Concha Garcia Allen MA, LMT, curandera, ceremonial leader, and Aztec dance leader. Photo courtesy of Sunrise Springs Resort
Native American spiritual guide, Concha Garcia Allen leads a sweat lodge ceremony twice weekly for the guests of Sunrise Springs Resort in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is through the closeness of our relationship with the Earth, she believes, that we are better able to tap into our inner wisdom. When we are in harmony with nature, we can unlock the answers to our problems and better interpret and fulfill our dreams.
Concha reminds us before the ceremony that our close relationship with nature has been broken. It is her desire to help us better understand our place within this world and our interdependence with all that is nature. Through a guided journey we explore the four directions of the medicine wheel.
A Native American medicine wheel is the physical center of Sunrise Springs Resort. The wheel represents the four physical directions North, South, East, and West. It is also in alignment with the calendar and represents the four seasons. Each quadrant is also used to reframe the four phases of life from birth, adolescence, parenthood, and ultimately, death. The circle represents the never ending cycle of life with no beginning and no end. Each quadrant can represent the four elements as well Air (mental), Fire (spiritual), Water (Emotional), and Earth (physical). Animals totems are also assigned to stages of the wheel of life.
Concha makes a smoke offering to the four directions as well as the universe above us and below us. Chanted prayers and requests for the spirits of this world and all of our present and past relations are brought to mind. She brings an emotional power to the ceremony.
Tobacco is burned as an offering
Participants are dressed comfortably. Some in spa robes, some in bathing suits, and some in traditional Native American attire. We will enter this journey together, and we are reminded of the interdependence on one another for a successful spiritual experience. Our guide functions not only in a shaman, or curanadera, role, but she is also in the experience with us. Concha is joined by two of her nephews who assist in the ceremony. We are each smudged while chanted prayers are shared. A ceremonial flute and conch shell are also played.
Outside of the traditional stone and timber sweat lodge we are given a description of the physical and mental aspects of this journey. We are told that it is a place of rebirth. Like the womb of a mother, it will be dark, cramped and hot. Birth is where we begin the journey. In the hot lodge, we move through the four cycles of life in fifteen minute intervals. Guests are offered the traditional Native American “Gatorade”, an icy salted water with lemon. We are instructed on ways to endure the heat. We are also instructed on what type of conversations and prayers will be offered once inside the sweat lodge.
Heated stones on a stove are basted with water, as in a sauna. Once Concha has said her prayers and opened the conversation, we are instructed to pass a talking stick and share, if we like, how this particular quadrant of the wheel or phase of our life is affecting us. We speak only when we are handed the stick and at the close of our shared thought, we offer up the words “All my relations.”
We on our own individual spiritual journeys, from various religious and non-religious backgrounds. What brings us closer together to our relationship with the earth and its living beings is an understanding that we are all in this cycle of life together. It is through this dark, hot journey that we gain insight to what is blocking us from our personal growth. By reframing our aspirations or problems in alignment with the four elements of air, water, earth and fire, and where we are within our life’s journey, we hope to better understand that we have the answers to all of life’s questions if we can just slow down long enough to think of them. From a practicing Buddhist’s perspective, I am amazed at the similarities between the Native American traditions and the Tibetan.
Emerging from the first session, we spent time sharing childhood experiences and reflect on that ability to naturally use our imagination without the typical constraints we place on those mental aspects as adults. It was hot. I mean really hot! Some of the guests took the opportunity to plunge into the cool natural spring between sessions. These four sessions have us emotionally travel through the various stages in life and to the point to how we understand our place in nature at this very moment.
Guests can share as much or as little as they like. We keep our water handy. We also know that if we can just endure one more phase of this circuit, a cool plunge awaits us. There is no shame if one needs to step out early.
We left this experience feeling much more connected to the Earth, our current phase of life, and better understanding the connection to all people physically and mentally.
This is not a treatment for the faint of heart. It will test the physical and mental strength of even fit people. If you have questions about your ability to endure this experience, there are many other helpful services available at the resort, including counselors, a physician specializing in wellness, and much more.
