It’s difficult to imagine how life-full the Sonoran Desert is -- forget what you know of drifting yellow sand, dusty dunes and empty space until the edge of the horizon. The buildings at Canyon Ranch are mostly squat and sandstone orange, but there are plenty of signs warning of mountain lions or snakes. We arrived at Canyon Ranch in blistering heat -- mid 40s -- and the first thing we did was head to the shady Meditation Garden. Sculptures, trickling water and signs explaining the flora and fauna carefully segment the space. I gazed at The Sanctuary -- a glass sided meditation room -- and felt a sense of peace flood over me.
Canyon Ranch is over 35 years' old. It was founded by Mel and Enid Zuckerman who took a cattle ranch on the edge of the Sonoran Desert and created a health and wellness centre. The literature calls it ‘a place of incredible opportunity’. The kind of life-changing stay it offers comes with a hefty price-tag, but it includes your accommodation, food and drinks, some treatments and exercise classes. There are also lectures and seminars with specialists who take care of your mind, body and even spirit. Each aspect has a centre around the campus; try the Spa, the Aquatic Centre, the Health and Healing Centre, the Spiritual Wellness Centre or the Life Enhancement Centre.
The 82-page treatment menu covers everything from massage and facials to GP consultations to arts and crafts classes to astrology to nutrition. Learn to track animals in the desert or discover your Soul Journey (see below). There’s golf, tennis, three outdoor pools, hikes and walks, exercise classes and, of course, spa facilities including hydro pools, saunas, steam rooms and relaxation rooms. More than you could possibly experience in a week.
The rooms are scattered around the 150 acre resort. Décor is traditional ranch style -- the original ranch was called the Double U and you can see pictures of it around the main buildings. Think heavy wooden furniture, patterned textiles and high mesquite-wood ceiling fans.
A brochure in our room urges us to ‘live healthfully and joyfully’ -- a mantra for a society which perhaps doesn’t place enough emphasis on either.
Tell us about the treatments
We had the Soul Journey (50 minutes, $230) and Deep Cleansing Facial (50 minutes, $180).
Julie Haber was my advisor for the Soul Journey -- a way of dipping my straight-laced toes into spiritual wellness. Julie and I discussed what I wanted to achieve -- or my intention -- and we discussed a little bit about my background. My Soul Journey was a guided meditation on a very fancy treatment bed which pulsed in rhythm to the meditation. Fully clothed, I lay down and Julie covered me with a sheet and placed a silk pillow over my eyes. We started the meditation with a cycle of deep breathing, and she asked me to focus on each breath in and out. Julie explained that during the meditation, I may feel I wanted to be in a different place or situation, and I should follow those instincts. I could also share as much or as little as I wanted with her. There were three sections which helped me identify a ‘gift’ -- something I felt I needed, a negativity to let go of, and advice to give myself. The meditation was accompanied by music and Julie used crystals to boost my energy. There weren’t any shocks or surprises on my journey, but it did help me admit some things which I felt reluctant about or just hadn’t acknowledged.
My more traditional facial was with Yevy. She guided me to our modern, white treatment room and I de-robed and settled onto the wide and very comfortable bed. Yevy raised me into a seating position and cleansed my skin, exfoliated and painted on the first hydrating mask. While it worked into my skin, she applied a moisturiser to my arms and put my hands in warm paraffin wax to really hydrate my skin. Yevy removed the first mask and moved a machine pumping out hot steam next to my skin to open the pores. Next came the manual extractions -- not the most comfortable but my skin felt very open afterwards. Yevy applied tea tree oil and a serum and massaged my face using lymphatic drainage and pinching movements to stimulate my skin. She cleansed again and then applied finishing products. My skin felt clearer and better able to breathe -- perfect after the heat of the desert.
Food and nutrition at Canyon Ranch is central to their philosophy, and they practice what they preach. There’s no alcohol or tobacco on site, but there is lots of diverse, colourful and healthy food.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner is served in the main restaurant with a core menu and changing daily specialities. Stick to the weight-loss programme, allergy-free options or choose a more filling three-course menu. We tried Asian specialities, pastas, even the very good chocolate
The Double U Café serves meals and snacks in a more informal environment; pick up a juice during the day or try Italian night -- we did and it was a great alternative to the main restaurant.
Who would like it?
Canyon Ranch is about becoming an ‘active, informed participant in your own health care’. It takes an open and curious mind but once in, the huge amount of activities on offer means it will sit well whether you see wellness as fitness and nutrition, spiritual balance and learning, or bobbing in a sunny pool and trying spa treatments.
The classes: we enjoyed three evening seminars: Flexing your Spiritual Muscles -- a discussion of what it means to be spiritual and how we apply it to our everyday lives; Maximising your Brain Function through Nutrition; and The Milky Way and a Bevy of Planets -- an evening of star gazing.
If it’s too hot to join a hike, follow the Spirit Walk trail around the resort. Each has a sculpture and/or marker with a work inscribed; Intention, Joy, Discover, Reflection, Spirit, Peace, Serenity, Sanctuary.
The atmosphere: we Brits have a tendency to shy away from American assertions, especially when it’s about our wellness. Take down your barriers for a few days and embrace the belief that your health -- and, therefore, happiness -- is in your own hands.