The co-inventor of toasted flakes, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, was lampooned in T. Coraghessan Boyle's novel The Road to Wellville as a righteous quack engaged in questionable medical practices at a spa for well-heeled, turn-of-the-last-century hypochondriacs. But Kellogg was more reformer than nutball. At his Michigan retreat he advanced a revolutionary concept of health and fitness employing proper diet, exercise, fresh air, and rest. (Okay, he was a little fond of radium cures and yogurt enemas.) Before the stock market crash of 1929, which led to his Battle Creek company's financial ruin, Kellogg raised national awareness of his sanitarium as a place where people could learn to stay well.
In 1940, Dr. Edmond Szekely and his wife, Deborah, opened Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, adopting many of Kellogg's practices for healthful living, minus the pseudo medical treatments. Since then, the spa concept has spread across the United States, with more than 9,600 destination and day spas from the Virgin Islands to the Kona coast. Most of those centers take a lighter, more pleasure-oriented approach to feeling good—focusing on massages, facials, and body wraps. There has been no role for medical experts or spiritual advisers.
But lately the boundaries have begun to blur. Self-help guru Dr. Deepak Chopra is opening satellite well-being centers at golf and beach resorts. Blood profiling and full-body scans are now available at places like Arizona's Canyon Ranch and the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu. And world-renowned medical institutions are augmenting their conventional treatments with acupuncture, yoga, and tai chi. Of course, getting a full medical exam or confronting your metaphysical demons while on vacation may be too intense for someone who just wants to learn yoga and escape daily pressures. That's where a select group of resorts and retreats comes in, bridging the gap between healing facility, spiritual center, and sybaritic sanctuary.
A registered nurse and certified music therapist, Jan Kinder has followed her own road to "wellville." "As a teenager, I took up yoga," Kinder says of her interest in aligning body and spirit. "And I would spontaneously meditate. I used breathing to control cramps. It was such a simple approach." On the eve of her 40th birthday, she suffered an abdominal hemorrhage and lost two-thirds of her blood. This near-death experience was a wake-up call, and Kinder became committed to the study of Eastern philosophies.
Three years ago, during one of her many visits to Caneel Bay resort on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Kinder met general manager Brian Young at one of his weekly cocktail parties, and she talked him into letting her run a wellness program there. It eventually became the Self Centre, whose approach grew out of the expressive therapy classes that Kinder taught at New York City's Turtle Bay Music School and her ongoing studies with Deepak Chopra. Not surprisingly, she's big on fundamentals—proper breathing, meditation, yoga—set against a backdrop of bougainvillea, creeping sea grape, and white-sand beaches. Meditation classes frequently take place on Turtle Bay, with views of St. Thomas in the distance. In mai chi, practitioners stand waist-deep in the warm salt water to follow a series of fluid tai chi and kickboxing steps. On clear nights, astrologist Kelly Hunter leads stargazing sessions and discusses the cultural myths that are attached to Southern Hemisphere constellations. But the regimen that best exemplifies the Self Centre's back-to-basics approach is Breathwalk. Developed by M.I.T. psychology professor Gurucharan Khalsa and yoga master Yogi Bhajan, it teaches patterns of conscious breathing and walking that are meant to boost energy levels, stimulate flexibility, and regulate mood.
"Meditation, hypnosis, and massage have been used for millennia as treatments for illness," says Dr. Barrie R. Cassileth, chief of Integrative Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which runs outpatient wellness programs in New York City. "At some point, these treatments were diverted into a spa environment because of their relaxing properties." In addition to cancer patients, their families, and medical staff at MSK, the treatment facility welcomes anyone interested in mind-body therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology, and reiki. "We're the best-kept secret on the Upper East Side," says Cassileth. "We have great massages and don't allow tipping."