In a red-rock canyon of Arizona, some New Age therapists are shaking up the spa scene
Eika Aoshima
| Credit: Eika Aoshima

Let's talk vortex. I'm referring to a mysterious electromagnetic field generated by the earth's core that causes inexplicable energy surges in people and computers. Stonehenge supposedly has one (no surprise), as does Manhattan (must be why the cabbies are so crazy). And Sedona, Arizona, has four vortices, which makes it a problematic place for a hard drive to thrive but has turned the little city into the North American headquarters of neo-hippies, Wiccan psychics, and pseudo-shamans. It's the kind of town that has a magic crystals shop down the road from an organic supermarket where the juice-counter guy shares his visions with you—and I don't mean his plans for a vacation house in Scottsdale. Sedona is also the home of Enchantment Resort's new Mii Amo spa. (Mii amo means "journey" or "passage" in the Yuman Indian language.) Other spas do the body-beautiful thing; Mii Amo goes beyond the physical—this is where you come for a spirituality check.

Thursday afternoon. I have a raging head cold, and the flight from New York didn't do my sinuses any favors. Driving two hours north from Phoenix, I nearly go off the road when I see those fire-red buttes rising beyond the dashboard. I hadn't expected such dramatic colors and shapes, and within minutes my bewilderment gets me lost. I stop at Sedona's Chamber of Commerce for directions, then browse the brochure wall. There are the standard off-road jeep tours and Southwestern art galleries, but sandwiched in between is a section of New Age postings that hint at stranger temptations—vortex tours, healing circles, karma purification, aura photography, chakra clearing.

SURROUNDED BY THE RED ROCK SECRET MOUNTAIN WILDERNESS, Mii Amo takes pride of place in Boynton Canyon, once inhabited by Sinagua cliff dwellers and considered sacred by Apaches living in the neighborhood. According to legend, the first woman is still there, in the shape of a rock hoodoo, or pillar, called Kachina Woman, which just happens to hover protectively over the new spa. I can see why people are drawn to the curiously eroded rock formations, with their ocher, brick red, and black striations. I find myself feeling embraced by Boynton as the road reaches the canyon's weathered center.

Mii Amo's 16 guest rooms, set in a grassy meadow below the eastern rim, are a radical departure from Enchantment's Southwestern-style casitas, which lie next door to them. A river-rock waterway spills beside the entrance steps. So Zen. The interior belongs to a museum, or a shrine: terrazzo floors and boxy mahogany furniture give the adobe towers an uncluttered aesthetic. At check-in, Randy doesn't have to be psychic to know I'm suffering—the wad of damp tissues and uncontrolled sneezing tell all. He escorts me directly to the spa lounge, but only after handing over a packet of his favorite herbal decongestant. He also gives my hands an impromptu reflexology rub, saying, "This should help clear your sinuses in a few moments."

Upstairs, Bhakta takes over in a treatment room with a mind-altering view of the canyon walls, which have started to glow acid pink in the fading light. As she works on my tired hands and feet with smooth, heated pebbles, sure enough, my nasal passages begin to feel some relief. Once I'm in my casita, the gas beehive fireplace and down comforter work their own magic.

Friday morning. I have to try the crystal grotto, a darkened meditation space fashioned after a Native American kiva with a red earthen floor, petrified tree-trunk fountain, and four stunning chunks of crystal positioned by a feng shui master to align with the compass points. Mii Amo therapists gather here every morning for a ritual blessing of the stones and crystals to be used in the day's work; massage oil is left here overnight to be energized. (During the summer solstice, the noonday sun pierces the grotto's skylight to illuminate a quartz crystal sunk, like Excalibur, into the log centerpiece.) I'm not sure the grotto "energizes" me, but I do feel relaxed, concentrating solely on my breathing.

SEDONA MAY HAVE ITS SHARE OF WACKOS, but it also attracts stellar therapists and intuitive healers, so it's a shame to journey here and not try the esoteric treatments. (Mii Amo also covers the standard spa fare: pedicures, body wraps, aerobic workouts.) Sally, my watsu therapist, cradles me like a baby in a heated outdoor pool. Sema targets a clogged lymph node during the Astara botanical facial. Joan puts me in an alpha state with her craniosacral massage. At one point, something in my neck goes pop and I feel a logjam of energy break inside. Honest.

Annika, Mii Amo's manager, tells me about the spa's ill-fated gazebo. "First, it was struck by lightning," she says. "Then a therapist left an electric heater on and it burned down. We finally had to ask Uqualla what was going on." According to the spa's Native American expert, a Havasupai "coyote talker" who doubles as Boynton Canyon's sacred caretaker, local spirits found the prefab teak structure offensive. Mii Amo now has outdoor massage wikkiups, and the pyrotechnics have stopped. On a guided walk, Uqualla points out 900-year-old Indian storage caves, and sticks his hand into a spiny yucca, risking a close encounter with scorpions, to reveal dried fibers that can be woven into thread. A font of medicine-man bons mots, he also conducts a mean meditation session, as I later discover.

Saturday, breakfast. For my cold, I order a chlorophyll-green shot of wheatgrass juice, as well as a toasted apple-tofu muffin. At dinner, I plan to try the cold-smoked buffalo tenderloin (only 11 grams of fat). The spa's wine list has two vintages from a "biodynamic" vineyard whose grapes are tended according to celestial positioning. But before dinner, Joan, a reiki master from Chicago, rocks my cosmos. Though she barely touches me, it's still a profound experience. At the end, she strikes a quartz "singing" bowl and waves it over my chakras; I sense the vibration up and down my spine. I spend the rest of the afternoon by the pool, processing what she has told me.

Sunday—last day. Vortex time. At the front desk, Dennis directs me toward the upper hiking trails. The energy point apparently surfaces to the right of Kachina Woman, a steep scramble through prickly pear cacti on a crumbling rock face. No path to enlightenment, I remind myself, should be easy. Like a typical novice, I slip and fall in the parking lot before the tough part even starts. Once I reach the crest, I sit on the red outcropping and marvel at a line of buttes marching toward the horizon. Do I feel anything?Does something extreme happen?To quote an old schoolyard saying: "That's for me to know and for you to find out."


Mii Amo, Enchantment Resort, 525 Boynton Canyon Rd., Sedona, Ariz.; 888/749-2137 or 520/203-8500, fax 520/203-8599;; three- to seven-day spa packages start at $1,590.

Craniosacral: A subtle massage that increases the flow of cerebral spinal fluid through the spine and head.
Chakra clearing: According to Hindu belief, the body has seven chakra (wheel) energy centers, each representing specific organs and mental states. These can be adjusted using crystals, sounds, herbs, or massage.
Quartz "singing" bowls: Pure quartz crucibles, originally designed for use in in semiconductor production, which actually create musical chords when struck. Their tones help balance energy in the body.
Reiki: A 19th-century Japanese technique that harmonizes energy flow using the healer's own life force.
Watsu: Aquatic bodywork based on stretching and shiatsu.