Original, distinctively unique, and highly regarded, Aji Spa in Chandler, Arizona, part of the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort, offers the only authentic Native American spa menu in existence.
Aji, meaning ‘sanctuary’ in the Pima language, is named after a mountain range on the Gila River Indian Community where women and children used to seek safe haven during times of war. Nowadays people visit the haven of Aji for a different reason—to take advantage of healing journeys for the mind, body, and spirit, all part of an Indigenous Collection developed by Pima and Maricopa Tribal cultural caretakers.
“We’re already in an elite class as a Forbes 4-Star spa and we’re close to obtaining 5-Star accreditation,” says Spa Director Shane Bird. “We scored high in multiple audits for five-star ranking last year and are anticipating being officially awarded that accolade this fall. This would be another distinct honor for this property —the first 5-star spa in the state of Arizona, the first Native American spa to win that ranking, and because there are only a few 5-star spas in the world, we’d be listed among the Top Twenty.”
While a plethora of pampering can be found in any of the 17 treatment rooms at the 17,500-square-foot spa, the signature offering is a Blue Coyote Wrap, listed under the category of Day Spa Packages which are designed to provide “serenity, tranquility, simplicity, freedom, and authenticity.”
In addition to a cordial welcome greeting, the first thing visitors notice entering the spa is the décor of natural desert colors and artwork expressing tribal legends. Pottery, sculptures and weavings are placed throughout the facility. Native flute music plays softly and pleasantly in the background. The thoughtful touch of what soon becomes a growing list of positive memories is a robe so soft and comfortable it becomes a second skin, one in which you begin to relax in a coed waiting room until your massage therapist calls your name and the real fun begins.
Standing a very imposing 6'8" inches tall and weighing a whopping 300+ pounds, former college-football-lineman-turned-massage-therapist Michael Gazda’s massive hands are gentle and soothing as he begins the Blue Coyote Wrap by exfoliating the skin. Then to both nourish and heal by releasing tension and toxins while the client reclines in an aromatherapy steam capsule, the body is lightly coated with an application of proprietary sky-blue Azulene mud made from clay taken from the Gila River banks. A warm cloth is placed over the eyes. And as pores slowly warm to absorb the mud pack being activated by the comfortably-warm steam, clients receive a soothing scalp massage.
After a private shower to rinse off the mud, hydrating cedar-sage oil made from native ingredients is applied and a heated massage table comes into play. Laying 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 giving off a hint of the fragrance of the desert following a spring rain, a full body massage begins, from the top of the head to the bottoms of the feet, accompanied by such amenities as warm towels wrapping your feet and draped over your back.
The Blue Coyote Wrap, from an herbal creosote/willow bark start to a gourd rattle blessing at the end, is just one of many offerings. Another one-of-a-kind treatment is a healing journey (thoachta) involving mind, body, and spirit 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…I help them understand how to get realigned,” she says.
Although all the treatment offerings 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 concluding 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 without any signature products in its gift shop. That omission has been rectified now with a line of products 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 creosote, an earthy fragrant bush that gives up hints of lavender, traditionally used in healing balms and herbal teas. Other reservation-raised herbs 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-some-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.
There are specific treatment rooms dedicated to hydrotherapy, Vichy treatments, and companion massages. A full service salon, a fitness center, private hot tubs and saunas in both men’s and women’s locker rooms, and a pool exclusively reserved for Watsu treatments are also included.
Further information about Aji Spa can be found on their webpage. For spa reservations, call (602) 385 5759.