In short, I definitely recommend Watsu® for a profound level of nourishment and a true space to surrender. It is one sure way to remember how to move at the speed of life.

BY CORIN BLANCHARD, CO-FOUNDER


To learn more or book a Watsu session with Deb, please visit the her Facebook page.

Travel Log: The Caverns at Indian Hot Springs

Something about deep winter makes me long to put my head in a hole in the ground.

A bout of escapism, you say? I think that’s just half of it.

The other piece has to do with the pull of the dark, of the dense earth, as a voice inside me says “Ground yourself.”


I’ve learned to expect this cyclically and seasonally, and I amp up my self-care in response. So before the calendar even turned to December, I already had a full Friday blocked to visit the geothermal caves at Indian Hot Springs.

These historic hot springs are adjacent to Soda Creek and occupy an area considered neutral ground where the Ute and Arapaho Indian nations’ territories met.  For those who called this land home before White gold-seekers and settlers arrived, the sanctity of these waters was paramount.

To me, there’s still a strong, felt sense of honoring the sacred which has remained even as the treatment of and access to the springs changed, starting with the first pay-to-bathe public offerings in 1863.

This relatively rustic “healing waters spa” (as they bill themselves) is the closest thing I can find to the soaking scene I desire and, at $24 for an unlimited amount of time, it’s a sweet, accessible deal.

I can only speak to the caves, as I forgo the many above ground options Indian Hot Springs boasts: a large mineral swimming pool, outdoor jacuzzis, indoor private baths, self-administered face/body mud masks, and a variety of spa treatments – as well as onsite accommodations.

Instead, I head straight downstairs upon arrival to soak for hours in the subterranean pools of nearly scalding water, interspersing my time with cold water rinses and rests.

The caves are what draw me. Soaking out under the sky is nourishing to be sure, yet being in the underground mineral pools evokes something deeper, taking me more inward with the subtle sounds of water dripping and people’s relaxed breathing…

…the rough-raw texture of the stone walls and ceilings…

…the surprising and delicious heat of the healing water…

…the shocking delight of the cold shower…

…the occasional muted and gentle whispers between women.

The environment, conditions and sensory experience are the perfect algorithm for a pure and natural return to myself, a total downshift in my whole system – mentally, physically, energetically.

Beyond the accessibility and the sensory pleasure, there are also some practical reasons why the caves at Indian Hot Springs really work for me:

  1. Silent sanctuary. While speaking in whispers is allowed, quiet is queen and most soakers honor this.
  2. Safety and ease. I am surrounded by female bodies – whether naked or partly clothed – throughout my entire experience. This allows me to relax even more.
  3. Space to rest. Areas are available for both sitting and lying down to cool down or drift off – including a bench inside the geothermally heated and hydrated hallway prior to the soaking pools that provides what a steam room typically does.
  4. Self-directed. I get to go 100% at my own pace at every turn, which I love.
  5. Spacious. I always visit for 4-5 hours on a weekday and find there’s both a steady number of women and always plenty of space.

In short, the caves are the place I go when seeking a sense of solitude and simple, accessible, self-care soaking.

Also, if you’re someone who prefers pristine space, Indian Hot Springs in general may not be your cup of tea; the nature of the facilities is quite earthy which is part of the charm and magic for me. The caves don’t feel at all like spa-style pampering; they are a sort of raw, real and rustic experience that is restorative in its own right.

Each time I arrive and make my way down the stairs, laden with 3-4 bags carrying everything from my journal to snacks/water to a fuzzy blanket to cover myself while lying down. As I descend, I enter the space of ritual – this rhythmic process helps me remember the wonder of my body, that self-care is essential to health, and that being in earth and water feeds a primal part of me.

So whenever I feel that creeping impulse to go stick my head in the ground, I head toward the caves to do it with my entire body instead.

Something I highly recommend.

 

BY CORIN BLANCHARD, CO-FOUNDER

 

Travel Log: Cottonwood + Mt Princeton Hot Springs

I was fortunate to spend the last few days of October with a group of friends on a weekend getaway.

