Chasing, and finding, your bliss at Civana Wellness Resort & Spa

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CAREFREE, AZ. — It was just over 48 hours when the literal and figurative of this blissfully named place converged on me. Being in Carefree, a short drive north of Scottsdale, is straightforward. Being carefree, that’s another matter and one that took a couple of days after we’d arrived at the Civana Wellness Resort & Spa, bordered by the edge of town and the edge of the Sonoran Desert. But boy was it worth it.

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This was our first real holiday, in the truest sense of the word, for over two years, and like many Canadians heading for some sun and serenity after an uncertain and unsettling 26 months, we’d decided to dip our toes into the wonderful world of travel rather than do the full cannonball. Think of it as meditation over mosh pit. We’d been to the Valley of the Sun before, so knew full well that the amazing outdoor recreation activities combined with great restaurants, easy going people and a direct flight from Vancouver were just what the post-pandemic doctor ordered.

The yoga lawn with the Frank Lloyd-Wright inspired spa building in the background.  Wildlife abounds in the area, including bobcats, rabbits, hawks and hummingbirds.  CREDIT: Civana Wellness Resort & Spa
The yoga lawn with the Frank Lloyd-Wright inspired spa building in the background. Wildlife abounds in the area, including bobcats, rabbits, hawks and hummingbirds. CREDIT: Civana Wellness Resort & Spa Photo by Civana Wellness Resort & Spa

But the prescription I encountered at Civana was something I’d never experienced before. And that was a true state of calm, relaxation and yes, carefree existence. We first arrived at the tranquil property around midday following a morning horseback ride, and after finding our room available for early check-in — a wee bit of Nirvana all on its own — we dropped our bags, changed into stretchy clothes, and headed to the yoga center for a myofascial release class. Promising to “release toxins and restore elasticity to connective tissues from head to toe through foam rolling and trigger point therapy,” the 45-minute class delivered, so much so that my wife bought for home use a box of three different sized balls used during the class. The spa boutique clerk said it was one of her best-selling items.

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Then it was a couple of hours poolside, made more peaceful since there was no booming music nor splashes and squeals from water-winged children (the minimum age for guests is 14). Just after 5 pm it was back to the yoga center for a blissful sleep meditation, “the aspiration of which is total surrender from the inside and out.” A fell into a light sleep just over the midway mark of the 45-minute class and when awakened by a soft gong she felt surprisingly refreshed. A dinner at the resort’s Terras restaurant added much-needed restoration, and the outdoor terrace seating was the ideal place to end our first day at Civana.

I should say here that apart from doing a weekly stretch class, and the occasional dalliance with a mindfulness app, I am not a new age sort. My only journeys into the mystic come thanks to Van Morrison. But as I went to bed, our balcony door opened to let in the cool Sonoran Desert night air, I was feeling a sort of calm I hadn’t experienced in a long, long time (ever?). My mind wasn’t racing at varying speeds as it typically does.

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The next day was a full one, beginning with an intense outdoor spin class for my wife and a sunrise flow yoga class for me at the resort’s beautiful yoga lawn. Far from being an intimidating exercise, as a previous yoga experience had been, this one was inclusive to all levels with no sense of pressure to strike that perfect pose. The setting was amazing, with hummingbirds, hawks and desert animals watching these strange humans doing odd things with themselves. After lunch it was over to the beautiful spa building, its design heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd-Wright, for an aqua therapy circuit followed by a massage. Rubbery was the best description of how I felt after that as I sat in the steam room, and it took all my effort to make it outside to the spa lap pool for a quick swim, more a float really, then a flop down on a deckchair. With the hot sun drying the water on my skin I felt more relaxed and at peace than the night before. But even more tranquility was to come. We skipped the daily gratitude circle in favor of an earlier dinner, this one timed to sit in the sunset on Terras outdoor patio.

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The next day saw more yoga and spin classes, and for the first time since our arrival we headed off-property for a 20-minute van ride followed by a two-and-a-half hour guided hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Like all the classes offered at Civana, hikes and bike rides are part of a daily menu that guests can select their activities from. All are at no cost for resort guests, except for the off-property hikes — which are typically just $15 per person to cover transportation and guide costs — and a $35 mixology course. The classes fill up fast so book them well in advance of arrival — the resort has a well-designed online calendar booking system — and as we found out the most popular ones fill up fast.

Civana's daily menu of activities — the vast majority at no extra cost to guests — provides a wide range of physical and spiritual experiences.  CREDIT: Andrew McCredie
Civana’s daily menu of activities — the vast majority at no extra cost to guests — provides a wide range of physical and spiritual experiences. CREDIT: Andrew McCredie Photo by Andrew McCredie

Settling in for our last dinner at Terras — I’d held off on the Faroe Island Salmon the first two nights to cap off our last night with a treat — we toasted what had been a remarkably relaxing and refreshing three-day stay. As if on cue a massive streak flew overhead and alighted in the fronds of a palm tree five meters away. Looking down on us was a massive Great Horned Owl, who our server told us has nests on the Civana property. Locking eyes with the awe-inspiring bird, an amazing, inexplicable sense of peace overwhelmed me. I was carefree in Carefree.

How long did that last? About up until the time we landed at Vancouver and discovered Air Canada had lost — or in their vernacular ‘delayed’ — our luggage.

Oh well. Better to have Zen’d and lost than to have never Zen’d at all.

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