How Rocio Navarro Uses Water To Help Us Heal Ourselves

Rocio Navarro guides people through meditations and physical exercises to help ​release traumas while submerging them in water. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

It's the middle of summer but the weather is a shockingly pleasant 70 degrees and the imposing peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains are unseasonably green. Shadowed by trees that seem as tall as skyscrapers, I walk with a dozen people along one of the many trails winding through the Angeles National Forest.

We're barely 15 miles from Pasadena and yet, when we stop at a small creek, I feel like I'm in another world. We're four hours shy of a total solar eclipse. We won't be able to see the spectacle in its totality however, like people from any number of cultures, we are hoping the eclipse will nudge us toward transformation.

We form a loose circle and introduce ourselves. We are all women or non-binary. Some of us want to connect with nature. Others reveal self-destructive behaviors and thought patterns we want to shake. Most of us have no idea what to expect. We have one thing in common — we have all put our trust in Rocio Navarro.

'A CATALYST FOR TRANSFORMATION'

A Los Angeles native of Mexican ancestry, Navarro specializes in creating healing experiences with water, ideally fresh water but, because this is Southern California, she'll settle for swimming pools.

"All of these different traditions around the world have used water as a catalyst for transformation. Indigenous people, especially, understand how vital this element is. We gestate in water, we come from the water of our mothers, we are majority water. It's the blood in our system. It's the unconscious realm that taps into emotions," Navarro says.

Her professional titles — ceremonialist, spiritual counselor, vaginal steam hydrotherapist, energy healer — fall squarely in the realm of New Age woo. She might loosely be called a practitioner of the healing arts. Navarro, however, prefers the term facilitator because yes, she can soothe whatever ails you but ultimately, she says, we must heal ourselves.

While submerging the human body (or parts of it) in water, Navarro guides clients through meditations and physical exercises designed to release traumas. Some are recent, some are buried in childhood and some stretch back to previous generations. She also leads new and full moon water immersion workshops, one-on-one somatic healing sessions and rituals meant to connect people to their intuition.

Somewhere in her mid-30s, Navarro is a petite, charismatic woman with wispy, sun-kissed brown hair and faint freckles. She speaks in slow, measured tones and listens with an intensity that makes her easy to trust. She radiates calm and gentleness, one that was hard won.

Rocio Navarro taps a metal bowl with a mallet to create ripples in the water at Ernest E. Debs Regional Park. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

'MY BODY WAS IN SHOCK'

In 2011, after serving for two years as a dean at a South Bay charter school, Navarro suffered a nervous breakdown. She became physically paralyzed from stress and, for two days, couldn't stand up or leave her bed. "My body was in shock," she says.

The experience convinced her she needed to leave her job. When she did, depression hit her full-force. She worked odd jobs but spent most of her energy recuperating from the paralysis and contemplating what to do with her life. A few weeks later, she had a dream that compelled her to leave Los Angeles.

"It was visceral. I woke up just... knowing. It was immensely scary. I knew I had to [do it] but I didn't know how to make it happen," Navarro says.

She ended up joining a friend on a retreat through Mexico's Yucatan where they visited landmarks dedicated to the feminine deities of the Mayan pantheon. The experience was pushing her toward a new path.

"Without really understanding what was happening, I was following the Mayan route until I got to Guatemala," Navarro says.

She spent nine months near Lago Atitlan in Guatemala's southwestern highlands, at a meditation center and metaphysics school. There, she took a weeklong vow of silence. Eventually, she did a 50-day stint without speaking. The experiences had a profound impact on Navarro, helping her understand and work through many of her traumas. She says she experienced "life beyond this dimension," or what metaphysical practitioners sometimes call "altered states of consciousness."

"In those states, I was almost looking into the future. They gave me glimpses... I say 'they' but it was an energy I was able to tap into. That's where a lot of the visions around water and sound came to me. I had no idea I'd embark on this water journey," Navarro says.

Rocio Novarro, a healing artist and L.A. native, helps people through grief, trauma, and various other experiences with her water healing methods. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

'TIME AND SPACE DISSIPATED'

After Guatemala, Navarro returned to Mexico where she bounced between Chiapas, Cuernavaca and wherever else instinct led her. After a few months, she found herself in the surfer's paradise of Puerto Escondido, on the Oaxacan coast.

