By Dr. Marcus Coplin, Medical Director and Naturopathic Medical Doctor at The Springs Resort
The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs, Colorado hosts not only the namesake thermal mineral water of the town, but robust hospitality offerings providing a comfortable, relaxing, and health-enhancing vacation. Overlooking the San Juan River, water from the Mother Spring of Pagosa Springs flows into 25 smaller soaking pools around the property. The pools are kept at a variety of temperatures, allowing guests to move from pool to pool, finding the soaking experience of their choosing.
Balneology is the science of using mineral spring water for health. It is researched around the globe and recognized as a distinct medical discipline. The practice of Balneology is alive and well at The Springs Resort. I should know, I am their Medical Director.
Recently, I was part of a press tour at The Springs Resort attended by writers and journalists who cover a wide variety of topics including travel, outdoors, and health. I was surprised to learn that many of these industry voices were new to the idea of hot springs as a health vacation and the benefits hot spring soaking can provide. These writers and journalists had all been to spas, all dived deep into the world of relaxation and wellness, and many had a personal fitness and nutrition practice.
When asked about what therapies they had experienced in the last two days at The Springs Resort, I only received two or three answers that captured a small surface-level portion of therapies received from their experience.
is the science of using mineral spring water for health. It is researched around the globe and recognized as a distinct medical discipline. The practice of Balneology is alive and well at The Springs Resort.
It’s no surprise- unlike European and Eastern regions where vibrant cultures and institutions around health vacationing exist, we in the United States tend to relegate any health-promoting practice that is beyond a prescription as “outside the box.” And to be “outside the box” can mean many things to different people.
In my role as The Springs Resort’s Medical Director, I work to educate our guests on exactly what the science says about the balneology experience they are having, and I help them get the most out of their visit.
A lot of what comes next will sound familiar. Maybe you even have tried, or regularly do, aspects of a Health Vacation in your daily life. What is special about the stay at The Springs Resort is that each of these individual therapies is happening back-to-back or on top of each other, synergistically affecting the cumulative outcome of your experience. Packing all of this into a focused stay creates an amplification effect on each individual practice. The feeling of vibrancy that many of our guests report leaving with is not something that should be discounted. Our guests truly experience vitality returning to the body through programmed activities with measured and understood mechanisms.
So, with that in mind, I would like to walk you through the health-promoting practices experienced during an immersive 48 hours at The Springs Resort – to be exact, 21 therapies that I personally experienced during this visit.
I would like to walk you through the health-promoting practices experienced during an immersive 48 hours at The Springs Resort
The 21 Therapies
We began our trip by dusting off the road, donning our swimwear and slipping into a hot mineral pool (more on that later) in which a variety of Tibetan singing bowls were expertly played by a Springs Resort wellness instructor, while also being immersed in the water. This immersive experience, called Aqua Sound Bathing, is one of the many Wellness Activities offered to guests by the resort. The different vibrational tones lulled me and my newly connected weekend group into a state of semi-sleep while the physical sensation of the vibration moved through the water and surrounded my body. It was in this moment that I was brought into a healing space that would carry on throughout the trip.
The many on-site food options at The Springs Resort give choices for everyone. I was particularly fond of a wrap with chicken, fresh crisp greens, and a delicious light dressing. The burgers also looked mighty good! In addition to the food, we were offered a variety of Vitality Tonics. These crafted drinks contained superfoods, antioxidants, and concentrated nutrients. They tasted fresh, unique, and fun, and they left us feeling buzzed and elated without any inebriating additives like alcohol or cannabis.
Perhaps I should have started with steam because it is probably the first thing you notice when you arrive. The visual of a plume of steam rising in the crisp autumn air awakens a sense of adventure that is promptly met with the distinctive smell of the health-promoting water. The light scent of sulfur in the steam can be a surprise to the uninitiated, but to those of us who regularly use hot springs, it is the comforting smell of the promise of vitality. Though the smell has been described as “eggy”, after the initial experience the warm earthy smell of the steam, blending with the mountain pine air creates a unique and enjoyable atmosphere. The steam from springs like the Mother Spring in Pagosa Springs has been shown to alleviate inflammation, reduce bacterial growth, and promote healthy immune function.
