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Originally published Saturday, May 24, 2014 at 7:07 PM

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Massaging your soul at high-end Arizona spas

From the Desert Gemstone Ritual to Psychic Massage, you’ll end up lighter in spirit — and wallet.


The New York Times

If you go

Arizona spas

Arizona abounds in spas (including these ones mentioned in the story):

•Miraval Resort & Spa, Tucson: miravalresorts.com

•Mii amo Spa, Sedona: miiamo.com

•Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain (near Tucson) ritzcarlton.com

More information

For more resorts and spas, see the website of the Arizona tourism office: arizonaguide.com

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I felt a nap coming on, but I was late for class. I should be totally up front here and confess that the class was on sleeping. For $75 and 90 minutes of my day, a registered nurse named Sheryl went through a few pro tips on how to get the most restful seven hours possible.

We all need a sleep plan, she told the class of about eight of us, most women in their 50s and 60s, guests at a desert oasis outside Tucson called Miraval. We make plans for eating, exercise and our work days. So why not for something we spend a third of our lives doing?

As Sheryl was going through a checklist of things we needed to do and not do to ensure better rest — do expose yourself to natural sunlight; do not look at any lighted screens like iPads, smartphones or television sets less than an hour before bedtime — I started to realize that I had spent much of the last week on my vacation to Arizona in a state of repose. Rest wasn’t something I was in need of, and the same was probably true for most of the people I encountered that week.

There was the Restorative Yoga class I took at the Mii amo Spa in Sedona that basically consisted of lying on the floor for an hour.

There was the two-hour Desert Gemstone Ritual that I had at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain outside Tucson, which included a foot rub, an hourlong full-body massage and a 20-minute soak in warm, lavender-oiled bathwater.

Then there was Floating Meditation at Miraval, a sublime experience that involved lying in a silk hammock while the instructor rocked me like a baby and played sonorous harmonies on crystal singing bowls.

“It’s OK if you fall asleep,” she told the class. “But if you start snoring, I will have to wake you up,” she added, upholding what seemed to be one of Miraval’s most sacred tenets: No one’s relaxation should disturb anyone else’s.

A relaxation boom

Arizonans like to brag of the state’s five C’s, copper, cotton, cattle, citrus and climate. There should be a sixth: convalescence. The state has a booming economy of resorts and spas that cater to people seeking relaxation, restoration and a little Zen reassurance that everything will be just fine.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have gone into resort and spa construction in Arizona in the last few years, and the results are high-end properties that feel far more Four Seasons than Betty Ford. In the most recent phase of its ongoing expansion, Miraval opened a sleek new spa in 2012. The Ritz-Carlton’s Dove Mountain property opened in 2009 with a price tag that approached $300 million.

Enchantment Resort, which houses Mii amo, finished up a $25 million face-lift in 2012.

At the same time that these spas are spending fortunes on their own exteriors, they have thoroughly embraced treatments that focus as much on your inner well-being as your outer blemishes. Spa and activities menus are studded with bizarre-sounding services like Past-life Regression, a form of hypnosis; Interactive Aura Photography, an analysis of your energy field; and the Equine Experience, a group session in which you learn to manage anxiety and tension by cleaning a horse’s hoof. These days you don’t go to an Arizona spa to emerge with a glow, unless it’s a spiritual one. My partner and I spent a week dipping into these resorts, sampling the newest and most intriguing options we could find — some wonderfully decadent, some genuinely revelatory on a personal level, and others that we should have skipped.

A Sedona oasis

Our first stop was at Enchantment, which was probably the most physically beautiful of the three properties we visited. The resort occupies 70 meticulously maintained acres inside one of the red rock canyons for which Sedona is so famous. The Mii amo Spa is actually its own oasis within Enchantment, with its own hotel, pool and restaurant that all guests of the resort are free to use — as long as they purchase one of the pricey treatments.

My first treatment was something called the Dosha Balancing Wrap, a detoxifying and cleansing therapy that drew from the traditions of ayurvedic medicine, an ancient science developed on the Indian subcontinent.

I was less impressed with my next treatment, the Psychic Massage. It was neither psychic nor much of a massage.

“I don’t see into the future or anything like that,” my therapist told me when I asked him to elaborate on what supernatural powers he might possess. He was more like a $250-an-hour life coach who happened to have good hands, which he ran lightly over my arms, legs, lower back and abdomen. He said he did this to get a better read of my energy. And when he was done, he reported, “There’s nothing wrong with you, Jeremy.”

Our next stop was a 3½-hour drive south to the Tucson area, where we checked into the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain. It was less of a true spa getaway than the Miraval or Mii amo and more of a full-service resort with country club trappings such as golf and swimming.

But the Ritz’s spa was probably the most elegant we visited that week. It’s just a few years old and is so well kept that it still looks brand-new.

Where Oprah and Ellen hang

We saved Miraval for our last stop, knowing it would probably be the most memorable, given its reputation as the place where Oprah and Ellen go to recharge. We started our first of two days and nights there with the famed Equine Experience. The point was not to learn to ride the horse but to treat him as a kind of therapist. We were skeptical of the abilities of a horse to teach us much about dealing with anxiety, tension or resolving conflicts. But it ended up being quite a revealing two hours.

The biggest indulgence for me at Miraval was actually the $265 Mindful Massage, which was billed as a way “to align bodywork with visualization for a deepening body awareness.” I still have no idea what that meant. But the massage was enough to put me in a state of delirium.

Later that night, our last in Arizona for the week, we met an older couple from Ohio at the bar as we were waiting for our table. They had been coming to Miraval almost every year since it opened and had watched it evolve. They said they could remember the days when there was no bar, and no $18 glasses of wine because, first, the resort didn’t even serve alcohol and, second, there was no need for a place to wait for a table because it never got that crowded.

On my visit the bar and the dining room were packed. The table of free hors d’oeuvres had been picked clean. And judging by the number of people drinking $20 cocktails, the relaxation would go on well after the spa closed for the day.



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