One of the great ironies of running a travel company is that I am neither a great travel planner, nor vacationer. Most vacations for me simply involve a change of scenery, where I occasionally peer up over my electronic device to take in the vista. 

I truly envy people that have lots of active, non-vocational interests. I just happen to love what I do for a living. I thoroughly enjoy my job and as a result, I spend most of my waking time thinking about it, while simultaneously connected to an electronic device of some type. I am also very lucky to have the opportunity to travel with Exclusive Resorts; it is a nice privilege of the job, though I really don’t take advantage of it as much as I should. 

So, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving my colleague Erin, who helps me to organize my Exclusive Resorts trips, pinged me and said, “You have nothing on the books, you need a vacation.”  Hmm, was it that obvious? “You should take some time away at Thanksgiving.” Erin checked short term availability across our portfolio of over 400 homes and experiences in 75 destinations – and as luck would have it, we had openings over Thanksgiving in Cabo, Abaco, Kuai, and Miraval.

It’s certainly been a busy year and I did indeed need a break.  Miraval seemed like the perfect escape. One that could be a great reset, both mentally and physically. Perhaps even spiritually. 

Miraval is located north of Tucson in the Sonoran Desert and is set on 400 acres with spectacular vistas of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The ethos of Miraval is “Life in Balance” and every element of the resort and the incredible experiences they offer have been curated to help guests become present. A key theme of Miraval is to emphasize the importance, and power, of your thoughts and encourage you to approach everything with clear intention. Miraval is an inclusive destination resort and spa with a plethora of creative experiences, educational programs, spa treatments, wellness specialists, and healthy, nourishing cuisine. The idea is to help guests  become more mindful and build a greater sense of balance in life.

Preparing for a trip to Miraval can be a bit daunting, as there are literally hundreds of different experiences and programs to choose from. You can be as active (or passive) as you want and Miraval has dedicated “Exclusive Resorts Experience Planners” to help guide you through the various options that include everything from fitness and exercise classes to spiritual programs, to wellness counseling, to challenge courses, to culinary and creative experiences. The Tucson location is the original property and many of the specialists have been there for years and have their own loyal following. There is also a strong orientation to spiritual experiences, with programs to find and follow your life’s purpose through reflection, contemplation, and healing. You can learn everything from breathing techniques to meditation, and even take courses to help participants bounce back from stress and learn how to integrate daily practices to promote self-love, positivity, and resilience. There is an award-winning equine experience designed to unleash creativity and improve communication. There is a challenge course with a series of physical exercises to push you out of your comfort zone and address fear. There are creative experiences around art, crafts, and photography, and you can even paint a real horse as your canvas. If that’s all too much, then you can experience the vast array of spa treatments, lounge by the pool, or simply find a quiet spot to meditate in the desert.

To help navigate this vast array of choices and programs, the Experience Planners first ask about your intention and purpose for going to visit Miraval so they can recommend experiences and treatments suited to ones needs and goals. Intention, and the setting of intention, is a persistent theme throughout the Miraval experience and all team members have name badges that reflect their own intentions. There are also helpful reminders that can be found on cushions throughout the resort with words and terms to suggest and encourage reflection around intention. 

I went to task in putting together a robust itinerary for my stay and proudly shared it with my colleague Gina, who is somewhat of a Miraval aficionado. “You might be being a bit ambitious here”, she said tactfully and suggested I take a bit more downtime for rest, relaxation, and quiet contemplation. But as a typical CEO-type personality, I took no such heed and decided to maximize the trip by sampling as many of the programs and experiences that Miraval has to offer. I was all set.

Arriving on the Wednesday evening, we checked in with the dedicated Exclusive Resorts Concierge and were taken to one of our spectacular Exclusive Resorts villas, which are in a separate part of the resort, just a short walk from the main lobby. Exclusive has seven beautiful homes at Miraval in Tucson, they are all two- and three-bedroom villas, around 3,000 sq ft with incredible, unobstructed views of the Santa Catalina mountains. The contemporary design and décor reflect some of the themes of the desert by incorporating stone floors, wooden ceilings, and metalwork that give each home a very natural, grounded feel. Each home has a huge living space and outdoor deck with firepit. The master has a its own spa-pool, and each bedroom is designed in the Wabi-sabi style that promotes the concept of appreciating beauty that is imperfect, incomplete, and connected with nature as a more relaxing experience. The master bathroom also includes a large central soaking tub, steam shower, as well as refreshing outdoor Zen garden and shower. 

Eager to experience the veritable bounty of programs that Miraval has to offer, we started the first morning at 7:00am with a morning stretching class, followed by power cycling, then a break for a protein smoothie. Then, we were off to cardio-drumming, followed by ‘Shoulders-Set-Free’ a session to stretch and relax the shoulders, then a swim, which took us through to a late lunch. In the afternoon I tried the Path of the Jaguar, where the therapist – a Shamanic healer, uses chakra-clearing methods to expel negative energies into crystals. I consider myself fairly open-minded and pragmatic and I am not typically drawn to these types of experiences, but it was uncanny how some of the things the therapist identified turned out in the following weeks. Maybe just coincidence, but it has certainly inspired a new level of receptivity and curiosity. Several friends and colleagues have shared similar experiences at Miraval. 