There, she stumbled on a water healing course led by a German and Argentinean duo who taught her some of their techniques. Navarro realized the visions from her days of silence had been leading her here. She spent the next month immersed in water for six hours a day, every day, learning how to work with the medium.

"The state I got into when I was in silence was a similar state I was able to get into when I was in the water. It was like time and space dissipated almost immediately," Navarro says.

She eventually returned to the United States. "I started trying to share this work but my nervous system couldn't handle being in the city," Navarro says.

After a few months, she left and spent the next two years traveling and studying various spiritual and healing practices in Costa Rica and Argentina. When she eventually felt ready to share what she had learned, she decided to return to Los Angeles.

Here, Navarro began developing her practice, integrating everything she had studied during her travels. She uses many techniques, most drawn from indigenous Mexican traditions, but water is her primary modality. What does that actually mean?

Water plays an integral role in Rocio Navarro's practice. Using a mallet bowls similar to the one pictured here, she creates vibrations that ripple around her floating subject. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Navarro guides clients into 98-degree water, the approximate temperature of most human bodies, and physically supports people so they can float in a state of surrender. Navarro believes that the human brain notices any sort of physical pressure, even when we're in a relaxed state, like during a massage. Only when we're immersed in water can our brain and nervous system truly release.

"The buoyancy lets the brain and nervous system unwind in a way that other modalities don't. Water allows the skeletal system to move in a way that doesn't feel weight. The brain supports us on a subconscious level. It says, 'I'm not contained. I'm not boxed in this reality.' For me, that's the opportunity to expand beyond our own perception," she says.

The search for that elusive feeling is what brought Mari and Merci into Navarro's orbit — and into the Angeles National Forest for our solar eclipse hike.

Mari, photographed at their home in Highland Park, began working with Rocio Navarro 2 1/2 years ago. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

'TURN MY LIFE AROUND'

Although Mari and Merci (they asked to be identified only by their first names) seem like besties who have known each other for decades, they only met a year ago, at a week-long retreat in Oaxaca. Tall yet unassuming in a baseball cap and board shorts, Mari has a sturdy, grounded presence while Merci, with her funky glasses, royal blue swimsuit and exuberant curls, exudes a carefree energy. Their conversation is playful and their body language warm as they laugh and share snacks.

Mari, a Southern California native in their 40s, started working with Navarro about two-and-a-half years ago. After having top surgery, which typically involves breast removal and chest contouring, Mari wanted support in affirming their gender identity and to feel more comfortable in their body.

"She helped me completely turn my life around. Every change I've ever desired, the parts of me I saw in the future, finally came alive. I am living the versions of myself I've seen," Mari says.

Mari has also been dealing with substance abuse issues for two decades. "My sobriety would have never happened, at least not this powerfully, without working with the water and Rocio," they say.

After doing private sessions, retreats and phone sessions with Navarro for about two years, Mari began helping Navarro during workshops, holding space for others going through their transformations.

Merci, photographed in Leimert Park, felt still and at ease when submerged in the water during a ritual with Rocio Navarro. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Merci first learned of Navarro's work two years ago, from a friend. She had suffered with painful menstrual cramps for years while doctor after doctor told her nothing was wrong. Even a diagnostic surgery to determine if she had endometriosis couldn't reveal the source of her pain. Frustrated and desperate, Merci connected with Navarro.

"I felt like the person I knew I was and the person I wanted to be was across this huge chasm and there was no bridge," Merci says.

During her first water session, a year-and-a-half ago, she said she received a message about patience. She had been waiting for some grand gesture, so it seemed anti-climatic, even trite. Still, she came back every few weeks for sessions that were a mix of meditation, sound healing and vaginal steaming.

"Vaginal steam is another method of using water to open the unconscious realm within the womb. We hold a lot in the womb. It's where a lot of trauma is held, or a lot of memory," Navarro says.

Merci's menstrual cycles became more manageable and she felt clearer emotionally but she also felt she had only scratched the surface. In the summer of 2018, she bought a plane ticket to attend Navarro's Oaxaca retreat, three short hours before people were set to leave.

"I had the wildest awakening experience I could have ever had," Merci says. What the water had initially told her suddenly made sense — that healing takes time. Merci continues to attend water healing workshops, which have helped her tap into her creativity and start projects, including a podcast.

