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Long before settlers came west, indigenous people were turning Arizona’s native plants and herbs into medicines and treatments. Centuries later, people still flock to the region seeking physical and spiritual healing.
But amid the protruding mesas and cacti-coated hills, what makes this area such a healing hotspot? Willard Scott, who founded Scottsdale in 1888, credited the climate. He promoted his new settlement as a land “where rain seldom falls and there is no cold”.At the turn of the 18th Century,the state advertised itself as an ideal place to treat tuberculosis thanks to its dry, warm air. By 1920, Tucson alone had more than 7,000 TB patients who hoped to kick the illness.
As time passed, golfers also discovered the state’s fantastic weather, and in turn, played a part in curating Arizona’s mainstream therapeutic offerings. “The golf and resort boom grew hand-in-hand and spas were the obvious missing link for the non-golfers,” said Lisa Kasanicky, founder of Arizona Spa Girls, an online guide to the state’s spas and salons. Scottsdale now has more spas per capita than any US city.
Arizona’s solid track record of healing was tragically interrupted in 2009 when three people died and others had to be hospitalized after a sweat lodge ceremony at a retreat outside Sedona. The man who led the ceremony has since been found guilty of negligent homicide, but visitors should still do their homework before any treatment. “If you can’t find a referral from someone you trust, stick to reputable establishments like resort spas,” said Robert Vance, a board member of the International Spa Association and spa director at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa. “Look for licensed professionals that are subject to expectations of ethics and high standards of performance.”
From Scottsdale’s plentiful spa scene to Sedona’s famous vortexes (funnel-shaped energy centres believed to promote a stronger mind-body connection), Arizona offers the full gamut of relaxing, spiritual experiences. Get closer to the area’s rich healing traditions by signing up for a treatment at one of the spots listed below, all of which embrace the state’s landscape, history and energy.
Aji Spa at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort
Many spots in Arizona claim to have Native American-inspired treatments, but at Aji, in the Gila River Indian Community, every treatment must be approved by the Pima and Maricopa Tribe’s committee for authenticity and cultural sensitivity. The Tribe’s healer, Belen Stoneman, works on site and offers a treatment that includes massage and some vision work.
Set against a huge cloud-shaped granite formation estimated to be 12 million years old, the Boulders resort in Carefree has award winning golf courses and four pools to escape the heat, but its 33,000-sq-ft Golden Door Spa is a destination in and of itself. An on-site shamanic ceremonialist conducts a “Meditation Journey Into the Tipi”, where participants are led through the spa’s labyrinth (meant to symbolise one’s life journey) to the spa’s Sioux-style tipi. The shaman leads a meditation that reaches a dream-like state, so guests leave feeling relaxed and more connected to their inner spirit.
The 40,000-sq-ft spa at Willow Stream in Scottsdale has no shortage of treatments, but Kasanicky loves the Havasupai Body Oasis Experience which starts under relaxing warm waterfalls, meant to mimic Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon. The whole body continues to be pampered with a footbath, aromatherapy wrap and a scalp acupressure treatment.
L’Auberge de Sedona and Mi Amo
Due to the energy believed to come from the vortexes, Sedona is the still the place to go for the most new age treatments. Want to try hypnotherapy? The Spa at L’Auberge offers hotel guests a complementary weekly group session by resident healing expert Deena Lee. Topics include everything from anti-aging to clearing the chakras (energy centres located throughout the body). At Mi Amo, long recognized as one of Sedona’s top spas, you can try “Interactive Aura Photography” to decode the colours that make up your physical, emotional and mental space and find out how they dictate your energy.
This 20-acre organic oasis set in the Sonoran desert outside Scottsdaleis its own energy centre according to owners Lee and Ken Singh. By channelling those forces, they have transformed the soil and used their success to educate the public on nutritious food and sustainability based on the Earth’s cycles. Signh Farms is only open to the public on Saturdays from 8am to 1pm, but its produce is so fresh and flavourful that many of the Phoenix’s top chefs buy here.