Travel Tips

Mindfulness in Miraval: How to Find Restoration at a Desert Retreat

Locations in this article:  Tucson, AZ

400 Acres, Miraval, ArizonaCan a reporter ever relax?  Armen Keteyian, lead correspondent for 60 Minutes Sports, leaves behind the New York rush to attempt to relax at Miraval Resort & Spa, a luxury wellness resort that aims to put life in balance. Of course, he could only unwind for so long. He filed this report about what sets this Tucson resort apart.

By its very nature, Miraval is a sensory experience. Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range, about an hour outside Tucson, the 400-plus acre resort has built a glowing reputation as a body and mind retreat.

My wife and I first experienced Miraval five years ago, hot off a long three-day weekend in Vegas celebrating our youngest daughter’s 21st birthday. This time, I was coming off the most stressful reporting trip of my career—seven cities in 10 days—right before a five-day stay at the spa.

The operative word at Miraval is “mindfulness.” In one form or another, virtually every activity, class, treatment, or session is focused on creating a life in balance, an “awareness” of living in the here and now. Miraval is far more about restoration than recreation.

IMG_140227_11380653_1YU4QTo that end, the spa offers an almost endless array of options—385 in all—ranging from various kinds of yoga, Pilates, spinning, cardio, circuit blasts, arts, photography, and rock climbing to name a few. In recent years, however, the spa has distinguished itself with its innovative approach to health and wellness, creating unique experiences designed to cleanse your body and open your mind.

“We’re no longer chasing innovation,” Miraval CEO Mike Tompkins told me. “We’ve gone from following the pack to leading it.”

Some of the spa’s most popular and cutting-edge sessions and workshops come with names like Floating Meditation, the Shuniya Sound Ceremony, Pam Lancaster’s life-altering two hour treatment, Spirit Flight, and Wyatt Webb’s trademark, “It’s Not About The Horse.” One of my favorites turned out to be “The ABC’s of Emotional Intelligence” with Anne Parker, a wellness counselor and longtime therapist. The 90-minute class focused on defining and understanding our emotional intelligence, and how we can choose the best way to live by being aware and breathing through a moment or situation before taking action.

“Ninety percent of the answers at Miraval involve breathing,” said Parker. “It’s about putting your body in a neutral or more positive state.”

IMG_140227_11372586_NRJV1That same sort of message ran through my private, 50-minute “Mindful Living” session with Alysa; how self-examination and deep, proper breathing and meditation can help calm the roiling seas of life.

One of the joys of Miraval is you can experience as much—or as little—as you want. Dede and I mixed it up. A two-hour must-do early morning hike in the Sonoran Desert led to a Master Your Metabolism class then, often, to a hot stone massage, facial, or another treatment at the spa. Our last full day, I tried the new Shamana-Karma healing ritual. Amazing.

On the Mr. Grumpy side of things, finding a hard pillow turned out to be next to impossible (despite a request), and setting your daily schedule seems overwhelming at times, especially for first-timers. My advice: take full advantage of the program on, designed to custom-fit your needs.

IMG_140227_11373742_WG15LIt’s also helpful to know a few things upfront: The women-men ratio ran about 70-30 our week, which, I’m told, was normal. Alcohol is available, mainly between 4-10 p.m. The staff is warm and attentive. But, while the food is healthy and delicious, the main entrees are portion controlled (a buffet supplements breakfast and lunch). Cell phone use is discouraged and limited to designated areas. Limited programming is available for those under 18 (I wouldn’t bring a person under the age of 25). Serenity and self-awareness do not come cheap. (Resort credits are part of the package and can be applied toward fee-based offerings.)

Miraval New Life in Balance SpaA decade ago, former AOL co-founder Steve Case took over ownership of Miraval almost immediately after he and his wife Jean had what Case described as a “transformative” experience at the spa. Under his leadership, Miraval has recently won numerous “Reader’s Choice,” “Hot List,” and “Robb Report” awards for its services and innovation. Today, it’s safe to say, Miraval has bloomed into a desert oasis for those—including corporate executives and deep thinkers—who seek stress relief and rejuvenation; where quiet and serenity rule, and all roads lead to a life in balance.

A place where the journey to Mindfulness can be as powerful as it is peaceful.

Think someone you love would benefit from Miraval? You’re in luck. This month, Miraval launched “Miraval Gives Back,” a program designed to give the gift of wellness to individuals who may not otherwise have the opportunity to visit the resort. You can nominate a friend or loved one to win. A special committee at Miraval reviews the applications, chooses a winner each month, and creates a custom Miraval experience that will serve as a catalyst for life-altering change for the individual. To nominate an applicant, go to Miraval’s website and enter a loved one’s name and his/her personal story.

By Armen Keteyian for