Everyone can relate to wanting more balance in life. The popularity of juicing, of yoga, of meditation and the spin-lightening chain SoulCycle? Just the latest evidence that many of us continue to seek a certain equilibrium.
Earlier this year, I was one of those people in need of a serious reboot, but getting on a plane seemed counterintuitive. So I opted for Mii amo spa in Sedona, Ariz., a 7 1/2-hour drive from Los Angeles that felt far enough away to qualify as an escape.
Mii amo is on the grounds of Enchantment, a 70-acre resort five miles northwest of Sedona and surrounded by wilderness and the majestic red rocks of Boynton Canyon. The area was originally inhabited by the Yavapai, who consider it their place of origin. ("Mii amo" is a Native American term signifying passage or journey.)
The treatments, activities and cuisine, available to guests of the 218-room Enchantment resort as well as those who choose to stay in one of the 16 Mii amo all-inclusive spa rooms, were designed to promote healing of mind, body and spirit. But virtue isn't the only item on the menu; there are cocktails on offer as well.
I left L.A. before sunrise so I could beat the traffic and settle into the idea of relaxing. I passed Palm Springs and Blythe, then eased across the California state line into Arizona by midmorning. Bypassing Phoenix on State Route 303 and heading north on Interstate 17, I began to ascend the Mogollon Plateau, where saguaro cactus gave way to pine trees. Once I took the exit for Cottonwood, turning onto Route 179 North, I caught a glimpse of crimson, a hint of the scenery to come.
Arriving in Sedona at about 2:30 p.m., the towering buttes and cliffs looked like a scrim painted with every possible shade of rouge and ocher. No wonder so many Hollywood directors came here to film westerns. You don't need the road sign to know you have entered red-rock country.
The red-ribboned canyon enveloping Enchantment, a former tennis academy that opened as a resort in 1987, is guarded by two spires known as Kachina Woman and Warrior Man, which sit on one of Sedona's so-called energy vortexes and are accessible from the area's many hiking trails. Scattered throughout the property, the resort's rooms and casitas are nestled into the landscape, with western-style furnishings, spectacular views and thoughtful amenities delivered to your door, such as fresh orange juice every morning and a card printed with a Native American blessing at turn-down.
The 24,000-square-foot spa complex, opened in 2001, was designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects, the same firm responsible for the Dia Center for the Arts in New York City and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Set into the slope of the canyon, the building is low, modern and environmentally appropriate, with peaceful spaces that flow into one another, and lots of red adobe brick, natural light and water elements.
I found myself in a tranquil cairn garden in the complex's central atrium, which set the mood for ahhhh. A cairn is a mound of stacked stones built as a landmark or memorial, and guests can choose from the piles of stones to create their own. Nearby, a kiva-like space called the Crystal Grotto invites quiet contemplation and is the site of the morning "ritual," a brief, mind-clearing moment of calm guided by a staff member.
If you are a doer, there's a lot to do. In fact, Mii amo and Enchantment almost feel like a summer camp for adults, with more than 100 activities offered weekly, including cooking demonstrations, yoga classes, juicing 101, chanting, vortex lectures, stargazing, tennis, golf and mountain bike excursions.
Or you can zone out at the spa's outdoor pool and hot tub while staring at the red rocks, float in the indoor pool and listen to the quiet gurgling of the water wall, or nap in one of the sunny window seats in the quiet sitting area around the fireplace. A juice bar serves feel-good concoctions such as the Mii amo Passage smoothie, with strawberry, mango, banana, apple and orange juice.
I started my journey to spiritual enlightenment by joining a meditation walk on a labyrinth marked with stones and embedded with energy-emitting crystals. An instructor advised each of us to choose an "intention," which is meditation/visualization speak for a plan or feeling to manifest while walking the labyrinth. I chose "joy" and began to follow the curves and twists of the maze, as sounds were muted and distractions fell away. By the time I arrived at the end, I was beginning to find some calm.
For dinner, the Mii amo Cafe serves fresh, seasonal fare that strikes a balance between delicious and calorie-conscious. (The menu lists nutritional content for each dish.) I fed my pasta craving with a hearty tagliatelle with spirulina, butternut squash and Brussels sprouts for just 460 calories and 12 fat grams — proof I could eat better and still eat well.
I slept soundly in my Casita room, with a king-size bed, earthy Southwestern décor and a view of Kachina Woman from my deck.
Early the next morning, the 10-minute walk from my room to the spa prepared me for my immersion into relaxation. I saw a deer on the path, munching on greenery. It didn't even look up, that's how at peace it was.
