Our harried writer travels to a luxury destination spa— only to discover that balance lies within.
Here’s what I left behind: a half-painted living room, 78 unanswered e-mails, two small sons, a rambunctious puppy, a husband, and six boxes of macaroni and cheese.
Here’s where I was headed: three days and nights at Mii Amo in Sedona, Arizona, one of the top-rated destination spas in the world.
I didn’t just leave for my trip; I fled. My life seemed to have veered from just busy to woefully out of balance. I felt cranky and edgy, my skin was splotchy, and I couldn’t seem to focus on anything.
Mii Amo seemed the perfect antidote. Mii Amo means journey in the Native American language of Yuman, and that’s basically what it offers. Each guest can choose a targeted three-, four-, or seven-night journey, such as Rites of Passage or Spiritual Exploration. I chose a three-day De-Stress Mind, Body, and Spirit. My goal was to bring some balance back into my life.
As I drove from the airport, I watched the terrain change from low desert with saguaro cactus to high desert, and finally to Sedona’s red rocks, which are really more like burnt sienna; deep green trees stood starkly against the rusty buttes and pure blue sky.
Known for its energy vortexes, which are thought to have beneficial powers, Sedona is a Mecca for healers, bodyworkers, and spiritual seekers. People come from all over the world to experience Sedona and its crystal shops, fine-dining restaurants, and countless places to hike, rock climb, and mountain bike.
At Mii Amo, which welcomes you with a first-rate spa, delicious food, and 16 beautiful casitas nestled in Boynton Canyon, you are encouraged to stick around: “It’s about the submersion into the journey and staying in the moment,” says General Manager Chris Bird. “I never recommend that someone on a three-day journey leave the property.” To this end, guests are encouraged to go to meals in their bathrobes, a habit that I initially scorned but then promptly adopted. In my room, I found a list of affirmations that I stuck to the mirror: “Everything is as it should be,” and “I recognize the perfection in my life daily.”
I should say that Mii Amo is an amazingly soothing place. It’s five miles off the beaten path from Sedona’s main drag, which itself is off the beaten path. So, the spa feels secluded and cozy. Designed to blend organically with the surrounding environment, it promotes relaxation in every way, with the soothing sounds of a bamboo flute piped into the premises, the trickling of water from fountains and pools, indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, a room for meditation, warm pools and soaking tubs, beehive fireplaces, and many nooks for lounging with a book.
For my spa treatments, I chose a hot-rocks massage, a Watsu massage in water, a jojoba body wrap, and the highly decadent Ayurvedic treatment involving Abhyanga and Shirodhara, in which I had warm sesame oil dripped on my forehead, before two therapists gave me a soothing tandem massage.
Still, in between treatments, I rigorously perused the list of daily activities: If I rushed, I could do the morning power walk, get to the watercolors class, get my Watsu, and just make it to lunch and the cooking demonstration. But could I miss Yogalates? How about the organic gardening class, the vortex walk, the wine tasting, or gourd pottery?
Like a good multitasking overachiever, I wanted to do them all. I was taking on relaxation like I take on everything else—oriented toward goals, laced with a sense of urgency. I carried my schedule and list of activities wherever I went.
About two days in, I decided to take a dip in the outdoor hot tub. I had my schedule in one hand and a towel in the other. After I slid into the tub, somehow, my schedule fell in the water. I watched as the words blurred together, until the whole thing finally disintegrated amid the bubbles.
I saw what was happening as clearly as the Sedona night stars. I was in a place that had inspired visitors for centuries, with the opportunity for some profound relaxation and rejuvenation. But I was taking my old mind-set with me: I was harried and frazzled, with a long to do list. I didn’t want to end up with my day scheduled from start to finish. I didn’t want to blow this rare, possibly once-in-a-lifetime chance at total and utter pampering and relaxation by charging full speed ahead with the same fortitude as I have when doing my taxes or cleaning the house.
And so, I breathed. I decided to change my mind-set. For the next two days, I was rubbed, scrubbed, and detoxified. I stretched, hiked, and slept. I walked a little more slowly.
And this is what I learned on my journey to paradise: that relaxation isn’t really about your geographic location. It’s ultimately learning to relax with whatever circumstances you are in. I realized that balance isn’t about tuning out; it’s about tuning in to what you need. That’s not to say I didn’t do things on the packed list of activities: I took that wonderful watercolors class and learned how to make coconut curry soup. But I also spent hours reading and an evening in my room watching You’ve Got Mail. I was social but tried not to use all of my energy.
