Fifteen minutes into my psychic massage, my own ESP says I’m in the wrong room. The brochure at Mii amo, the ultimate New Age destination spa tucked into the mystical red rocks of Sedona, Ariz., promises a psychic reading along with a massage, but so far, Bhadra, my seer/masseur, says nada.
Finally, his velvety voice breaks the silence.
“You give everyone the impression you are confident and strong, yet you lack confidence.”
I’m a bit taken aback by his chutzpah, and unsure how exactly he can divine this fact by rubbing my back, but I have to admit, he’s right. Not bad for starters. He kneads.
“What are your fears?” he asks after another long pause. Can’t he tell, I wonder? After all, he’s the psychic. I tell him, I’m certain every plane I’m on is going to crash.
“Awareness about fear provides a unique opportunity to deal with it,” he retorts. He kneads. He talks about the importance of living in the moment, of mindfulness, of trust, the sort of things a therapist would say. “What if you embraced this fear?” he asks.
Later, when I ask him about his methods, he tells me with an air of mystery, “When I start the massage, I’m tuning in. When I get a feeling for what is happening, I talk. Sometimes I talk the whole hour. Sometimes I talk very little.”
As I’m soon to find out, psychic massages are just the beginning of the non-traditional treatments offered at Mii amo. Over the course of the next four days I will meditate in a tepee, have a healing treatment while barely being touched and take a Vortex walk in a canyon described as a giant magnet of energy. Clearly, this is no ordinary spa.
Chalk it up to and aging marketplace or a world overwhlemed by tragedies from war to more hurricanes than an alphabet can name, but the search for serenity is soaring. From Madonna’s very public affirmations of kabbalah to Anne Rice’s newly released book about Jesus and the fact that she has reportedly said bye-bye to vampires and witches and returned to the church after a 30-year absence, spirituality has never been bigger. Even Fido is getting into the act. James Jacobson’s recently published book, “How to Meditate with your Dog,” teaches synchronized breathing with man’s best friend.
Nationwide spa activities once focused on going for the burn, but these days cranial sacral therapy, Reiki energy healing, Jin Shin Jyutsu classes and other spiritual experiences are replacing aerobics or kickboxing classes.
Sensing a trend, in 2004 the International Spa Association began tracking spas that offer spiritual or mind/body programs. It’s too soon to compare year-to-year figures, but at that time more than 50 percent of fitness spas were offering programs with a spiritual slant and another 14 percent reported plans to add similar programs. “People no longer see spas as pampering, but instead as a requisite to stay healthy,” says Lynne Walker McNees, ISPA president. “Due to consumer demand, the spa industry is offering more services and wellness programs to further align the mind and body
“Baltimore in general is catching on to the importance of finding the calm in life,” says Kelly Wilkes, owner of Ojas Wellness Centers (pronounced Oh-Jus, a Sanskrit word that means anti-aging and immune boosting). Because business was booming at her Owings Mills location last October she opened a second center twice its size in Hunt Valley. In addition to massage, acupuncture, yoga and Pilates, both centers offer programs to help connect body and spirit. “Our minds race and race. We must slow down the process to reduce stress; it’s a healthier way to be,” says Wilkes. “It’s all about turning inward and becoming aware of our bod
Ojas offers Reiki healing, something once thought of as “woo woo” as Wilkes puts it. Other “out there” treatments on tap are Gua sha, an Asian healing technique during which the practitioner releases “stuck energy” from tight, sore muscles by scraping the skin with a round-edged instrument, and cupping, an ancient Chinese practice using pressurized cups that pull at the skin and underlying muscle tissue; it’s mainly used to relieve pain, gastro-intestinal disorders or lung diseases.
“We’re seeing more people tune into spiritual modalities. It’s very therapeutic, very healing,” says Donna Chang, director of the Medi Spa at Mercy Medical Center, where Reiki and acupuncture are offered alongside facials and massages. Plans are in place to add individual and small group meditation sessions. “I’ve been meditating for about five years,” she says. “It changed my life.”
I escape to Mii Amo (whcih means One’s Journey” or “Passage” OR “Passage” in Yuman, the traditional American Indian language of Northern Arizona) to slow down and look into changing my own life. Plus, I figured if I wanted to experience a little “woo woo,” this would be the place to do it.
