Survivalist Cat Thor leads the guided walk at Civana — Photo courtesy of Wendy O'Dea
On a recent getaway to the outskirts of Scottsdale, I took a stroll through the Sonoran Desert. Not any old stroll, but a guided walk with survivalist and plant expert Cat Thor.
Thor (real name!) leads a nature walk teaching guests at Civana – a wellness resort in Carefree, Arizona – about the healing plants of the desert. Sharing fascinating details that Native Americans have known for hundreds of years, Thor explains how to find food and water, and points out plants that can be used medicinally.
"People are afraid of the desert because they think there’s no food and water, but when they learn a few simple things, it’s not so hard to survive. I like to teach people how to see things differently," Thor says.
The guided walk was one of many daily classes at Civana that guests can participate in, and I chose it because I’ve been on the hunt for non-traditional wellness experiences that go beyond a relaxation massage or age-defying facial.
While I didn’t uncover any ultra-crazy experiences like some offered overseas (the vampire blood facial, for example), it’s obvious that wellness resorts and hotel spas in North America are continuing to explore new ways to encourage overall wellness and balance. Here are a handful that I discovered.
Watsu massage | Civana Wellness Resort
The pool at Civana Spa — Photo courtesy of Wendy O'Dea
Guided walks and classes aren’t the only non-traditional options at Civana. Just outside the 22,000-square-foot spa, a trained therapist conducts a Watsu massage by moving and stretching your arms and legs and gently moving the body while you float weightlessly in a warm, private water therapy pool.
One of the first forms of aquatic bodywork, this treatment promotes relaxation of the body and mind and opens energy pathways. It’s hard not to think of being back in the womb which, if nothing else, is comforting.
Watsu is particularly well-suited to relieve some of the stress of pregnancy, but may not be the best choice for those who experience motion sickness on the water.
Resident healers | Four Seasons Downtown
Snow Shimazu, travel wellness expert at Four Seasons Downtown — Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Downtown
In 2018, Four Seasons Downtown in lower Manhattan dipped their well-manicured toes into the more spiritual aspects of wellness by adding sessions with resident healers. According to Spa Director Tara Cruz, the program encourages guests to acknowledge their personal gifts and potential.
"We believe that with encouragement and enlightenment, each client can reach their own pinnacle of personal success," she says. The four healers provide mindful experiences during one-on-one private appointments at the spa.
These experts include Deganit Nuur, an acupuncturist, herbalist and clairvoyant; Rashia Bell, a crystal healer and meditation master; Snow Shimazu, a travel wellness expert and advanced body work educator; and Michelle Pirret, a sonic alchemist who fuses elements of musicianship and wellness to shift energy and discord within the body.
Harmonic singing bowls | The Phoenician
Himalayan singing bowls at The Phoenician — Photo courtesy of The Phoenician
The 40,000-square-foot Phoenician Spa at this iconic resort spans three levels, including a quiet rooftop pool away from the masses (the resort is BIG).
The spa offers nontraditional sessions such as tarot card readings, but what caught my eye here was the 80-minute harmonic bowl healing treatment. It's intended to restore balance and create a therapeutic impact at the cellular level. Just as visual ripples to water can be seen if you tap on the side of a metal bowl, this session uses sound therapy to rebalance cells, which are 60 to 70 percent water.
A therapist trained in the modality places Himalayan singing bowls of varying sizes on the body and gently taps them to create sounds that resonate with different frequencies, simulating alpha waves from the brain. The practice originated in Nepal and India, and the treatment is gaining traction at high-end spas throughout the world.
Great Oak purification treatment | Spa Pechanga
The Great Oak at Pechanga — Photo courtesy of Wendy O'Dea
Southern California’s Temecula Valley is known more for its wineries than the Pechanga Resort and Casino. But that seems to be changing since the resort invested $300 million to expand the property, adding an upscale pool complex and a posh spa, among other features.
The Great Oak Purification Treatment is inspired by a massive tree that’s referred to affectionately as "Grandmother Oak" by members of the Pechanga tribe, whose land it has grown on for over 1,000 years. The Great Oak purification ritual includes a dry brush exfoliation, a sage and lavender-infused clay wrap and a scalp massage.
The clay wrap, once rinsed, is followed by a full-body massage using hot Himalayan salt stones that contain minerals which help create balance and reduce inflammation.
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Voodoo ritual | The Ritz-Carlton
The voodoo ritual at The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans — Photo courtesy of Ritz-Carlton New Orleans
Although voodoo often has a negative connotation, this is perfect New Orleans-style magic. This 80-minute massage incorporates a locally-crafted herbal poultice that includes absinthe, cypress and vetiver. Incense and relaxing voodoo chants and music in the background cast a spell of ritual relaxation and a true sense of place while in the Big Easy.
CBD treatments | The Ritz-Carlton
Hemp-infused massage products at The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles — Photo courtesy of Wendy O'Dea
It's becoming more common in California and other states where marijuana is legal to find treatments using products infused with cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound derived from hemp. The Ritz-Carlton Spa in Los Angeles has added three such treatments.
When applied topically, it’s believed that CBD can encourage hydration, minimize moisture loss, decrease inflammation and also help reduce muscle soreness, tension, anxiety and stress.
Guests receiving the CBD Healing Massage can opt for a drop of CBD oil under the tongue to "encourage serenity" before a 50-minute massage that uses activated hemp muscle balm and massage oil. A CBD facial is also available, as is a CBD pedicure using CBD-infused bath bombs.
Fountain of Youth experience | Fairmont Pacific Rim
Rediscovering youth in British Columbia — Photo courtesy of Destination British Columbia
For guests who crave a treatment that will take them to new heights, the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Pacific Rim might be just the ticket. The Fountain of Youth experiential retreat (expected to launch in late spring or summer of 2019) will not only include the spa’s most luxurious treatment, but will also fly guests via helicopter to a remote glacier to kayak in a glacial lake surrounded by ice-capped mountains.
While on the adventure, guests will learn about how the indigenous ingredients used at the spa – including seaweed and glacial clay – are sourced. They will then settle in for the two-hour treatment that takes its inspiration from the ocean, rainforests and mountains.
The holistic journey is designed to reduce pain and inflammation while targeting the signs of aging, not to mention putting your FOMO fears to rest.
Equine Experience | Miraval
Wyatt Webb talks with participant of the Equine Experience — Photo courtesy of Miraval
Grab your hat and boots and channel your inner cowgirl or cowboy at Miraval, an all-inclusive destination resort that sets the bar high (and the price) with the number of wellness experiences it offers. The Equine Experience starts as a simple horse-grooming task, but quickly evolves into one of self-discovery, identifying participants' doubts and fears.
Wyatt Webb, author of It’s Not About the Horse, uses interactions with the horse to help individuals understand the barriers they may face in relationships and personal growth.