Before I ran off to Sunrise Stretch, I checked in with myself. Was I going because I “should”? Or was I going because I truly wanted to? Sometimes, you need a rousing class to get your blood flowing. Sometimes, you need to rest. When I went inward and asked myself what I needed, I always answered correctly.
Balance is knowing what you need. Just as I could still be crazy in a peaceful place like Sedona, I realized I could be peaceful in a crazy place like home. And so, that’s what I did.
Trying to incorporate what I’d learned, I made a modest list on the plane ride home. It included: Go near the water. Stretch in the morning. Remember that other people can wait. Unplug my phone once in a while, and pay more attention when my son wants me to pretend like I’m Pokémon for the ninth time.
When I got home, here’s what I found: My two sons beating each other with a light saber. A chicken dinner gobbled up by the dog before I could reach it. A husband who hadn’t showered or shaved in four days. Everything was as I had left it—if not worse. I took it all in stride, clutching my list. I knew I had the tools to deal with whatever came my way. I smiled and picked the chicken up off the floor.
Life is big and crazy and messy, and somehow in that moment that seemed OK. I have my little bit of wisdom so I can deal with it a little better. And when I need a reminder, I unbury the piece of paper with a list of affirmations that awaited my arrival at Mii Amo: “I am responsible for my attitude, and I look for the good in everything.” Not a bad thing to remember.
Three-, four-, and seven-night journeys available starting at $1,990. For more information, visit miiamo.com.
If you do choose to leave the cozy confines of Mii Amo, try these other spots to connect with nature and yourself.
The Bell Rock Vortex
» Jutting into the sky, the Bell Rock Vortex is a hot spot for people to meditate, relax, and commune with nature. Sedona is famous for its vortexes, believed to have swirling and powerful healing energy, each with different properties. Bell Rock is believed to help you release things that no longer serve you. Take a towel to sit on, and let the vortex work its magic. gatewaytosedona.com.
» Most commonly known as a place to slide down a natural water chute, Slide Rock is also a wonderful place to bring a blanket, find some shade by the creek, and listen to the soothing water trickle down the slide. pr.state.az.us.
» Take the short trail to this outdoor Buddhist temple, which features a 36-foot spire, for some quiet time, introspection, and prayer. tara.org.
Bringing the Balance Home
You can’t always jet off to a destination spa. Here are a few ideas from Mii Amo that you can use to promote balance and bust stress at home.
Make a Worry Basket
» Get a wicker basket, and place paper and pens nearby. When you have a worry or fear, write it down on a piece of paper, and toss it in the basket. Then, have a burning ceremony where you symbolically release your worries.
Set an Intention
» At Mii Amo, guests are encouraged to think about an intention each morning to set the tone for the day, such as: Today, I will do my best and trust that is enough. Use one of Mii Amo’s intentions, or create one that resonates with you.
» Mii Amo is located in a remote canyon, where most cell phones don’t get reception, so unplugging was easy. But at home, you can take this idea and run with it: Take a day, half a day, or even just a few hours to unplug your cell phone and computer, and look at what’s around you.
Other Southwestern Journeys
The Southwest, known for its laid-back vibe, is the perfect destination for bringing yourself back into balance. Here are a few more peaceful destinations.
Cathedral Rock Lodge and Retreat Center
» A peaceful place surrounded by grass and towering red rocks, the intimate center is great for tuning in to your natural rhythm. $175–$300 per night, cathedralrocklodge.com.
The Ocamora Retreat Center
Ocate, New Mexico
» This rustic getaway is host to several seasonal residential programs that focus on psycho-spiritual healing and well-being, while the hot tub, gardens, and meditation hall support your experience. Prices vary by program and accommodations, ocamora.org.
Firesky Resort and Spa
» Tucked in the Sonoran desert, Firesky is a Kimpton hotel with all the amenities. Head for the resort’s Jurlique Spa, where you can soak in copper tubs, enjoy treatments using herbs from the on-site garden, and get expert advice on nutrition and wellness. $199–$400, fireskyresort.com.
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa
Ojo Caliente, New Mexico
» Soak in one of four different kinds of mineral springs. You can even reserve your own pool. $169–$469, ojocalientesprings.com.
Ten Thousand Waves
Santa Fe, New Mexico
» This Zen-inspired mountain spa features several types of traditional Japanese baths as well as spa and massage services. $199–$269,