The blue Post-It I stuck on my monitor last fall said: Countdown to Canyon Ranch massahhhhge! It was supposed to help get me through the following 24 days, until my visit to Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, the grande dame of destination spas. When my invitation arrived (one of the perks of being a journalist), I hadn’t had a single day off in more than a month. I nearly wept as I envisioned the possibilities: lounging poolside with a fruity cocktail, soaking in a hot tub, unwinding with a massage or two.
A week before my departure I received an email suggesting I sign up for activities. I clicked the link, expecting the usual roster of indulgent pampering and could almost feel a pair of well-muscled hands kneading hot lavender oil into my clenched shoulders. But apparently while I was busy working and raising kids, spas have evolved, because this is what I found instead: A collegiate-level curriculum of self-care.
With 15 separate categories, from aquatic experiences to spiritual wellness—each with a dozen or more classes (some taught by MDs and PhDs), assessments, or one-on-one sessions—the course selection made me feel like an eager, first-semester freshman. Did I want to explore stress management, or my relationship with food? Learn to harness the subtle energy of crystals, or have my astrological chart read? Or, wait! I could have a session with a spiritual advisor! Or nutritionist!
A Toys R Us for Goal-Oriented Women
Canyon Ranch was a veritable Toys R Us for accomplished, goal-oriented women. But were its extensive offerings better than the spa basics? I was anxious to find out.
The Tucson sky was a smear of aubergine and peach as a friendly young bellman wheeled my overstuffed bag past an arty array of cacti to a one-story stucco building. Inside my spacious room, I fell into the plush bed and slept so soundly I missed my alarm and, as a result, the 6:30 a.m. walk. Oh, well. The day was stacked even without it. I went straight to a Cardio Circuit class and then to a lecture on stress, healing, and spiritual awakening. As I made my way to the café at noon, I spied one of the property’s numerous swimming pools. “Looks like a nice place to have a cocktail before dinner,” I said to the girl behind the café counter, hooking my thumb pool-ward. She smiled cautiously, as if trying to assess whether I was serious. “It would be,” she agreed, “if the ranch allowed alcohol.” Fine. Mocktail.
The course selection made me feel like an eager, first-semester freshman. Did I want to explore stress management or my relationship with food?
Two hours later I was trying to perform tree pose and downward facing dog while suspended from the ceiling by a slim piece of fabric, part of an aerial hammock yoga clinic (tough on the abs, and the ego). The high ropes challenge course was also memorable in more ways than one; a fall left me with a raw rope burn on the inside of my upper right arm that’s still visible months later. I went to two meditation sessions and had an appointment with an astrologer, who advised me to write a novel and gave me four dates over the next two years during which it would be propitious to begin. After attending a sleep lecture, I met one-on-one with the presenter/MD, who recommended an overnight sleep assessment with a portable diagnostic device, which that night revealed I have mild sleep apnea.
Self-Care, Self-Reflection, Self-Improvement
As I scuttled around the ranch, I saw familiar faces from seminars and fitness classes. There were a few men, but mostly, the place was populated by women, the majority of whom, I guessed, were a lot like me (but with bigger bank accounts): high achievers and deep thinkers, giving their utmost to their various roles—mother, wife, employee, boss, daughter and friend—but rarely taking the time to do much for themselves. I had to wonder, though, as I flitted from activity to activity, if the time and energy we were putting into self-reflection and self-improvement might be more profitably spent improving, y’know, the world—standing up for human rights, fighting for the environment. But I decided to deal with the guilt later. I had an indoor cycling class to attend.
I felt like I’d used parts of my mind that had been dormant for months. I also felt mellow, or maybe I was just exhausted.
By my third day at the ranch I had pages of notes on using sound to promote self-healing (by making a deep “uuh” sound, as in “duh,” you activate the root chakra in your tailbone, which can be helpful if you’re constipated) and new ways to cope with stress. (My favorite: Place your hands in the middle of your back, where your adrenal glands are, and tell yourself “This moment is not an emergency.”) I felt like I’d used parts of my mind that had been dormant for months. I also felt mellow, or maybe I was just exhausted.
Decadence? Coddling? Yeah, right.
With 30 minutes to myself before the van left for the airport, I stashed my bag at the front desk, picked up one last veggie juice, and, for the first time since I’d arrived, plunked down on a comfy chaise lounge by the pool. I tried to revel in the moment of leisure, but after all I’d experienced, sitting in the lovely Tucson sun felt a little anticlimactic. (My ranch companions must have felt the same, seeing as I had the place to myself.)
Back at home the next morning, coffee in hand, I went to turn on my computer and saw the blue Post-It note. A massage! I forgot to have one! The connective tissue treatment, it turned out, involved no kneading, and the healing touch involved no touching (although it did trigger a half-hour crying jag afterward—the result, the therapist told me, of opening my chakras.) I went to the ranch hoping for relaxation. But, hey, I can do that in my bathtub. What I got was ultimately better: an education. Now I just need to find a crystal singing bowl that doesn’t make my three dogs (or my sound-sensitive husband) howl.