We charted a course to beautiful Buena Vista, Colorado, where hot spring water is always beckoning.

Before hitting any springs, we knew we’d need a hike on the way and a craft beer in town. So, a quick lap around Bartlett Gulch Loop Trail and a glass of beer at Eddyline Restaurant were in order. The chicken wings were optional, and I opted in.


As we arrived at Cottonwood Hot Springs, the friendly and funny manager checked us in at the front desk adjacent to a cute gift shop full of locally produced self-care items and other handmade pieces (jewelry, magnets, cards, etc) for purchase, and a large community space (which I understand is most used by those staying in the hostel-style spaces available onsite).

By midday that autumn Saturday, they had seen about 60 customers – a far cry from the peak season’s usual 300. It was nice to know we’d have a little extra space.

Our cabin was down the path past the solar panels and the wind turbine (gotta celebrate sustainable energy). The space was clean and pretty perfect space-wise for our group (3 couples); three bedrooms and one bathroom complemented a large living room and a window covered, picnic-style dining area.

Outside, on the spacious deck, a large soaking tub offered the chance for a private dip while overlooking the creek, but I had my eye on the large natural stone soaking pools back at the main site.

It was near freezing as we set out to soak, walking our suited selves back to the main area where the tubs are located. I’ll admit that the facility layout had me a little lost, and I ended up having to double back to locate the women’s room. The showers were small, and there’s no soap provided, so I rinsed quickly and, sopping wet, stepped into the frigid air and found  a tub.

Now, this was the ticket. The stone laid tubs were amazing!

There are quite a few beautiful options of varying size and temperature—including a cold plunge that doubles as a therapy pool for Watsu® (an aquatic treatment developed at Harbon Hot Springs in CA).

For the most part, everywhere was spacious and quiet. I appreciated the different options, varying my time between the ample, deeper seating areas, the shallower areas for laying, and a few spots where I could be in up to my shoulders.

The next day, luxuriating in the well-restedness that follows a day of mineral springs soaking, we opted for a hike about 15 minutes drive from Cottonwood—a gorgeous trail to Lost Lake (delightful once we found it….#lostonthewaytolostlake)!

Before departing Cottonwood, one more round of soaking was in order, so it was back to the tubs and cozy sauna for some afternoon bliss. Sadly, only then did I notice the hand-painted sign advertising therapeutic bodywork services. Next time I visit, I’ll be checking those services out!

While the accommodations and atmosphere aren’t what you might find at a fancy resort, I loved my Cottonwood Hot Springs Experience. If you’re looking for quaint, cozy, and down to earth, this is the spot for you.

Since we were already in town and it was only 20 minutes away, my partner and I decided to split off the next morning and visit Mt Princeton Hot Springs as well.

In contrast to Cottonwood, Mt Princeton had much more of an upscale feel, which makes sense because they market themselves as a hot springs resort. They offered hotel accommodations, a nice restaurant and bar, and multiple options for soaking. With limited time, we opted for the basic package, which included access to 2 large pools and the riverside.

We loved the large pool for full submergence, but found that the only place to sit and relax was on the steps, which were consistently crowded with happy but boisterous folks.

We decided to seek a more serene and natural spot, and took a walk along Chalk Creek in our wet bathing suits, on the snowy rocks, and found a promising pool.

If you’ve never experienced a river-bound natural spring, it’s good to know you can adjust the temperature by moving rocks to direct the flow of water. We started fine-tuning our natural tub, but with only half my body in the water the other half was exposed to the freezing air.

Meanwhile, the submerged half was being subjected to different temperature extremes on each side. The wide spectrum of sensation and temperature was, unfortunately, anything but relaxing! I definitely needed a few hints and tips here. 

I imagine the experience in summer would be magical: sitting in the shallow river bed, the water from the spring coming out from one side at a whopping 120 degrees, and the river water coming in on the other side (mountain run-off cold).