If you have any chronic medical conditions, please consult with your medical provider before attending the Sweat Lodge ceremony.
Be sure to drink plenty of water during the day of the ceremony. It is recommended to have at least 6 glasses of water prior to the event.
The lodge is an enclosed circular space and the number of participants may vary. If you have a tendency to anxiety in small, dark spaces, you can be seated near the door.
I look forward to big music festivals every summer. Now that I am getting older, I find that VIP service is the only way for me to roll. I’m a little old for the mosh pit, but I still prefer to get in close for some great live performances. Several years ago, events like Lollapalloza integrated a VIP experience to the festival experience and now it seems to be standard at most large concerts and festivals. Many of the perks are obvious, premium seating and view, unlimited food and drinks, sometimes air-conditioned tents to escape the heat, deluxe air-conditioned bathrooms, and of course spa services.
My hesitation to use these services due to my germaphobic mentality is usually overridden by alcohol. In more sober moments I have thought about what is being offered, and I can say I feel pretty good about the cleanliness of most of these spa services. Here is what you want to look for…
It is helpful to have a beverage while you wait in line.
1) A giant vat of hand sanitizer. Usually services are provided backstage or in a tent, preferably in a more quiet area. Bathrooms and running water are not typically a feature of these mobile spas. Also, check that the therapist uses sanitizer on their hands between guests. If no care is taken to make the area appear as clean as possible, skip it, and move on to the beer garden.
2) Paper towels. Typically used in the face cradle of chair massage or massage table to provide additional cleanliness. Hauling in towels and sheets does not usually happen. Watch the therapist. If they sanitize and wipe down the massage chair and use new paper towels for the face cradle between every guest, that is a good sign.
3) Washable surface. It would be my preference to be on a wipeable mat vs. a sheet that has seen one too many festival goers.
4) Appointment times. Who wants to miss the show waiting an hour or two for a “free” 15 minute massage? Get on a list, or move on, unless the chair is empty and ready to roll. Set an alarm on your phone if you think you may forget.
5) Pick treatments times in the morning versus afternoon. Therapists usually work in shifts, so you want to catch one at the begining of the shift. Heat is usually a factor at these outdoor venues so cooler temperatures in the morning or late evening make for a better treatment experience. Hot, sweaty, sticky clothes in the afternoon are not optimal for a great experience.
I wish every festival massage was set up like this tent that was at Floyd Yoga Jam.
Use sunscreen daily and skip the massage if your skin is too damaged from the sun.
Don’t forget to tip! If you received a great service, show some love. Many times these folks are voluntold by their spa or massage school to work the event and they have to deal with some ungrateful and many overserved guests. I like to tip prior to the service. I find that I get a better, and usually longer, service rather than the tired therapist who phones it in. If this is a three-day festival and you are sleeping in a tent, these people are life savers. You may want to repeat treatments daily, so asking a good therapist when they will return is a smart idea. They may just rebook you on the spot.
If you are day drinking, don’t forget to include water in the mix. Try to alternate between adult beverages and water or other non-alcoholic caffeine-free beverages to stay hydrated.
Greenbrier Resort Women’s Wellness Weekend
I was thrilled to host a women’s wellness weekend at America’s Resort, the gorgeous and historic mineral springs resort, the Greenbrier. I cut my teeth as a spa enthusiast at this resort some two decades ago. Over time, my respect and admiration for a tradition of wellness dating back 236 years has continued to grow! While some may argue which spa is considered the beginning of destination spa travel in America, not many can argue that this resort not only was a part of the American spa tradition, but it basically invented many of the things we consider hospitality in this country.
Frank Walker Mosley, the honorary Greenbrier ambassador and longest serving employee.
The Greenbrier welcomes guests at check-in with a choice of Ice tea, lemonade, or Champagne.
Having been greeted by Mr. Frank Mosley so many times, his hospitality never gets old. Working at the resort for the past 58 years, he is 86 years young and the personification of West Virginia warmth and hospitality. Entering the lobby, the explosion of color matches the summer blooms outside. At check in I was greeted exactly the same way I have been so many visits before–iced tea, lemonade, or champagne.