The Spa at Miraval is 16,000 sq ft and with 23 indoor and outdoor treatment rooms. There is a private relaxation room with fireplace where you wait for your treatment or relax in between treatments with breathtaking views of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The treatments range from body renewal rituals, twenty or so different types of massages, a range of Ayuerveda, Energy and Eastern treatments as well as skincare and a hair and nail salon.

We ended the first day with the forgiveness meditation, with a mantra designed to let go of some of the negative thoughts, emotions, and experiences that we often carry from our past. 

The culinary experience is central to Miraval and all your food is included each day, with some excellent dishes designed to promote nutritional, healthy, and mindful eating. Each dish is not only beautifully prepared, but is served on small plates, which is a nice change of pace from the often-oversized proportions we tend to have in so many restaurants today. The menus include a list of ingredients so you can fully customize your own dish. The restaurant also takes the approach of “come as you are,” and people are dressed in everything from bathrobes, to sportswear, to athleisure. 

I began day two with similar gusto, which included a 2-hour desert hike with some friends who had specifically asked for a cardio hike, that turned out to be a fantastic workout. We followed this up with a balance class, then the labyrinth journey, which is a walking meditation around a labyrinth. We then moved onto a course held in the Yurt on Mindfulness, learning how to integrate mindfulness more effectively into daily experiences, by using rituals that help one really take a moment to pause, contemplate, and reflect. We also did a super session on breathing techniques, designed to help you breathe more deeply and effectively. My spa treatment for the day was the Naga massage, which uses the healing principals of Thai massage, and incorporate hanging silks that are used by the therapist to apply body weight, which take you deeper into stretches and is designed to restore healthy blood circulation, ease energy blockage, release tension, and improve flexibility. I followed this up in the afternoon with a session in the steam room and sauna and another gratitude meditation.

I spent some time with Jessica, our amazing Exclusive Resorts Concierge, planning another packed day of activities, which was set to start with another 7:00am hike, and after an early dinner, I was in bed by 8:00pm. I went out like a light and had a blissful sleep. The bedroom doors open, the cool breeze flowing in from the desert, and the tranquility disturbed only by an occasional rustle in the bushes, possibly one of the Havalinas that frequent the property.

I woke up on Saturday morning conscious of the light cascading through the bedroom window and saw the sun rising over the spectacular mountains. I reached over looked at the clock. It was 9:00am. I had been asleep for over 12 hours. I had clearly missed the 7:00am morning hike, I missed the 9:00am stretching class, and had already given up on the idea of the 10:00am Da Vinci Board class, which apparently involves lying on a board with various straps and resistance paraphernalia that sounds more like a medieval torture device. Perhaps just as well. This was my third day at Miraval, and I had clearly reached the point when I realized I had indeed been a bit overly ambitious with my agenda. So maybe “they” were right.

After a leisurely breakfast, I promptly cancelled all the other classes that I had scheduled for the day and headed to the pool with a book. And that’s where I proceeded to spend the rest of the day, until my afternoon Deep Desert massage followed by the Antioxidant facial, which I followed with a quiet dinner. So, I guess the Miraval aficionados were right after all, maybe you do need to slow down to get into the flow.

By the time Sunday morning rolled around I was thoroughly relaxed, and after a late breakfast, we headed out to the airport. It wasn’t until that moment, that I realized I had not opened my laptop once since Wednesday evening, which is completely out of character. It felt like time had literally stood still.

One of my colleagues has a saying that ‘time creates time’, what he means is that investing time to rest, regenerate and into renewal makes you more much more efficient and effective. It improves energy, well-being, physical and mental health. I certainly have a much deeper appreciation of this after the last few days.

Reflecting on my experience at Miraval there are a lot of meaningful takeaways; however,  it truly reaffirmed a few things for me. First, that taking time for a physical, mental, and even spiritual reset, can be transformative in terms of my energy levels, ability to focus, and is critical to my mental well-being. Second, it made me think about our company mantra that we developed for part of our brand refresh earlier this year –  “Life is too short for should haves.” I am clearly the type of traveler who often finds myself in the “should” zone. I should have spent more time with family; I should have played more, worked less. Taken more vacations. Not half-hearted trips, but meaningful journeys—ones that positively impact our lives, families, health, and longevity. As a result, I’ve made a conscious effort to move on from the “shoulds.”

My resolution for 2022 is to take more time to slow down and authentically connect with family, friends, and colleagues. To take interesting trips. Meaningful ones anchored in connection. Because as we continue to refine and evolve the Club, I’ve realized life really is too short for should-haves.

I am already thinking about planning another trip back to Miraval, but this time, I will certainly take it a bit easier and leave space for plenty of down time and quiet contemplation. My visit has also piqued my curiosity to try some more of the spiritual experiences, nutrition, and wellness programs, some of which are also by private appointment. They say that it takes a few visits to really get into the flow of Miraval, particularly with so many options and layers to choose from, but that with each trip, the experience gets richer. I know my body, mind and spirit will thank me.

For more information on Exclusive Resorts and our spectacular homes at Miraval, visit our website here.

For more information on Miraval Arizona, visit the website here.

Photographs by James Henderson.