By Gussie Fauntleroy.
After Cynthia Nielsen did Watsu, or aquatic bodywork, on a client in a Valley View Hot Springs pool not long ago, the woman told her, “I feel like I went to mermaid school.” She added that massage in water made her feel like a baby, with no separation between herself and the liquid environment.
It was a fitting testimonial for a therapist for whom being in and around water has been central to her life for as long as she can remember. For the past 12 years this has included Cynthia’s role as therapy coordinator at Valley View, heading up a team of massage therapists and doing massage and foot/hand reflexology on site, in or near the hot springs’ waters.
Catfish, mysticism, and healing touch
Growing up in south-central Texas, many of Cynthia’s happiest childhood memories revolve around the lake where her grandmother Honey had a home.
Cynthia learned to water ski at age six, “harvested” river rocks, and caught catfish using Ivory soap. She remembers her grandmother as her refuge. “Honey believed in me,” she said. “She was my anchor, no matter what. I feel that to this day.”
Cynthia also continues to feel the altruistic example of parents who were both active in the community. Her mother was an elementary school teacher, then homemaker, who often volunteered in causes to help others. Her father was a dentist
who served on the San Antonio city council, “bringing in the liberal, radical parts that were needed,” Cynthia said.
From her father, as well, she gained an early appreciation of mysticism and metaphysical investigation. She remembers frequent conversations with him about past lives and the “unknown mystery.”
When she was 11, he took the family on a three-month sojourn to India, which he considered his spiritual homeland, while he did volunteer dental work. “My father [now 90] is a wise old Aquarian with a heart as big as Texas,” she said.
For Cynthia, the trip was life-changing, blowing open her perceptions of the world and people as she encountered gurus, people living on the streets, cobras, enormous lizards, festivals, and open-air cremations. Looking back, she now sees India as an awakening experience that allowed her to “feel connected to my essence and be ready to do the work I came into this life to do.”
One early suggestion of her life work began when she was in elementary school. Riding in the back seat of the family station wagon, she would often find herself rubbing her mother’s neck as her mother drove.
She now sees healing touch as an inheritance from the women in her family. “I think it passed down from the matriarchs. My grandmothers all had that gift, that medicine of touch,” she said.
Call of the mountains
Many family road trips were between Texas and Estes Park, Colorado, where Cynthia’s great-aunt and great-uncle owned cabins inside the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park. There she absorbed and shared her parents’ love for the mountains, which would bring her back to Colorado after studying sociology at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“My grandmothers all had that gift, that medicine of touch.”
In her early 30s she spent two years in the small mountain community of Pine, Colorado, where she wore many hats: as a bodyworker, making salves and essential oils, creating and selling crafts, and doing yardwork and indoor house painting. There were mountains and rocks to climb and, of course, a nearby river. After a large wildfire threatened the town, she decided to leave and attend art school. But first she spent time in a Denver halfway house working on recovery from addictions that began in middle school. She now sees how timidity and low self-esteem led to drug use in order “to feel and not feel,” as she puts it, adding that she ran with an unhealthy crowd “down some dark places.”
Once she felt her feet back under her again, she enrolled in the Art Institute of Colorado, where she earned degrees in video and film. While working at Denver Community Television, she met the love of her life, Scott McCumber. Cynthia was a producer and Scott volunteered as a technical troubleshooter for the station. They married in 2002.
A healing artist
Having become certified in reflexology soon after her return to Colorado, Cynthia attended the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in Denver.
She later also became certified as a yoga instructor. When she and Scott were ready to leave the city, she remembers saying to Scott, “I want to do massage at a hot springs.” In one of many instances in her life that felt like miraculously answered prayer, Scott read an ad for a caretaking opportunity at an old hotel with mineral waters in a small northwestern Montana town. While Scott worked in the office and brought the neglected business back to life, Cynthia offered therapeutic massage, yoga, and WiseWomen retreats there. “It was a super beautiful experience,” she said.
But after four years, the cloudy, dark Montana winters and a desire to be closer to family again sent the couple back to Colorado.
When asked what brought her to the San Luis Valley, Cynthia always responds: the water. Drawn by their longtime love of Valley View Hot Springs, she and Scott lived for a time near Joyful Journey and for a while at Everson Ranch, close to Valley View.
They now have a home in the Baca. Today, Cynthia offers massage, Watsu, reflexology, yoga classes online, and nature-based women’s retreats. (See www.radiantflow.co.) “I really love teaching,” she said.
She also deeply appreciates the healing potential in the modalities she offers. As she puts it, “I’m a healing artist: an artist who is healing.” Part of that healing has been recovery from addiction, thanks to NA, AA, and other sources of support. “Sometimes the gods and angels intervene, and you’re given the desire to get clean,” she said. “That’s really precious.”
Among other gifts from those challenging times: a greater sensitivity to others because of her own struggles, and an immense gratitude for what she’s been given. “I couldn’t have prayed for such a beautiful life,” she said.