This weekend was remarkably different from many past visits. This time I have a mission and a schedule. While some may eschew the idea of a scheduled vacation, perhaps they have never taken a wellness vacation. It is a beautiful combination when you can take a break from everyday life to learn new ways of living better. Since this resort has such a storied past of health care, hospitality, and wellness, I was excited to deepen my knowledge of living well thoughtfully presented by the Greenbrier.
Having been through many wellness programs over the decades, I’m a huge fan of spa vacationing. This resort has a unique twist from most destination spa resorts. Since the Greenbrier has had a serious concierge executive medical program since 1948, this wellness program has a medically-based foundation. I will be combining evidence-based medical services with state-of-the-art diagnostics, and weaving in my choices of subspecialty providers, seriously luxurious spa treatments, and an endless list of fitness activities and world-class cuisine. Oh yeah, did I mention that Greenbrier tennis pro emeritus Pete Sampras will be playing Andy Roddick Saturday night while I’m here? The amount of activities and services available at this resort is mind-boggling, so I am happy to keep their expertly prepared, individual schedule to glean as much goodness from one weekend as possible. It’s also fun to share this experience with a group of like-minded ladies with the same goals.
Dr. Michael Kluska, Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon
After checking in at the Greenbrier Clinic and receiving my printed schedule, I begin my day with a consultation with Dr. Michael S. Kluska. My first appointment has me both nervous and excited. I scheduled a specialist visit with Dr. Kluska, a world-renowned plastic surgeon with a passion for skin care. I had been considering getting my first Botox injection for years. I finally decided it was time, and took the opportunity to do it with an extremely well-trained board-certified plastic surgeon…(see results here). The Greenbrier Clinic offers a multi-specialty approach to treating the whole patient within a single resort visit. Patients can schedule in-depth visits with many specialties including internal medicine, cardiology, gastroenterology, orthopedics, nutrition, as well as a multitude of other diagnostic and preventive health treatments and procedures. Nearly every specialty is housed within the clinic wing attached to the resort. The convenience of walking over to appointments all within the resort is amazing. It is entirely possible to see an internist, a cardiologist, get a colonoscopy, have a radiologist review images including imaging from their own CT- scanner and mammography, or even have surgery over a weekend. Thankfully, I am in good health and my wellness visits on this weekend include time with my internal medicine doctor, a nutritionist, some blood work, and a plasitic surgeon. I could not help but think about how easy it would be to bring my husband here for a year’s worth of medical visits and testing, and have him not miss a single day of work, which is always his excuse for not taking better care of himself. I will be bringing him back another time!
The Greenbrier Clinic is located directly above the formerly top secret government bunker!
I also had some time to enjoy the resort on my own. I chose to have lunch courtside near the golf shop. This is a favorite tour stop for PGA players and fans of the the PGA tour. I also had time for a little retail therapy in the pro shop. Who am I kidding…I was stalking Lee Trevino. I just missed him by five minutes! Jack Nicklaus was also in town this weekend as they are designing a new golf course….(more on celebrity stalking later :))And, knowing I would be seeing the pro emeritus Pete Sampras play Andy Roddick Saturday night, I was very tuned in to people-watching at the tennis courts during my lunch. Guests can schedule private golf and tennis lessons with tour professionals.
During my clinic phone consultation prior to my visit, I scheduled my doctor’s appointments as well as one of my favorite spa treatments at the Greenbrier. It is really hard to pick just one, so I usually don’t, but I have new doors to open this weekend, including a vault door in the bunker, and I need to experience some other aspects of this massive 40,000 acre property. If you have never been, the Greenbrier signature treatment, featuring a Scotch spray, is a bucket list spa item for any true spa junkie. I also strongly recommend having a facial at the Greenbrier. The staffing in the spa is second to none. Many of the therapists and estheticians have been here over twenty years! Some have even worked here for 30. Talk about expertise–you would be hard-pressed to find a more tenured staff in the entire country.