Ranked the world’s second best destination spa by Travel & Leisure in 2005 (Miraval, also in Arizona, was No. 1), Mii amo shares 70 glorious acres in Boynton Canyon with Enchantment, its sister resort. Both properties have rooms, restaurants and activities, and staying at either one lets you take advantage of the perks at both. Inspired by the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi, the canyon’s earlier residents, Mii amo and Enchantment’s earth-colored casitas blend so comfortably with the multi-hued rocks and adjacent Coconino National Forest that I nearly miss the entrance. It’s hard to imagine a better setting to energize my soul.
Mii amo’s look— like other spas specializing in spiritual wellness— is simple; some might even say, plain. Most buildings consist of adobe brick, wood and indigenous stone. The only accents in the open rectangular lobby are three, 3-foot-round, 5,000-yearold solid pine balls from Indonesia that sit in the middle of the polished wood floor. Their purpose is to slow down the “chi” (energy) from flowing too fast.
The spa and activities menu has more than 100 tempting options with a brief description for each treatment, but the obliging young man at the reception desk helps me decide what to cram into four days. There’s the expected yoga, Pilates, a cardio class, tennis courts (and Zen Tennis Class), plus lots of pampering choices such as facials and wraps. But it’s the more offbeat treatments that catch my eye. Aura Soma is a healing system based on the idea that our bodies are made of living color and energetic radiance. You choose four out of 100 square bottles containing colored oils layered in various color combinations that “speak” to you the loudest. The practitioner then “reads” the colors that apparently tell your soul’s purpose, life lessons and challenges ahead. Body Feng Shui begins with a psychic reading followed by an energy balancing massage that promises clarity and balance. Past Life Regression uses hypnotizing techniques to access the subconscious mind to help you look at your past lives. I’m told I would be conscious and remember everything afterward, but I still give this one the thumbs down. Understanding this life is confusing enough.
My path to enlightenment begins at the Crystal Grotto, an American Indian kiva or place of ritual said to connect the heavens and earth. A stack of white paper, pencils and a small basket rest on a table outside the entrance just off the lobby, where a sign instructs me to write down and leave a personal intention for the day. I do so before entering the cozy, cocoon-like, circular room, a shape that symbolizes the divine or wholeness. My intention is to be peaceful, strive to stay healthy. Inside, an aperture in the domed ceiling casts a shaft of light on a quartz crystal the size of a football, resting on a round chunk of petrified Arizona Ponderosa pine the height of a cocktail table, surrounded by water. The crystal is said to evoke energy and balance.
I sit on a curved bench along with two other women, our feet firmly planted on the dirt floor. We meditate. Or at least I try to. My mind wanders through a smorgasbord of dumb thoughts— like whether the handsome American Indian man standing in the lobby ever cuts his waist-long hair. Or if he does, how long it’s been since his last trim. Then I wonder if the other women are wondering the same thing or if they really can clear their minds, the purpose of all this. I don’t ask. Only the trickling water interrupts our silence.
My next treatment is reiki, a procedure that originated in Japan and is one of the more common non-traditional treatments offered locally at several places including Ojas and Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center in Baltimore.
At Mii amo, my treatment room is large and bright with a window strategically placed to provide me with a postcard-perfect red rock view from the massage table. Jean Marie, a pretty brunette, maybe 40, is a master Reiki practitioner, meaning she has attained the highest level of training. She asks me about my physical as well as spiritual needs and pays attention with the intensity of a brain surgeon.
I lie fully clothed on the massage table as Jean Marie tells me to close my eyes. After about 10 minutes I can’t help but peek. What I see is my practitioner whirling her hands in the air, palms down, in a wild circular motion about four inches above my body, like she’s trying to coax a fabulous shine out of a piece of furniture. I want to giggle, but I hold back. She is so sincere. Occasionally, she lays her hands on my face and shoulders, forehead or feet.
After the treatment, as bizarre as it sounds, I feel great. She didn’t use a drop of oil, didn’t knead one muscle but I feel just as relaxed as after a touchy-feely massage. Go figure. She tells me the purpose of working the air above my body is to adjust the energy flow of my body. She can actually feel (or see) energy blockages and if there is negative energy she gets rid of it. It’s like a tuneup— one I could definitely see getting every few thousand miles.