As promised, we must talk about getting in the water. After all, that is the reason we are here. This particular hot spring experience began with water immersion paired with the sound bowl wellness activity, but with 24-hour access to the springs, I found myself easily slipping in and out of different pools throughout my stay. Sometimes it would be a quick pre-dinner soak, sometimes a longer afternoon meandering through the different pools, sometimes a starry night soak when it seemed like the pools were there just for me, and I even caught the sunrise through steam while my body floated in a half-dreamed state.
The benefits of the minerals in the water are undeniable. Balneology research often compares tap water soaking to natural mineral water soaking and the results are certain, the minerals in the water add (among others) an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune regulating, and pain-relieving effect.
Though The Springs Resort does not have guests drink the mineral water, Health Resorts around the world are built around the process of prescribed mineral water drinking during your stay. Typically, these highly mineralized waters, much higher than your grocery store variety, are taken in 1-2 ounce doses at specific times during the day. The timing and planning of this would be prescribed by a resort physician.
The benefits of using certain varieties of mineral spring waters to aid in digestive issues, metabolism, anemia, and kidney ailments are well documented. I can neither confirm nor deny the reports of a doctor-shaped individual dipping a small cup into the Mother Spring for a little sip.
The benefits of a good night’s sleep are well understood, and with the help of the new Deep Sleep Ritual Tray and Sleep Guides provided to overnight guests (which I had a hand in writing), we were ensured a quality night in bed. With blackout curtains and noise reduction in the rooms, I followed the instructions laid out for me and drifted off to a deep sleep peppered with water-filled dreams.
On our first morning, we were led directly to a soaking pool overlooking the entire property and the river beyond. Another friendly Springs Resort wellness instructor guided our group through a yoga sequence that utilized the heat and buoyancy of the water to ensure a unique experience of what my body is capable of.
Afterward, my crew of new friends and I were sharing notes on how deep the practice was able to go. For those with a regular practice it was a deeper expression of the positions, for those without a practice it was a safe and embracing space for an introduction, and even for those with injuries that prevented regular practice the suspension in hot mineral water made it possible to get back into their flow for the first time since their injury.
8. Hot Soaking, 9. Cold Plunging, 10. Contrast Hydrothermal:
Now, this is where the therapies really take off. If soaking is the primary focus of our stay (and of course it is!) exploring the different temperatures of water provides us with distinct benefits. Upon arrival to The Springs Resort, soakers and guests are provided a “Science-based Soaking Guide” that explores the multiple benefits of soaking in detail.
The way we talk about water temperature in the world of Hydrothermal medicine is in four main categories: Very Hot – Over 105℉, Hot – 101-104℉, Warm – up to 100℉, and Cold – under 64℉. Each temperature category is a distinct treatment type and what is so special about understanding water in this way is that you can mix and match your soaking temperatures and times to get certain benefits.
So, when I said earlier that you can take these treatments without breaking a sweat, it is important to realize that the sweating the waters induce is actually PART of the therapy.
A highlight experience for our group was going from a hot soak directly into the cold “Warrior Plunge” in the San Juan River. Though many in the group were voicing trepidation, almost everyone got in the bracing river water, and most stayed in for two whole minutes! If we weren’t feeling vibrant before, you could barely keep us on the ground afterward.
One of the greatest benefits of being at a resort steeped in the deep nature of Southern Colorado is the accessibility to hiking trails and, of course, snow trails in the winter. After soaking and a light lunch, a quick trip to a local pine forest-studded ranch afforded us the ability to get our heart rate up, and our steps in.
