Beyond the Backrub: Five Wellness Resorts to Reclaim your Mojo

Keridwen CorneliusJanuary 21, 2021
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Most resorts and spas promote well-being through R&R, but the five dedicated wellness retreats profiled here take health-seeking to new heights. They boast doctors that treat complicated conditions, high-tech diagnostic tools, medically based weight loss programs, naturopathic nutrient treatments and even mental health therapy sessions with horses.

Exercise physiology at Canyon Ranch; Photo courtesy Canyon Ranch
Exercise physiology at Canyon Ranch; Photo courtesy Canyon Ranch
Canyon Ranch

Where: The Sabino Canyon foothills in north Tucson
Special Services: M.D.s, body mass scans, sleep studies, weight loss program
Perfect for: Medically minded types with complex conditions seeking total life transformation
Many people come to this holistic medical resort for a complete lifestyle reboot. No health problem exists in isolation, so guests often have multiple interrelated struggles. They might be frazzled by stress, which puts a strain on their relationships, which causes them to drink too much, which raises their blood pressure. And with the help of Canyon Ranch’s four on-staff M.D.s, state-of-the-art diagnostic tools, and range of programs focusing on nutrition, exercise, mental health and fulfillment, people can simultaneously transform several aspects of their lives.

“Evidence-based medicine is our core,” says medical director Dr. Stephen Brewer. “We also understand the mind-body approach, we do a lot of lifestyle medicine, and we are able to spend a lot more time with people than in traditional care.”

For example, if a guest would like to shed some pounds, the staff will design a holistic, medically based, long-term program. They will likely use a DEXA scan to calculate the guest’s muscle mass to ensure they have enough muscle to maintain their weight loss. They’ll measure visceral fat, which is a risk factor for inflammatory diseases. They might conduct a sleep study, since poor sleep is associated with weight gain and a welter of physical and cognitive problems. They might discuss emotional factors such as past trauma that may be associated with eating habits. They can even use nutrigenomics testing to identify genetic susceptibility to diseases and predict the ways a person’s body will interact with various nutrients.

“We want you to lose weight,” Brewer says, “but we want you to get metabolically stable and to do it in a healthy way so you can keep the weight off longer, and your risk for chronic disease goes down.”

In addition, guests can enroll in classes including healthy cooking, mood and food, digestive wellness and stress management. They can book consultations on working through life transitions, overcoming grief, cultivating a purposeful life and more. Plus, they can work with exercise physiologists to design a workout program customized to their preferences, limitations and goals. “We give you structured healthy living that you can continue to follow when you go back home,” Brewer says.
8600 E. Rockcliff Rd., Tucson, 520-749-9655,

Horse therapy at Miraval Arizona in Tucson; Photo courtesy Miraval Arizona
Horse therapy at Miraval Arizona in Tucson; Photo courtesy Miraval Arizona
Tightrope therapy at Miraval Arizona; Photo courtesy Miraval Arizona
Tightrope therapy at Miraval Arizona; Photo courtesy Miraval Arizona
Miraval Arizona

Where: The Santa Catalina Mountains in north Tucson
Special Services: Equine, art, music and adventure therapy
Perfect for: World-weary cowfolk and creatives searching for self-discovery and peace of mind
This sumptuous, digital-device-free resort is renowned for its emotional wellness programs. But in addition to counseling sessions, you’ll find some unexpected offerings. For example, your therapist might have four legs and a tail. During Miraval’s award-winning equine therapy experiences, guests can overcome fear and trauma, enhance their communication skills, discover false beliefs about themselves and learn to live in the moment.

“With a horse, you must be authentic, because horses can read energy,” says Simon Marxer, director of spa and well-being for Miraval Group. “Only if they feel safe and that they are being approached with total authenticity will they cooperate with you.”