But the first thing on my agenda was a meal — and breakfast at the Cafe was even more incredible than dinner. After devouring a Hopi blue-corn waffle with wild-cherry compote that had just 120 calories and 3 grams of fat, I made up my mind to leave with a copy of "A Journey of Taste," the Mii amo cookbook.
At 8:15 a.m., guests gathered in the Crystal Grotto for the morning ritual. Our guide led us in a round of deep breathing, then lighted a smudge stick to ward off negativity. "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why they call it the present," she said.
After that incantation, I was ready to take my gift of relaxation to another level, lingering in the spa's locker room, with a skylighted whirlpool bath, sauna and steam room so luxe that I had to watch the clock so I didn't miss my treatment time.
The spa offers more than 65 specialized treatments, many of them inspired by Native American traditions and using ingredients indigenous to the area, including blue corn, red clay, wild sage, prickly pear, chaparral and juniper berries. In addition to massages, facials and body wraps, guests can dip into astrology, aura reading, past-life regression, hypnosis and reiki healing. Treatment rooms are on the second level of the facility, many of them offering outdoor views. It's advisable to book services before you arrive.
In the pursuit of more life-work balance, I tried a 90-minute treatment called "harmony," during which my instructor, a man named Bhadra, used a variety of questions and talk therapies to help me figure out how to slow down and de-stress. My path to harmony, Bhadra said, involves paying more attention to the feminine side of my psyche and less to the masculine side, which is, apparently, enslaving me. "That's a part of you, but it's not all of you," he kept repeating. The treatment ended with me on a massage table, listening to his silken voice guide me in meditation. It was one of the most soothing experiences I've ever had, so much so that just saying his name, Bhadra, still gives me a sense of comfort.
Mii amo casts an easy, seductive spell, but if you do want to experience Sedona, it's just a (gorgeous, as in stop-the-car-so-I-can-take-a-picture) five-mile drive. Sedona has a population of roughly 10,000 and is primarily a tourist town. In addition to its natural wonders, including the 1.8-million-acre Coconino National Forest surrounding the city and the nearby Grand Canyon, there are dozens of shops and eateries.
For lunch on the second day, I headed into town to the Barking Frog Grille, where the kitschy Southwestern décor is straight out of the 1980s, howling coyotes, kokopellis and all. I sampled a local delicacy known as cactus fries (tangy strips of the local flora with sweet dipping sauce) and fish tacos. I also polished off one of the Grille's fishbowl-sized prickly pear margaritas, which may explain how I ended up at a place called Crystal Magic, spending $70 on a handful of magic rocks that are supposed to help (what else?) bring out the feminine side of my psyche. Who knows if they will work — I've suggested to my friends that they check on me in three months — but it was fun assembling my secret stash of stones and picking out a colorful leather pouch in which to carry them.
At the Center for the New Age, billed as a metaphysical superstore, I browsed among the Tibetan prayer bowls, magic wands and books such as "Wicca and Witchcraft for Dummies" and "Animal Communication: Our Sacred Connection." Clearly, I was getting into the Sedona vibe. Across the street, the touristy galleries in the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village didn't have as much to recommend them, nor did the hokey western-themed stores along 89A in uptown Sedona.
In late afternoon, I drove to the Chapel of the Holy Cross in the Coconino National Forest, about four miles south of the city. The dramatic building is built into a butte, its most distinguishing feature a cross that seems to be wedged between red rocks. Built as a Roman Catholic chapel, it was commissioned by local rancher and sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude and completed in 1956 but still feels incredibly modern. Inside, the walls are bare except for two contemporary-looking tapestries and an enormous picture window onto the natural world. The chapel now is nondenominational, and every Monday at 5 p.m., there's a contemplative, non-biblical Taizé service (based on the practices of the monastic community of the same name in France) that packs in people from all over. It's also a terrific vantage point from which to watch the sunset, a satisfying balance between outdoorsy and spiritual.
The next morning, I tried one of the hikes offered by the resort. After a short van ride, our guide led us on Teacup Trail in West Sedona, pointing out that many of the area's famous rock formations are easy to recognize from their shapes (Cathedral Rock and Coffee Pot Rock among them). Teacup Rock is more difficult to discern, but the dramatic photo ops were worth the 2.5-mile trek.
Back at Enchantment, I decided to hike to Kachina Woman via the Vista Trail, which starts just behind the Mii amo spa and is just about a mile round trip up into Boynton Canyon. There are four main vortexes, or energy centers, in Sedona, and one of the strongest is in this spot, where native tribes still hold private ceremonies. Some people say they can feel the balancing properties of the swirling electromagnetic energy in the Earth.
When I reached Kachina Woman, there were several Lululemon-clad ladies perched on the rocks, chattering. I covered my ears, hoping for some quiet and trying to be in the moment despite the distractions.