That day, however, we hopped up and scurried our freezing butts back to the pool to regulate! Next time, I’ll check out some more of their soaking options as well as the sauna, and maybe even stay at Mt Princeton and day-trip to Cottonwood to mix it up.

 

BY ALEXIS VALENTINE, CO-FOUNDER

Travel Log: Hot Sulphur Springs

I packed my bag to hit the Hot Sulphur Springs in late October and found myself wondering if the whole place would smell like eggs.

 

While I was ecstatic at the prospect of soaking in mineral mountain water a mile and a half above sea level, I was also a bit trepidatious.

I was having flashbacks to sulphur-infused childhood memories: gagging on the air while visiting Yellowstone’s geysers or holding my breath while brushing my teeth with the sulphur-rich tap water at my aunt’s rural New York home.


My friend Marit and I arrived there around 11:00am, along with a handful of other soon-to-be soakers. We deliberated on eating breakfast before heading over, and this is probably an oft-pondered question.

Apparently, there’s wildly differing opinions on whether or not you need to wait after eating to go in water, hot or cold. Personally, I don’t enjoy feeling like a human hot pot, so I chose to wait. And, besides, my system was still reveling in my Halloween adventures from the night before involving Ullrs Tavern and an amazing live American Stringband (complete with their very own tap-dancer. WHAT.).

Okay, back to Hot Sulphur Springs being just the medicine I needed.

For a $20 entry fee, we got unlimited access to the various indoor and outdoor soaking spaces. I would say “tubs” but, much to my delight, some of the pools were so seamless with the surrounding landscape that they didn’t feel like a utilitarian tub.

We began in the low-key locker rooms, placing our belongings in an unsecured locker (our choice – we weren’t concerned about theft) and showering off briefly before making our way into one of the the magnesium-rich rectangular indoor tubs. The temperature was on the hot side of warm, a nice introduction for my system, and we were alone in a pool that could easily fit eight.

Next, we ventured outside to the “quiet area.” There’s a sign that explicitly states kids aren’t allowed, which means there are other spaces that are family-friendlya huge perk of many hot springs locations.

We settled into a 104-degree hot tub overlooking a marshy landscape rich with the colors of late autumn and a sprinkling of snow from the night before.

It took me a moment to realize that I didn’t really smell eggs at all. Hooray!

Marit then turned to me and said “Let’s go to the waterfall one!” She grew up near these springs so knows them well. And I always follow the advice of a local.

On the other side of the locker rooms, we traipsed upslope via stairs and came upon a series of options. The first was a small soaking pool clearly designed for two. The second was a larger soaking pool that I completely ignored because my ears and eyes noticed the waterfall and I was in love.

*cue angelic chorus*

We climbed in, going straight to the source: water pummeling down from a ledge maybe five feet above, an earthy overhang that seemed to embrace me.

O.M.G. the feeling of that water on my neck, shoulders, back, head….This spring was on the hot side of hot. THIS is what I came for.

The granular and (I believe) natural rock wall that formed the better part of the pool perimeter was vibrant with too many varieties of moss and other moisture-loving organisms to count. Nestled over in the corner, I could rest my forearm into the second uber-hot source point for this particular pool.

The sun shone brightly and a cool breeze encouraged me to stay submerged most of the time. While there were people’s voices murmuring nearby, the only song I could hear was the waterfall. It was mesmerizing.

A sense of calm and surrender came over me. I have no idea how long I rested here.

About two hours after our arrival, we quietly reconvened in the locker room having somehow psychically agreed it was time to go. My entire system felt refreshed and rejuvenated, even as my breathing was more easeful and my pace a little slower.

I quietly thanked this place and the nourishing hot water. I also thanked myself for investing in my own deep self-care.

I felt deeply reconnected to all that matters most.

We loaded our belongings into the car and turned out of the gravel parking lot, where I noticed there’s onsite lodging I might need to check out next time.

As we hit the main road, I turned to Marit and said, “I’m really hungry. Let’s go get some eggs.”

BY CORIN BLANCHARD, CO-FOUNDER