Pretty much everyone can tell you the benefits of exercise, but one that I particularly like is that when you include a walk like ours after a meal, the exercise curbs your blood sugar from rising too high regardless of what was eaten.
Over the course of the weekend, there were multiple opportunities to include nature-based exercise into my stay. Even without my ski gear, the variety of nature-based activities kept my time out of the pools soaked in nature. Make sure to take a quick waterfall hike, a meandering river walk, or even a docent-guided pilgrimage to the ancient Puebloan astronomical watch tower at Chimney Rock (ask for Mike, tell him the Doc sent you).
12. Forest Bathing:
As if the exercise wasn’t enough, immersing ourselves in the pine forest has an added effect, what the Japanese who research this phenomenon call Shin-Rin Yoku or Forest Bathing. The science of Shin-Rin Yoku is fascinating because not only do we know that being in nature feels good, but we can also now show why it feels good.
Even one session of Forest Bathing will lower stress hormones in the body. But not only that, it keeps them lower for hours after leaving the forest. The pine-scented air also transmits an antimicrobial and antioxidant aromatherapy. Enjoying these elements suspended from a hammock in the middle of a pine meadow not only elevated my mind but dissolved areas of tension in my body I hadn’t been aware of previously.
As hot springs have been researched over the last many decades, it has been clear that one cannot easily remove the water from the source to study the effects. This has led to researchers looking at other site-specific phenomena that are having a healthful effect on the people staying at hot springs. The elevation, the temperature, the humidity, the sun, the fog, the mists… all of this will have a measurable effect on an individual.
Prescriptions for Health Resort stays used to be written based on the individual’s needs, matching the patient to the climate that would be most beneficial for the condition. Pagosa Springs boasts conditions of a “Mediterranean continental climate” or a 6a, 6b for those in the know, and this in addition to the elevation of over 7000 feet combined to create a distinct feel to our stay.
14. Manual Therapy:
After returning from our nature adventure (ahem, therapy) another dip into the springs was in order to prepare for the next event – our manual therapy. Manual therapy, or massage as it can be known, can take on many forms and styles.
At its core, however, when the body is touched, passively moved, and areas of tension and restriction are addressed, the effect is broad reaching. Manual therapy is understood to help with muscle pain, reduce stress, improve immune function, move the lymphatics which aids in detoxification, and improve circulation.
But none of that is in the front of the mind when getting a treatment from the expertly trained staff at The Springs Resort. Sharon Holtz, the Director of Resort Wellness Operations has an impeccable pedigree in the spa world and has brought her expertise to the programming, therapists, and ultimately guests of The Springs Resort. Through her guidance, and the healing hands of the skilled therapists, manual therapy is an essential element of the healing environment.
Beyond our pine air immersion, signature blends of aromatic essential oils are used during spa treatments to drive the effects of the oils directly into the treatments being applied. This synergy has guests floating from the bathhouse back into the pools or to their rooms for a much-needed nap.
16. Herbal Therapy:
Though this therapy occurred just outside of the Resort, one of our meals from the local eclectically decorated and expertly executed restaurant, the Ol’ Miner’s, provided an added herbal medicine benefit that I was not expecting. Alongside the locally chef-foraged Porcini infused meal was a whole head of roasted garlic for each plate. Our group decided we would take our connection to the next level, and each indulged in the perfectly creamy and pungent delicacy.
The antimicrobial and cardiovascular effects of garlic are well known, and though this medicine was delivered alongside a gastronomically delightful experience, I assured everyone that the balneology effects of the soaking were going to enhance the distribution and circulation of the medicinal compounds from our meal. After a post-dinner river walk and a gentle soak, I drifted into a deep sleep, confident that there would be no vampire issues in the night.
On day two, the constant flow of incredibly shaped clouds that had been making whimsical appearances retreated to the horizon which allowed for a new player to make themselves the star. Well, that star is our star, the Sun.