Woven between my treatments and amazing spa meals of healthy yet decadent grilled wild Tasmanian salmon or herbcrusted rack of lamb and one too many crème brulées, I hike in the colorful canyon to work off the pounds.
The most fascinating hike is a Vortex walk led by Paulette Silber, a musician, songwriter and possessor of a deep interest in metaphysics. “Look at that formation, it looks just like the Pantheon in Rome!” she shouts enthusiastically as she points to a mass of rock that, believe it or not, really does look like the Pantheon. She points out other rocks that resemble Egyptian pyramids and the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China. “How these sacred styles of architecture got represented in this stone long before those shapes were created in their countries is a mystery,” she says. “These formations were here long before those temples were built. The age of this stone is millions of years old.”
On another walk, I meet Vivian, a sophisticated New Yorker with a been-theredone- that look, who raves about the custom massage she savored the day before. It’s just the nudge I need. Back at the spa, like a kid picking ice cream flavors for a threescoop cone, I ask my masseuse to combine deep tissue with aromatherapy and a dash of Swedish. Hold the talk. Forget past lives. I lay back, relax and enjoy it.
From my time at Mii amo I realize that clearing the mind and thinking about nothing is much harder than it sounds. I may never reach the Dalai Lama level of meditation but I enjoy trying at a place that feels as spiritual as a visit to St. Peter’s. Some of the sessions are a little “out there” for me but the balance of the offbeat with traditional spa goodies keeps me well pampered.
What makes this place unique is that everyone is a believer. From the forest ranger who took me on a nature hike to Bhadra’s psychic massage to Paulette’s passionate Vortex walk, they genuinely believe in what they do and, in turn, they made me a believer, too.
On my last afternoon that same handsome young American Indian with the gorgeous long black hair plays the flute and tells stories in a tepee on the resort’s property. He begins by burning sage to clear any bad energy. Eight of us sit quietly in a circle. The only sound other than his soft voice and melodic flute is the wind whipping through the fabric flap that serves as a door.
We meditate but once again my mind uncontrollably wanders to his hair. Sitting down in this folded leg, yoga-like position, his ebony mane almost touches the floor. Just when did he have his last trim? I wonder.
Enchantment, from $295 per room per night up to $1,550 for a two-bedroom Casita Suite with private pool. Mii amo offers three-, four- or seven-night packages that include room, meals and spa treatments. Prices begin at $1,740 for a three-night stay to $3,990 for a seven-night stay.
Getting there: Several airlines offer non-stop service from BWI to Phoenix. Either rent a car and drive the easy, beautiful two-hour trip or call The Driver Provider for a chauffeured two-hour journey in a Lincoln Town Car. $200 each way, 800-700-2687, http://www.driverprovider.com
LOCAL SPAS OFFERING ‘HEALING SERVICES’
Ojas Wellness Centers, Not the usual “fluff and buff,” this stylish retreat focuses on wellness treatments in an environment designed to promote relaxation— candlelight, fountains and soft music. Hunt Valley and Owings Mills, 410- 472-7077, http://www.ojaswellness.com
Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center Focus is on the whole person, not simply the physical malady or symptoms. Reiki, cranial sacral, zero balancing and many other treatments are offered by more than two dozen individually certified holistic professionals in private practice. 4801 Yellowwood Ave., Baltimore , 410-367-7300, http://www.ruscombe.org
Medi Spa at Mercy Medical Center Skin resurfacing treatments such as lasers, peels and dermabrasions are offered next to facials, massages, Reiki and acupuncture. 227 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, 410-332-9540
Tai Sophia Institute Mostly known for acupuncture, the institute offers movement classes, meditation, yoga, chakra balancing taught by an energy healer, Tai chi and Qi gong. 7750 Montpelier Road, Laurel, Md. , 800-735-2968, http://www.tai.edu
Massage at University One (part of the Holistic Massage Training School) In one suite with three rooms, acupuncture, Reiki and chakra balancing are offered along with reflexology, a treatment that uses the points on the feet to correspond with the body and zero balancing, based on pulls and pressure points. More traditional massages are also available. 1 E. University Parkway, 410-243- 4688, http://www.holisticmassagetraining.org