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The highly regarded (and rated) Aji Spa at Arizona’s Sheraton Wild Horse Pass offers perhaps the most authentic American Indian spa menu on earth—and a massage one guest will never forget.
Aji—”sanctuary” in the Pima language—is named after a mountain range on the Gila River Indian Community, which women and children used as a haven during times of war. Nowadays people visit the haven of Aji for a different reason—to take healing journeys for the mind, body and spirit.
The first thing visitors notice entering the spa is the decor of natural desert colors and artwork depicting tribal legends. Pottery, sculptures and weavings are placed throughout the facility, and Native flute music plays softly in the background. The next nicety is a robe so soft and comfortable it becomes a second skin, one in which I began to fully relax in a coed waiting room until my massage therapist called my name, and the real fun began.
Standing a very imposing six feet eight inches tall and weighing more than 300 pounds, former college-football-lineman-turned-massage-therapist Michael Gazda had massive hands that were gentle and soothing as he began the Blue Coyote Wrap treatment by exfoliating my skin. Then, while I reclined in an aromatherapy steam capsule, my body was lightly coated with sky-blue Azulene mud made from clay taken from the Gila River banks. (A warm cloth was placed over my eyes, so here’s to no mud in your eye!) I was then given a soothing scalp massage as my skin slowly warmed to absorb the mud pack being activated by the comfortably warm steam.
After I took a shower to rinse off the mud, hydrating cedar-sage oil made from native ingredients were applied to my body and a heated massage table came into play. I was face down above leaves of the creosote bush (shegoi in the Native language and the first plant on Earth, according to Pima legend), picked fresh on the reservation daily and which gave off a hint of the fragrance of the desert following a spring rain. Then I was the grateful recipient of a full-body massage that was enhanced by such niceties as small warm towels wrapped around my feet and draped over my back.
Another one-of-a-kind treatment is a healing journey (thoachta) that combines traditional massage, polarity and ancient Pima healing doctrines. Conducted by Pima healer Belen Stoneman, a spirit communicator, the 110-minute session blends luxury with purpose as she visualizes spirits associated with her clients before concentrating on specific body areas she feels need healing. “Most people are out of balance,” she says. “I help them understand how to get realigned.”
Although all the treatments in the Indigenous Collection have their stalwart supporters, one of the other more popular programs is a Wild Mustang and Massage package that combines a 90-minute horseback ride through ancient tribal land, followed by a leisurely and healthy lunch at Aji Café, and concludes with a 50-minute combination Swedish and therapeutic massage.
Aji Spa opened its doors nearly a decade ago to offer a variety of traditional services, but initially had no signature products in its gift shop. That omission has been rectified with a line developed by the Gila River Indian Community, brand named Indigenous. Soaps and lotions now allow clients to take home reservation-grown herbs and a bit of that earthy fragrant creosote bush traditionally used in healing balms and herbal teas. Other reservation-raised plants include yucca, aloe, willow bark, desert mallow and lavender. Maintaining the historical and cultural sensitivity found throughout the resort property, only a few community members are authorized to pick the 100-odd pounds of creosote plant used each month, blessing each plant as part of the heritage that believes when you take something from the Earth, it should be honored in the process.
Further information about Aji Spa can be found at WildHorsePassResort.com. For reservations, call 602-385-5759.