Enjoying some quiet time in the relaxation room before my spa treatment
Friday evening is here and it is time to meet my newest friends and fellow participants for an anti-aging reception. Staff from the Clinic, medical vendors, and participants gather to meet and share excitement for the weekend. Many ladies were traveling with their husbands, but broke away to have a little lady time and kick off the program. Two of my friends and blog followers took me up on the opportunity to revisit wellness for the weekend and we had dinner at Forum after our reception. We could also not help ourselves…we had healthy dinners on our own, but the lure of the casino was too strong for us to pass up. Dancing counts as cardio, right?
Healthy choices were passed so that guests could get to know participates and staff, including the physicians.
Fast friends. I enjoyed chatting with Clinic staff Beheatherlyn Kirby and Connie Gottshall. It was informative to have a cocktail with a Registered Dietitian.
Dinner at The Forum, an Italian resturant within the Greenbrier.
Saturday morning we were greeted with a beautiful and healthy buffet in the Clinic conference room. We were instructed to fast after 10pm Friday night. Prior to breakfast, we had our blood drawn and tested. Individually, our test results are reviewed with us during our complete medical history and physical with our internist. We each had hour-long appointments with our doctors to go over our medical history and come up with a treatment plan for the next twelve months. My internist was Dr. Kelly Redden. I was impressed with her thorough exam. A few things really stood out as different for me during this exam. First, I was meeting with an actual doctor and not a mid-level provider at the exact time of my appointment! Second, remember what it was like when you would get an exam, then meet with the doctor in their office afterwards, once you are dressed, to get the results? I vaguely do. Another eye opener was the ability of the Greenbrier Clinic to pull up all of my current medications from two different pharmacies. The accuracy of my prescriptions were not left to my sometimes short attention span. I actually brought mine in a ziplock bag, but they were able to retrieve all of my prescription data, even for a bottle of medicated shampoo I had filled and forgotten about. And finally, I was given a spa robe for medical appointment and assigned a locker. No giant paper napkin patient gowns here! It made me feel more human. I love this level of detail.
My blood was drawn first thing Saturday morning. It was quick and pain free.
I can enjoy the healthy Clinic breakfast once I have my blood drawn.
My Nurse takes my medical history and vitals prior to seeing Dr. Redden.
We enjoyed more fellowship while some awaited physician appointments, others, time at the spa or activities on property. Our schedules were set up with blocks of open time as well as scheduled group activities. We could use our open blocks for discovering any activities at the Greenbrier, or just spending some quiet downtime. It is up to the patient to decide.
Personal Training at the Greenbrier Spa
Mid-morning, just outside the spa, the wellness ladies took a private fitness class designed specifically for us by a personal trainer. It was a different workout than what I generally do, but I love trying new activities, so I really enjoyed it and enjoyed being out in the beautiful weather and gardens of the resort.
Greenbrier Green smoothie shots at our cooking class in the bunker.
Wellness lunch, we learned to prepare these dishes, then we ate them.
At lunchtime, we convened in the bunker kitchen for a wellness cooking class. Here, we learned about a variety of superfoods, cooking techniques, and portions to enhance our healthy, active lifestyle. I am always inspired by eating really great, well-prepared whole foods, and the Greenbrier has been a culinary leader in the hospitality industry since the resort opened.
After lunch, we returned to our personal blocks. I went for my signature spa treatment, others saw various physicians and received personalized care or had activities scheduled. At 3:30, I went over my lab results from the morning with Dr. Redden and had my in-depth medical history and physical.
Dr. Redden reviews my lab test and makes a treatment plan for me for the next twelve months.
Saturday night, I watched the tennis match between Andy Roddick and Greenbrier Pro Emeritus Pete Sampras. I was able to catch Pete for an autograph !