Marxer recalls one equine therapy session in which a high school principal was struggling to persuade the horse to work with her. Wyatt Webb, the program’s creator and horse whisperer, helped her understand that she wasn’t fully present with herself when she interacted with the animal. With practice, she learned to cooperate with the horse – and more importantly, she discovered how she could become more present in her students’ lives.

Miraval also offers several art and music therapy programs. In guided sessions of Japanese kintsugi – the art of repairing shattered pottery with gold lacquer – guests can examine their imperfections and traumas and discover the beauty in their brokenness. During meditative drumming classes, participants can alter their brain waves to sharpen mental focus and induce relaxation. Neurological studies have also shown that ritualistic drumming can improve immune function and reduce inflammation.

In addition, Miraval’s specialists draw on neuroscience and psychology in their workshops on mindfulness, gratitude, self-compassion and life transitions. Even the resort’s outdoor fitness experiences are focused on enhancing mental well-being. Guests can learn to balance self-care with cooperation while walking across cables suspended in the air with a partner. Or they can overcome fear and self-doubt by walking a tightrope, riding a zipline or leaping off a 35-foot pole. Marxer says these leaps outside one’s comfort zone are “often where our guests find the most growth.”
5000 E. Vía Estancia Miraval, Tucson, 855-234-1672,

Aquatherapy at CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa; Photo courtesy Civana Wellness Resort & Spa
Aquatherapy at CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa; Photo courtesy Civana Wellness Resort & Spa
CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa

Where: Carefree, near Cave Creek Regional Park
Special Services: Integrative health center, aquatherapy, souped-up sauna, wall yoga
Perfect for: Hydrophiles, hikers and yogis with a laid-back attitude toward wellness
It’s fitting that CIVANA is located in the town of Carefree, because the resort’s wellness philosophy is relaxed and easygoing. “We are all on our own wellness journey; no two are the same,” says chief brand officer Julia Lavine. “So our entire offering is built on creating an experience that is accessible because it is not restrictive, it is not prescriptive, it is not regimented.”

Guests can choose to luxuriate in the spa or to fully submerge in the wellness experience – literally. CIVANA’s aquatherapy circuit features a series of hot and cold plunge pools, plus the continental United States’ only Klafs Sanarium, a German-designed sauna that uses radiant heat and humidity to warm the body from the inside out. These temperature-swinging hydrotherapies are designed to stimulate circulation, release toxins through lymphatic drainage, boost immune function and metabolism and promote deep sleep.

CIVANA also has a partnership with Dr. Fabio Almeida, an M.D. who founded the Center for Integrative Healing and Wellness at the resort. Almeida combines conventional, lifestyle and alternative medicine in his workshops on nutrition and weight loss, cancer recovery, anti-inflammatory optimization and wellness reboots for busy professionals.

Every week, the resort also offers 70-plus complimentary wellness experiences, from meditation to sound healing to total body barre. Its Inner Intelligence workshops use the HeartMath biofeedback system to help guests regulate their stress, emotions and resilience. Scientific studies have found that HeartMath can reduce heart rate variability, balance the nervous system, enhance positive emotions and increase mindfulness and relaxation. “Our guests find it to be transformational while they’re taking the class, and they learn lots of great tools that they can apply to their daily life,” Lavine says.

One of CIVANA’s signature offerings is wall yoga, which allows guests to hang from a wall supported by straps. Using the power of gravity, guests can deepen their stretches, try positions that might feel uncomfortable on the ground and maintain poses longer. This helps yogis increase flexibility, strengthen a variety of muscle groups and achieve proper body alignment.
37220 Mule Train Rd., Carefree, 480-653-9000,

Joya Spa suite at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia; Photo courtesy Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia
Joya Spa suite at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia; Photo courtesy Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia
COVID Warning

Naturopathic treatments were on hold due to COVID as this issue went to press. Check with the resort to get the latest info.

Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia

Where: Scottsdale, at the foot of Camelback Mountain
Special Services: Nutrition coaching, sleep rituals, naturopathic therapies (see above note)
Perfect for: Overworked insomniacs desiring energy and immunity boosts in a sensuous setting
Naturopathic physician and PHOENIX magazine Top Doc Lauren Beardsley is the medical director at the Montelucia’s Joya Spa, so you know there’s more than mani-pedis on the menu. The Scottsdale resort’s naturopathic treatments include IV therapy that delivers B vitamins, antioxidants and other nutrients directly into the bloodstream, where they can get to work immediately. Guests can choose from IV therapies designed to ramp up energy, immune function, physical recovery and more. Or they can work with Beardsley to mix a custom blend to address their specific needs.

Joya Spa also offers lipotropic shots containing MIC (methionine, inositol and choline), a blend of amino acids and nutrients. MIC helps the liver process and remove fat cells that have been broken down by the body, so it can help flush fat in conjunction with a healthy weight loss program, according to the International Association for Physicians in Aesthetic Medicine.

In addition, guests can book naturopathic nutrition consultations, acupuncture, acupressure and life coaching to improve physical and mental health. They can also work one-on-one with an expert to create a personalized meditation program for managing stress, sharpening focus, reducing tension and increasing well-being in everyday life.

People suffering from insomnia (and who isn’t in 2020?) might consider a session of hypnotherapy, which is meant to soothe anxiety and promote sound sleep. Alternatively, the spa offers a restorative sleep ritual that blends aromatherapy massage with reflexology – a method of applying pressure to specific points around the body. Reflexology can reduce pain and anxiety and promote sleep, according to Mayo Clinic.

Montelucia’s massage program includes lymphatic massage to stimulate circulation, activate immune function and decrease edema (swelling caused by excess fluid in the body’s tissues). They also offer cranial sacral therapy, a gentle massage that helps relieve compression in the bones of the skull and spine. This treatment has been found to benefit some people suffering from migraines, neck pain, sleep disturbances and fibromyalgia.
4949 E. Lincoln Dr., Scottsdale, 480-627-3200,

Healthy cuisine at Enchantment Resort; Photos courtesy Enchantment Resort
Healthy cuisine at Enchantment Resort; Photos courtesy Enchantment Resort
Bead ceremony at Enchantment Resort
Bead ceremony at Enchantment Resort
Native American therapies at Enchantment Resort
Native American therapies at Enchantment Resort
Enchantment Resort

Where: Sedona’s Boynton Canyon
Special Services: Personalized nutrition and fitness coaching, Native American therapies
Perfect for: Spiritual outdoorsy types who believe in a mind-body approach to health
As you might expect from a Sedona resort, Enchantment’s health experiences aim to heal both body and soul. Guests who want to get physical can work with a coach to craft an integrative health plan that promotes cardiovascular fitness, endurance, balance, flexibility and strength. The coach will measure your resting metabolic rate and body composition, then design a personalized program based on your medical history and goals.

Health experts are also on hand to guide women through the various stages of their lives, recommending appropriate nutritional, herbal and lifestyle interventions to help maintain hormonal and emotional balance. Sleep consultations and nutritional counseling are also on the menu at Mii Amo spa.

Enchantment offers several programs centered on mindfulness, which, according to numerous scientific studies, can reduce chronic pain, depression, anxiety, inflammation and addiction. In addition, mindfulness has been shown to improve attention, working memory, emotional regulation and well-being. During the resort’s mindfulness sessions, you can explore how to communicate more compassionately with yourself and others, how to become more resilient and efficient during times of change, and how to use breathing exercises to invigorate various organs in the body.

The resort also features myriad therapies focused on healing the soul. During Native American-inspired sessions, you can work with a master therapist on guided imagery and breathing techniques to heighten awareness, reveal new perspectives and reconnect with your inner self. Other indigenous-inspired rituals combine writing exercises, moon ceremonies, massage and burning sweetgrass.
525 Boynton Canyon Rd., Sedona, 928-282-2900,