Trip Report: Arizona’s Civana Wellness Resort & Spa
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In mid-August, Ira and I flew to Phoenix for a wellness getaway at the award-winning Civana Wellness Resort & Spa. While some of our previous trips included onsite spa facilities, this was the first time we immersed ourselves in a place exclusively designed to promote personalized wellness. With the convenience of healthy food options available in two Civana restaurants, along with a full schedule of activities and a comprehensive selection of amenities - outdoor pools, fitness center, and spa - there was no need to explore offsite on our own.
To take full advantage of the resort’s facilities and services, we planned our daily schedule before we arrived. We both reserved two classes per day and then booked additional activities upon check-in. The posted online schedule included hikes exploring nearby trails, offsite water activities at a nearby lake, mountain biking, pickleball, meditation, yoga, exercise classes, and transformational workshops. Since we were unfamiliar with many of the offerings, we read through the class descriptions before creating our wish list.
Except for a handful of classes requiring an additional fee, participation in activities is included in the daily room rate. Visitors seeking an enhanced wellness experience should make appointments for spa and salon services prior to arrival, while those seeking an all-inclusive and less flexible stay can opt for a five-night Chopra Health Retreat which emphasizes detoxification, yoga, meditation, and Ayurvedic spa treatments.
To maximize our wellness experience, we participated in a cross-section of the available classes and took advantage of the onsite dining experiences at the Seed Café & Market and the Terras restaurant. Except for a meditation class, we remained on the go throughout our stay and even stepped outside our comfort zone on a few occasions.
Ira and I have periodically tried to incorporate meditation into our daily routine with limited success. At Civana, we decided to try again. Even though we struggled to maintain a prolonged focus, the two classes using sound therapy intrigued us.
In Sound Healing for Joy - Joyful Journey, Ericka Brian, the founder of Return to Yourself Wellness drew upon her Aztec heritage, yoga certification from Chopra Center University, and her Health Science degree from Arizona State University, to create a musical, thought-provoking session incorporating a buffalo drum, a healing tuned pipe, a gong, a native buffalo flute, seven chakra crystal bowls, a hanama bell, and an ocean drum. When she stood directly over us and banged the buffalo drum with a healing intention, we felt the powerful vibrations reverberate throughout our bodies.
When asked what she hoped to accomplish during her Joyful journey classes, Ericka said, “The one thing I wish for a guest to take with them is possibility. Possibility to heal. Possibility to love. Possibility to forgive. Possibility to create. Possibility to endure… the pure space of possibility.”
On our last night, we took time to reflect in the Sunset Sound Healing class. We began in a seated position and then were instructed to concentrate on our breathing. By regulating our breaths, we naturally became calmer. During the remainder of the session, we were positioned on our backs with our hands to our sides and our legs slightly apart in a darkened room as we continued to focus on our rhythmic breathing. The sounds coming from the crystal bowls, the gongs and a few other musical instruments once again resonated through our bodies. These intense sounds have the potential to improve blood circulation and to achieve a flow state.
Yoga was a first for both of us. Previously, Ira had shown no interest, and I had avoided yoga classes since some positions are not recommended after a hip replacement. While the class descriptions did not mention any levels, some of the classes were not designed for novices. We did our best to follow the talented and limber instructors. The series of positions required a significant amount of coordination, balance, strength, and flexibility.
I stepped outside my comfort zone in the aerial yoga class. I took several deep breaths when I found myself upside down with my legs curled around a piece of silk fabric suspended from a beam. Ira was likewise thrilled that his brain cancer did not impede his ability to follow the aerial yoga routine.
Having previously hiked in the Sonoran Desert during trips to the southern half of Arizona, we were aware of the striking beauty and diversity of this arid region. It’s impossible to forget the desert’s landmark feature, the towering saguaro cacti which bears the state’s white flower.
On our first hike, led by Paul Hemming, we meandered in and out of an easy two-mile loop trail lined with desert shrubs and frequent canopies of deciduous trees. A significant portion of the trail was shaded and partially blocked the intense early morning sunshine beaming brightly down on us. We stopped periodically to admire the terrain and vegetation and to wait for stragglers. Early on, we passed a small pond with an abundance of tadpoles, and later on we stopped to look inside the opening of an abandoned mine dating back to the Gold Rush of 1849.
