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Harbin Hot Springs is a non-profit hot spring retreat and workshop center in Harbin Springs, Lake County, in Northern California, about two hours northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area. As of 2012, this clothing optional retreat center, formerly a late 1960s commune, is known as an outdoor spa with a New Age ambience, where Watsu was developed.
The baths were commercially developed by settlers in the 1860s, when buildings were erected on the site. The region is prone to wildfires, and over the years, successive lodges have been rebuilt when they burned down.[not in citation given] Harbin Hot Springs issued several postcards advertising the resort in the 1920s and 1930s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the property was run as a commune with the name Harbinger, "centered around a man named Don Hamrick, a charismatic fellow who wore business suits and combined science with spiritualism in his lectures/sermons". In 1969, Harbinger had about 120 people, but ultimately, the community did not thrive.
Robert Hartley (AKA Ishvara) bought the land in 1972 to be a Gestalt center. Sold to the Heart Consciousness Church (HCC) in 1975, Harbin/HCC operates as an intentional community where approximately 150 residents live and operate the Retreat Center for outside visitors. Harbin/HCC maintains a more specifically religious organization, the New Age Church of Being, incorporated in 1996. Harbin is a center for the expression of New Age beliefs. Harbin's clothing-optional policy, its pools, and the natural beauty of the local landscape are part of Harbin's appeal to visitors, who must agree to membership, if only temporarily, for admission.
Harbin has been a center for the development of new modes of healing and personal development, including Watsu (water shiatsu), a massage technique created by Harold Dull at Harbin in the early 1980s. The School of Shiatsu and Massage architecture "features five 81⁄2 meter to 10 meter diameter spheres formed in wood and sheathed in stucco cement and waterproof vinyl composite". Watsu, based on gently moving the body through water, is now practiced in spas throughout the world.
Currently maintained by its residents, Harbin offers facilities for retreats, lodging, massage, watsu, and six mineral water pools at various temperatures. It is operated on a clothing-optional basis, which means that nudity is permitted but not required. Many Bay Area New Age, Neopagan, Buddhist, yoga, art, and other organizations or teachers hold weekend retreats and week-long festivals at the facility. Accommodations include campsites, tent cabins, hotel rooms, dormitory facilities, and private cabins. Members can also choose to stay at outside facilities in Middletown and beyond.