Sunday morning, we started the day with a wellness walk and meditation. It was beautiful to walk through the gardens, grounds, and golf course with our personal trainer. I took the opportunity to snap lots of pictures on this scenic stride. Joanna, another participant and I took this selfie with Andy Roddick having coffee in the background on our way to meet up with our trainer. You really never know who you will bump into around here. Once we met up with Josh, we walked at a brisk enough pace to burn calories and get the heart rate up, but we also made time to stop and smell the flowers. Josh Beverage, our trainer, made sure to point out interesting facts about the grounds and various events and activities available on the property. On completion, a couple of us did have breakfast together in the main dining room. I am a huge fan of room service at the resort, and generally opt for breakfast in bed, so it was nice to see the gorgeous main dining room in the daylight. We decided to stick to our healthy eating plan and ordered a spa breakfast from the menu instead of the decadent Sunday brunch. I was able to keep my convictions due to my wellness walk.
Greenbrier Wellness Walk
We shared the famous Greenbrier peaches.
I could not resist the celebrity selfie! We saw Andy Roddick having coffee on our way to our walk.
Our final group activity was a meeting with Connie Gottshall in the clinic. She is the nutritionist for the Greenbrier Clinic. She reinforced the information we received at our cooking class, and gave us helpful strategies to make better food choices. She actually had sample meal plans to follow as a guide and definitely inspired us all to take a closer look at food labels, not just for ingredients, and hidden sugars, but also portions. I think her talk just reinforced to me why I prefer to eat whole foods rather than prepared foods. I was definitely more motivated to cook at home more often after this class, and with the skills Iearned in the cooking class, I had everything I needed to prepare better food choices back home.
Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Connie Gottshall shows us how much sugar is in one can of Coke.
If I could stress anything to you about this wellness weekend, it would be that it was still a vacation. I just learned to live better, armed with new knowledge and motivation to continue to make these educated decisions about food choices, what my body needs. Dr. Redden suggested I add vitamin B-12 daily, Calcium 1200 mg daily, and vitamin D3 1000 mg. She also prescribed exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. In six months she will recheck my HDL cholesterol. This won’t be a problem for me, as I live 90 minutes away, and plan on visiting every three months to get my Botox injections. How cool is it that the doctor would come and give me my Botox injections in my room, if that is what I want? This is what concierge medicine is all about–old-fashioned service, like a housecall to my suite! I have an iPhone app to refill my prescriptions, and they will work with my local physician if needed for additional issues as they arise.
Private medical suites are available with competitive pricing. If you are planning medical testing or procedures, let the Clinic staff help you book your room. Medical suites have two refrigerators for ice packs and medical supplies. Ample space is available for your family to stay with you. The doctors make rounds in the hotel. Recovering from surgery here is best-in-class.
The Clinic executive medical program caters to people that keep tight schedules and they respect your privacy and time.
Book your spa appointments in advance to insure the optimum therapist and treatment time for your schedule. Add on a 25 -minute mineral soak to any spa service you book. It is a must!
Fitness classes are always new and exciting. Try a new class before your spa appointment. Guided meditation is available most mornings in the spa. Keep your eyes peeled in the gym, lots of celebrities visit and have homes in the area.
Get outside! The grounds at this resort are magnificent. Your normal walk, run, or bike ride will be inspiring. Comfortable walking shoes will take you far at this property.
Try a new sport. Equipment and staffing is always top notch. Falconry or whitewater rafting, anybody?
Book a tour at the beginning of your stay. Historical tours provide a wealth of information about the resort as well as American history.
EAT! This resort has a culinary apprentice program that takes classically-trained chefs three years to complete, much like a masters program. There is a specific farm-to-table restaurant, but much of the food is grown right on property and always has been.
If you are going to have a cheat day, this is the place to do it. They employ one person who just makes housemade ice cream for eight hours a day, every day. This is a serious foodie paradise. Check calendars for specialty chef’s tables and memorable holiday meals.
This resort is dieter-friendly, with spa menu choices on most dining menus. Staff are happy to cater to your special food preferences. Mom can have an egg white omelet while the kids get treated to chocolate chip pancakes, so everybody is happy.
The Greenbrier is set in the gorgeous mountains of West Virginia. It is easily accessible by half of the country for a family road trip. Air and train service will also take you door-to-door from New York City or Washington D.C.
One visit will not be enough to see and do everything–plan ahead to make the most of your vacation.