A second morning hike took us to the Metate Trail at the nearby Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area. This flatter and wider trail offered less shade and fewer photo opportunities. Cody Fitzgerald, our trail guide, stopped more often to talk about local history and the indigenous plants and animals. We stood adjacent to a hollowed stone bowl, a metate, sitting on the ground when Cody told us about the Native Americans who would crush their grains in these primitive vessels. The slightly overcast skies cooled the oppressive summer heat as we walked in the desert filled with prickly pear cacti beginning to bloom pink flowers as well as a variety of other cacti and desert vegetation. Small frogs, a few lizards and a handful of bunnies shared the path with us.
Aqua Therapy Circuit
During a trip to San Diego, I was introduced to the ancient wellness practice of combining hot and cold temperatures at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar Spa. I was delighted to see that the Civana Spa had similar treatments being scheduled in 25-minute private sessions. Ira and I took advantage of this invigorating practice by scheduling two water circuit appointments.
We began in the Sanarium sauna which was set to 140 degrees with 30-40% humidity and no steam. By being heated from within, our impurities were drawn to the surface. After spending time in the sauna, we dipped into a shallow pool set at 104 degrees and then walked a few steps to the cold pool with a temperature of 50-55 degrees. Instead of wading and squatting in the shallow pool, we could have opted for a more extreme method by standing under a bucket of water for a full body cool off with 60–65-degree water. To complete the circuit, we immersed ourselves in the deeper Tepidarium with a temperature of 98-100 degrees. While I remain mystified by this practice, we both felt refreshed when we stepped out of the spa.
To round out our schedules, we participated in several fitness classes. One afternoon, I indulged in a Pure Radiance Facial at the spa, and another morning I participated in a water fit class at the outdoor pool. Ira used these blocks of time to visit the Fitness Center where he could lift weights. Other than a couple of other resort guests, he had the facility to himself.
When you eat a clean diet every day, it can be challenging to find similarly prepared foods away from home. We were happy to see that most of the recipes offered at Civana’s two restaurants conformed to our diet.
For breakfast and lunch, we selected items from The Seed Market & Café menu and, in the evening, we dined at the Terras restaurant. Executive Chef Scott Winegard’s culinary skills are showcased in his tasty options filled with farm-to-table produce and gluten free and vegetarian options. Carnivores and pescatarians are accommodated with a handful of meat, poultry and fish options.
While the sugar content of the sourdough spelt waffle is not known, the healthier grain along with an assortment of fruit and whipped coconut made this breakfast treat a winner. Our lunch choices revolved around several plant-based options. Ira’s favorite was the Bountiful Bahn Mi which was stuffed with eggplant, pickled carrots and daikon, Thai basil, smooth lentil pate, jalapeno peppers, cabbage, and spicy chickpea aioli served inside a Nobel Eatery roll. I munched on the Avocado Delight made with avocado, sprouts, cherry tomatoes, and radishes placed on open-faced thick slices of sourdough bread with the option of being topped with smoked salmon, egg or grilled tofu.
Our leisurely dinners at the Terras restaurant were remarkable since we didn’t select anything disappointing. The Crudo Lettuce Wrap with sushi grade Pacific grouper, sweet potatoes, avocado, lime leaf and chiles was shareable and delicious. While we only eat grass-fed meat on rare occasions, Ira was in the mood to order the Grass Fed Beef Tenderloin with chili, pee wee potatoes, broccolini, and cherry tomatoes with a tamarind sauce. I did try the salmon and tuna dishes, but was more fascinated by a vegetarian entrée, the Achiote Cauliflower that included Mexican quinoa and lentils, chipotle jam, pickled carrots with a cilantro crema.
First-time experiences at destinations often expose people to things worth repeating. After our unforgettably superb getaway at Civana Wellness Resort & Spa, we look forward to visiting future health and wellness retreats.
Civana Wellness Resort & Spa offered the Traveling Bornsteins a media rate for their accommodations, meals, and spa charges.
When Sandy Bornstein isn’t trekking in Colorado or writing, she's traveling with her husband Ira. After living as an international teacher in Bangalore, India, Sandy published an award-winning book, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, as a resource for people contemplating an expat lifestyle and living outside their comfort zone. Among other things, Sandy writes about family, intergenerational, and active midlife adventures highlighting land and water experiences.