After a few minutes, I gave up, feeling disappointed, and started down the trail. A moment later, I came upon another hiker, a regular who is known for playing his flute on the rocks. He handed me a heart-shaped stone and said, "It's a beautiful day, isn't it? A beautiful day to be in the most beautiful place in the world. Or in any place, really."
Solitude has its advantages, but so does company. I was happy to have run into him. Balance.
My last Mii amo treatment was an "intentional" aromatherapy massage. My therapist, Anna, had me choose from several aromatherapy oil recipes, each with a corresponding intention. Thinking of my desire to feel more balance and gratitude, I selected a concoction called I Feel Blessed. Anna custom-blended the massage oil for me, combining rose and geranium (both of which are supposed to have feminine energy) and frankincense, which she said is more masculine and, thus, balancing. Whatever it was, it smelled divine, as though I was surrounded by a field of my favorite flowers.
Afterward, I spent the rest of the afternoon blissed out by the pool, soaking in the Arizona sun. I had to pry myself away from the lounge chair to walk back up to Enchantment for the sunset. At the outdoor View 180 bar, I shared a table and the painted-rock view with a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. They were as blissed out as I was.
For dinner my last night, I drove back into town to try Elote Cafe, the contemporary Mexican restaurant by chef Jeff Smedstad that's hailed by critics as the best dining spot in the area. There's a no-reservations policy, but no one seems to mind sipping margaritas on the porch and doing the beanbag toss to pass the time. It was worth the hour-plus wait for lamb adobo that fell off the bone, and corn-crusted scallops with spicy-sweet tomato jam and poblano chiles.
The next day, it was time to head home, but not before building my own cairn for the garden and fortifying myself for the return to the real world with one more morning ritual.
Duly enlightened and motivated, I sat down to fuel up with coffee and noticed a couple that were very friendly with the staff. There are a lot of repeat visitors at Mii amo, and here were two of them. I struck up a conversation, and they told me they have been coming here twice a year for the last six years. They hike in the mornings and have treatments in the afternoons and find the experience to be both relaxing and spiritual. "It's part of the ritual of our lives," the man said.
Sedona: Where to rest, reboot, eat and shop
Enchantment and Mii amo are about a two-hour drive from the Phoenix airport and about an hour from the Flagstaff airport. Sedona has an airport for small, private aircraft. The 218-room Enchantment has no age restrictions. The 16-room Mii amo is the all-inclusive spa resort, and guests must be at least 16.
Enchantment Resort, 525 Boynton Canyon Road, Sedona; (888) 250-1699, http://www.enchantmentresort.com/southwest-resort. Doubles begin at $315.
Mii amo, (888) 749-2137 or (928) 203-8500, http://www.miiamo.com. Rates at Mii amo include three meals a day at Mii amo Café, activities and two spa services a day. A three-day stay, which starts on a Thursday and includes six spa services, begins at $2,520, based on double occupancy, or $3,150 single occupancy. A four-day stay, which starts on a Sunday and includes eight spa services, begins at $2,960 per person, based on double occupancy, or $3,400 single occupancy. A seven-day stay, which begins on a Thursday or a Sunday and includes 14 spa services, begins at $4,918 per person, double occupancy, or $5,425 single occupancy.
For Enchantment guests, spa treatments begin at $160. The nearby 18-hole Seven Canyons golf course, designed by Tom Weiskopf, is available to guests as well. Greens fees are $150 for adults, $50 for children ages 13-17.
Crystal Magic, 2978 W. State Route 89A, Sedona; (928) 282-1622.
Center for the New Age, 341 State Route 179, Sedona; (928) 282-2085, http://www.sedonanewagestore.com.
Chapel of Holy Cross, 780 Chapel Road, Sedona; (928) 282-4069 or (888) 242-7359, http://www.chapeloftheholycross.com.
Mii amo Café at Mii amo spa, miiamo.com/mii-amo-cafe/. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner for guests of Mii amo and Enchantment. Emphasis on healthful eating. Dinner main dishes from $28.
View 180 at Enchantment Resort, http://www.enchantmentresort.com/dining/view-180. Small plates for appetizers or a light dinner (such as Kobe sliders, foie gras, beef tartare) from $11.
Barking Frog Grille, 2620 W. State Route 89A, Sedona; (928) 204-2000, http://www.barkingfroggrille.com. Soups, sandwiches and Southwestern dishes at lunch and dinner. Main dinner dishes from $14.
Elote Café, 771 State Route 179, Sedona; (928) 203-0105, http://www.elotecafe.com. Open only for dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays, and reservations are not accepted. Contemporary Mexican cuisine; small plates (from $7.50) and large (from $17.50). New takes on seafood and old favorites, such as carne asada with guajillo chile sauce.