Rocio Navarro, in a dress passed down from her mother, holds a metal bowl at the lake in Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in Lincoln Heights. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

'REMINDED OF MY JOY'

For many of Navarro's clients, the work feels critical, especially in a world where we're bombarded 24/7 with devastating news stories and flashy social media updates. Although technology can offer connection and community, it can also overwhelm us with insecurity. Outside of curated social media feeds, many of us live in physical and emotional isolation, struggling with depression and anxiety.

Dr. Lydiana Garcia is a licensed psychologist who came to Navarro in August 2019. She specializes in trauma and uses traditional talk therapy to work with clients. After the birth of her son five years ago, she went through a dark period and couldn't pinpoint why. Until age two, humans are mostly non-verbal so we hold traumatic experiences in our bodies because we don't have the language to express them, according to Garcia.

She had been working through the trauma around her son's birth but had hit a wall. Looking for something gentle, the idea of water healing appealed to her. She was was drawn to Navarro's calm demeanor and after scheduling an appointment with her, Garcia found out she was pregnant, cementing her desire to process past traumas.

Working with Navarro through movement, meditation and water, she revisited childhood experiences and reconnected with her bubbly childhood self. "I got reminded of my joy. Ever since that, I keep remembering those sparks. Whenever I go there, I feel whole," Garcia says.

Water healing requires surrender, forcing people to trust their guide and the water. For women who spend much of their time caring for others, it carves out a space where they can focus on themselves.

Rocio Navarro taps a metal bowl with a mallet to create ripples in the water at Ernest E. Debs Regional Park. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Navarro tailors her sessions to her clients' precise needs. She recently held a Día de Los Muertos ceremony for Lizette Vargas after her mother passed away. Vargas, who had previously done womb health work with Navarro, wanted to bring together the women in her family but was nervous about how her older Catholic tías would respond to the "witchy" ceremony. On a bright afternoon, 11 women in her family gathered at her cousin's saltwater pool in La Puente. Guided by Navarro's sound meditations, they held each other as they processed their grief and honored the family matriarch.

Vargas says she saw many of her relatives experience breakthroughs. Mothers held daughters in ways they'd never been able to because so much of their lives had been focused on making ends meet. "For the first time, they are looking at their mom, eye to eye. There's forgiveness being asked for," Vargas says.

Navarro says the ceremony created a space that allowed Vargas's family to be vulnerable. "There is something profound about what [water] does to the emotional body and the connection to our own personal intimacy. This is where you start changing family dynamics and patterns," Navarro says.

All of Navarro's clients who spoke to me for this story said their experiences had facilitated ancestral connections and helped dismantle family trauma.

"The messages I was receiving really started the healing process, on my end, between my father and I. It wasn't until I was [in Oaxaca] that I realized that my paternal ancestors led me there," Mari says. During opening prayers, Mari says they heard their grandmothers thanking them for showing up and for listening to their intuition.

Rocio Navarro says she always felt connected to the water and Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, where she has been going since she was a child, was one of the first places she established that connection. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

'WE CAN'T IGNORE WHO YOU ARE'

Back in the crevices of the Angeles forest, we follow Navarro into a natural pool at the base of a small waterfall. The water is frigid, maybe 65 degrees, but we wade in, wearing our bathing suits, and baptize ourselves under the rushing water. We stand waist-deep in a circle, surrounding Navarro as she leads a meditation and sound bath. She taps metal bowls of various sizes to create soft, guttural tones and my internal organs thrum with the vibrations. I forget about the freezing water and begin circling my hips. Navarro urges us visualize our connection to the earth. I feel the borders between my body, the earth and the water dissipate. I am as much a part of this ecosystem as the rocks I am standing on.

After the circle, Navarro holds us, one by one, under the surface. Mari and Merci looked like mermaids as she leads them by their feet. With us newbies, she props up our heads, necks and backs as we go under. As my turn approaches, I'm filled with a sudden panic. I'm wearing a nose plug and being held by Navarro. Logically, I know I am safe but anxiety washes over me as I wait to be submerged. I am forced to confront my resistance and the tension it creates in my body. I realize how quickly and intensely fear can overtake me. I let myself release in Navarro's arms and I dip under the water for what feels like minutes although it's probably a few seconds.

"There's something encapsulating about the water," Navarro says. "Once you're in it, it gently takes over. We are majority water and we can't ignore who we are."