A surprisingly cool, late-October breeze whips around me, unsettling the clay-coloured dirt at my feet as I stand in a circle holding hands with my fellow adventurers. We are on a cliff, high above the Long Canyon valley in Sedona, at an energy vortex known as Rachel’s Knoll. We’ve been instructed to close our eyes, meditate and focus on the energy rising up from the earth and into our bodies.
Desert regions have long had a reputation for luring healers and shamans, and the Sonoran is no exception. I’ve heard a lot about the reported energy in Scottsdale and Sedona, so I’ve come to find out more and to explore the wellness scene that largely focuses on spiritual health and healing.
Unable to resist, I sneak a look at the others in the circle—mostly couples from the U.S. who came to the area for some rest and relaxation. I find them all with closed eyes, focusing on their meditation. Across from me, dressed in a fringed vest and safari hat with a long white beard is Socrates, our guide from Arizona Safari Jeep Tours. I can see his lips moving as he chants to himself. He’s a healer with a firm belief this area does indeed possess a powerful energy.
He’s not alone in that belief. Sedona is famed for its vortexes, said to be sites of concentrated energy sources along the earth’s ley lines (sources of electromagnetic energy). Vortexes are thought to assist in self-reflection through meditation, and are sought by those seeking clarity and guidance. Various religious shrines have been erected around the area, including at Sedona’s Amitabha Stupa & Peace Park, where people gather to meditate in a traditional Indigenous medicine wheel and around a Buddhist stupa, a mound-like structure that houses sacred relics.
Later, I find myself standing with my eyes closed again, this time inside Amitabha’s medicine wheel with my group circling me to create a flow of energy, I struggle to focus and obtain internal guidance on a recent personal issue. “How do I know if I’m doing this right?” I keep asking myself.
I ask nearly everyone I encounter in Scottsdale and Sedona—born-and-raised locals, long-time residents and visitors—if they believe there is an energy here and, more often than not, I hear: “You can definitely feel a different energy around here.”
“What does that mean?” I want to shout. “Different from what?”
Still skeptical, I check into Sedona’s Enchantment Resort and head to the onsite, award-winning Mii amo spa for an Aura Soma Reading, an energy therapy developed in the 1980s by Vicky Wall, a blind herbalist from the UK who had the ability to see auras. She created a range of colourful oils, believing people instinctively pick up on the vibrations of colour and that a reading based on your selections will help with self-discovery.
Standing in front of 102 different coloured oils, my therapist, Ashiko, instructs me to choose four bottles that “speak to me.” Oddly, I choose colours I’m not usually drawn to but just feel right. Ashiko explains the significance of my choices—a startlingly accurate reading about my personality traits (flaws and all), relationship challenges and where my life is heading. We finish with an energy balancing, where Ashiko hovers her hands over my body to balance my chakras—the seven energy centres of the body. After, I feel energized and overwhelmed by the reading’s accuracy.
I leave Sedona for neighbouring Scottsdale, which has been revered as a place for wellness since its founding in 1888. Local historian Joan Fudala says doctors would send patients with tuberculous or arthritis to the area because the warm, dry climate was believed to lessen these ailments. The first health camp, The Graves Guest Ranch, opened in 1910. “The emphasis was on wellness and natural cures: the warm, dry climate, the fresh organic foods and just lots of relaxation,” says Fudala.
Scottsdale has built an economy on wellness—there are more than 50 spas in this city of about 250,000 people. Some have healers and shamans on staff, sacred plants and crystals are often used in services, and the treatments on offer range from astrology to crystal therapy.
Alternative treatments are abundant at The Phoenician hotel’s spa. I settle onto a table for a Harmonic Bowl Healing session performed by a slight Japanese woman named Hiromi. She places Himalayan singing bowls over my body’s energy centres and lightly strikes each one, creating a gentle noise and vibration that reverberates throughout my body. Singing bowls date back thousands of years and were used by Tibetan monks to aid in meditation, balance the chakras and lessen stress and anxiety.
As I lay on the table, I focus deeply on meditating and quieting my endless internal chatter. Finally, I relax and sink into a meditative state that feels like I’m on the verge of sleep. When I tune back into my surroundings, I feel rested, but unsure if I felt a different energy.
I have a similar experience when I take part in a group sound bath (less risqué than it sounds) at CIVANA Carefree, a health and wellness resort in Carefree, a small town about 35 minutes from downtown Scottsdale. Laying on a yoga mat in a fitness studio, I find myself in a sleep-like state as our instructor strikes a gong and various other singing bowls to create noises that range from a mere hum to a throbbing vibration. And, while I leave the session feeling deeply relaxed, I can’t help but question, again, if I’m feeling what I’m supposed to be.
At spots like CIVANA, wellness isn’t just confined to the spa. There’s a weekly schedule packed with sessions such as sound baths, hiking, aerial yoga and crystal healing that are open to all guests.
It’s here that I also take workshops on developing intuition and interpreting tarot cards. This group session includes six other resort guests and is led by a local Maya shaman and animal communicator named Terry who explains everyone has an ability to tap into his or her intuitive or “psychic” abilities, but some of us are just better at it than others. Terry leads us through a series of exercises to help us access our intuition.
With Terry’s guidance, I’m surprised to find I can hear my internal voice clearly at times, and confidently deliver a tarot card reading to another guest. It’s an emotional two hours for many of us as we tap into our intuition and stumble across insights too specific to be coincidences. As I leave the session, I feel weirdly bonded to these strangers who I’ve only known for a couple of hours.
As I head back to the Phoenix airport, I try to make sense of my experiences. Did I feel the energy of the desert? Is what I felt the same feeling that everyone else is talking about? Truthfully, I’m not sure. But, I do know I consistently felt a sense of peace and lightness that doesn’t come easily to me. And maybe that’s the point. I have focused on my own wellness and indulged in self-care and, as a result, I leave feeling as though my energy is lighter and I’m more in tune with myself—I’m sure the prickly pear margaritas didn’t hurt, either.