Newsweek Special Edition: Mindfulness
ON EVERY inhabited continent and for as long as records have been kept, bathing in the springs and pools fed by the Earth’s ancient aquifers has been a cultural staple associated with relaxation, reflection and regeneration. In many cases, “taking the waters” has been claimed to result in increased physical health and cure from mental and physical affliction. In Japan, bathing retreats built around springs, known as onsen, are passed down from generation to generation, supposedly offering the blessings of family gods and benevolent spirits in addition to mineral soaks. In Russia, trips to the sauna are punctuated by bracing dips in ice water. In Iceland, visits to the springs are one of the main community activities. At the Dead Sea, there are those who claim the salty waters have healed the ailments. And at Manitou Springs in Colorado, the Ute Nation once hosted tribes from across the Westat their own healing springs, the properties of which were so revered that regardless of the often bitter struggles between tribes, anyone who visited the springs first gave up their weapons.
Today, this latter location is home to the Sun Water spa, where ancient tradition and modern practice meet in a unique way. According to founder Kat Tudor, who hopes to integrate the ancient healing properties of water with yoga, wellness and simple appreciation of nature, Manitou Springs, Colorado offers a fantastic opportunity to help clients get in touch with their spiritual selves. “The waters at Sun Water were considered by the Utes to be the most sacred waters in the world. It was their duty to protect their waters and to make them available for people to use. Their belief about the waters is that these springs, which come from an extremely old aquifer, have great spiritual and emotional benefits as well as the physical benefits. The Utes believed that the waters were connected to the moon and as such, directly connected to the feminine divine energy”
The “feminine divine energy” Tudor talks about is something shared by all of the world’s most ancient religions. Any trip to a natural history museum will reveal objects for the worship of fertility and feminine energy from dozens of cultures around the world, always associated with renewal and healing both mental and physical.
“I’ve had many people explain that soaking in our waters has helped with depression and the kind of mental health benefits associated with that energy in ancient tradition,” says Tudor. “We hear all the time about, ‘Oh, my aching knee feels better now [ after visiting a hot spring]; but what surprised me and what I’ve come to really appreciate are the emotional and spiritual effects of the water. People are more able to be calm and peaceful.” These relaxing and Zen-inspiring qualities are nothing new to the original keepers of Manitou Springs, which is why Tudor feels contact with the Ute Nation and continuation of their traditions is essential for maintaining the properties that have helped people heal and relax for thousands of years. For Tudor, this includes incorporating the whole Ute Nation tradition. “When we first built the Sun Water Spa on the site, the waters were blessed by a Ute medicine woman whose grandfather had been in Manitou [when it was still overseen by the Utes]. She very directly told us about the intense healing properties of our water. She told us we were ‘connected to White Buffalo Woman; whom the Utes and the Lakota believe to be the healing spirit, and that we were receiving her blessing.”
Respecting and continuing the ancient practices of Manitou Springs is doubly important for Tudor, because as a resident of the West the swift disappearance of such traditions is more apparent than elsewhere in the world. “In Manitou Springs the Utes were driven off the land at gunpoint and now live in a reservation in Utah,” she says, a fact she is quick to remind those who visit the modern springs. “Every year we make sure that some of the tribe gets to come back because they believe the Utes being there on the land performing their ceremony and properly communicating with the spirits there, the entire fate of America is dependent on it. They believe that unless the Utes come back and do their sacred work with the land and the water here, our entire continent will be affected!’ This care and complete investment in the traditions that govern the land is the defining characteristic of Sun Water, which Tudor plans to expand to Costa Rica with input from local tribes. “Taking the waters” is something cultures with little else in common can agree upon, from the steppes of Asia to the Rockies. The modern caretakers of this tradition, including Tudor, are charged with maintaining one of the world’s oldest ways to relax, be present and learn to be mindful in appreciation of natural gifts.