Heliotherapy is the exposure of sunlight to the skin for its beneficial effects. In the era of skin cancer awareness and SPF 50, the therapeutic benefit of the sun is often overlooked. However, in appropriate doses, sun exposure can activate Vitamin D through special receptors in the skin which can have systemic effects on immune function and inflammatory control. Sun exposure has also been used for decades in the treatment of chronic skin conditions. Being half-dressed in bathing suits for most of the day afforded a great opportunity for therapeutic time in the sun.
Just as the sun was feeling a little hot on the skin, Mud Beach opened up. Mud Beach is not quite the sandy, gritty, and draining beach of my youth. Alternatively, it had us all feeling pretty rejuvenated.
A special blend of clay from the Mojave desert and mineral water from the Mother Spring creates this silky, silty, grayish/green/beige mud that gets handed out right on the bank of the river and the Burg pool, where a special spring bubbles up right in the water, making for a cool dip with a hot bottom. Taking the mud, we generously applied it to ourselves and to each other and let it bake in the sun. Known in the research world as peloid therapy, applying even a thin layer of mineralized mud has been shown to create a heat locking effect in the tissues deep to the mud.
This in combination with the mineral absorption leads to enhanced pain relief, reduced inflammation, and easier movement. In addition, due to the Mojave clay, impurities are drawn from the skin into the mud which is then washed off in the riverside spring.
19. Mind-Body Therapy:
What became obvious as we flowed from one activity to the next was the more I engaged with the activities and opportunities to soak and the more I activated different senses and different areas of my body, the more I became aware of my body in space. While reflecting on the day’s activities in a warm pool, the external sense of my body began to fade, and areas of internal tension became more obvious. With each breath, my awareness grew, and the tensions would fade.
There are many types of Mind-Body treatments that are offered in the world, but fundamentally awareness and embodiment are the keys. When we cultivate these mind-body treatments, we can see a direct effect on our mental and physical stress and tension. Release of this tension can affect pain levels, immune function, and emotional states. By continually using the waters at the resort in combination with all the other health activities, a deeper connection of the mind-body is fostered organically and gently.
20. Social Wellness:
As the weekend continued and we moved through the resort paces, feeling our vibrancy grow and the experience of embodiment take hold, another interesting therapeutic practice was taking place. The more we each released into the flow of the weekend, the easier it was to bring our defenses down. Laughter came easier, stories were shared, and a sense of camaraderie was fostered. Deeper issues were brought to the surface, and council was sought and delivered.
The feeling of belonging to a social group has been shown to improve health parameters, reduce stress, and improve happiness. The organic group therapy and the greater sense of being part of a group of more than hotel guests, but vibrant health seekers was born from sharing the soaks, dips, breaths, sips, and steps of our health vacation. Even beyond my small group, relationships just come easier in the springs.
Each pool fosters its own environment; sometimes a meditative internal Zen and sometimes a social melting pot. During my stay, I met other health seekers who had found their way (or their way back) to the waters in Pagosa Springs. Multi-generation families on vacation together, retired RV couples, adventure-fueled young lovers, girls’ weekend groups, and more, all with a story to tell of their path to the waters and their experience within them.
21. Gratitude Therapy:
As we gathered around the Mother Spring and partook in the Resort’s guided Gratitude Ceremony, the feeling amongst the group was potent. We had been through something, touched a vibrancy and authenticity of self, and shared it with each other. We cultivated a felt sense of health, a feeling different from how we had arrived, and we had been witnessed. Taking our moment to connect in gratitude put a beautiful punctuation on the previous two days. Holding a small vessel of the warm spring water during the gratitude gave the impression of a living water and a relationship that it had transferred. Knowing that gratitude practice has been shown to alleviate negative emotions, reduce stress, and improve mental health seemed to be only the basics. Feeling gratitude to the water, the land, my body, and my health I took a deep breath of thermal steam and locked the experience into my consciousness.
As I write this, back home at my desk far from the Mother Spring, the gratitude and the experience linger.
See you at The Springs Resort.