An intimate desert oasis with an innovative, evidence-based approach to wellbeing and cuisine by acclaimed Nobu, sure sounded good to me. In point of fact, I’ve enjoyed relaxing stays at numerous healing havens only to resume my stressful city life upon my return. Ever hopeful of finding a lasting panacea, I journey on.
Sensei Porcupine Creek Wellness Retreat opened November 2022 on billionaire tech magnate Larry Ellison’s posh Rancho Mirage, California estate. This is the brand’s first standalone property. The Flagship Sensei, a Four Seasons Resort, debuted 2019 on the private Hawaiian island of Lanai. Located on 230 lush, manicured acres with swaying palms, desert marigolds and bougainvillea in the secluded foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains, with Keith Haring and Robert Indiana sculptures – the setting is stunning. Waterfalls with gently rippling sounds, ponds with ducks and birdsong enhance the serene ambiance.
Sensei is the brainchild of Ellison and world leading doctor and pioneering biomedical researcher Dr. David Agus. The ‘Sensei Way’ offers an ultra-personalized science based approach to wellness formulated around three tenets: Move, Nourish and Rest. Their team of highly skilled experts including top mindfulness specialists, performance coaches, nutritionists, exercise physiologists, massage therapists and yoga masters – guide guests on how to translate the data driven philosophy into action in concrete ways you can take home and apply to your daily life. It’s an intriguing synthesis of science and luxury.
Pre Arrival: Guests can choose from a menu of wellness packages ranging from a 3, 5 to an extended 30 day sabbatical and tailor their visit to the degree of structure or flexibility they prefer. Everything is fluid; you can easily change anything during your stay, and I did. During my pre- arrival call, I discussed my objectives and the facilitators offered suggestions from an array of carefully curated experiences to create my customized itinerary. In addition to 1 on 1 consultations guests also have access to an array of complimentary classes and activities such as guided walks, hikes, yoga, sunset meditation and more. The retreat houses Yoga and Fitness Pavilions, a lagoon-style swimming pool and spa garden treatment rooms.
At The Retreat: Upon arrival I met with Brooke, my main retreat guide who did a baseline test for body mass index and resting energy to share with my team. Then we reviewed my goals and my intention, which was ‘ to better handle stress and lead a more balanced life.’ She spoke about the 3 principles of the Sensei Philosophy, pointing out that you can Nourish your soul, Rest your mind and be Moved by food. This opened my eyes to thinking about things in new ways.
The Journey: Although I’ve been practicing meditation for years, a powerful insight I had during a ‘meditating with awareness’ class led by Alex Lugani, a mindfullness specialist, prompted me to schedule a 1 on 1 Mindset Session with him. This master practitioner guided me on the path of conscious awareness toward being fully present in the moment without automatic thinking. Using this concept, I began to shift habitual patterns and started feeling a ‘new’ more harmonious mind/body connection.
Next up: A class with Yogi Master Per Erez where I learned body alignment that significantly strengthened my practice. Quite surprising as I have been doing yoga for years and no one pointed this out. This impressive Sensei guide also led an excellent session in techniques for mindfulness meditation, which is highly effective for reducing stress and enhancing both physical and emotional wellbeing.
I scheduled a 1 on 1 Fitness Session, as one of my goals was to have the same commitment to my exercise routine as I had pre-pandemic when I went to the gym on a regular basis. Nick Russo, exercise science and sports performance guide as well as a physical therapist, thoroughly addressed all of my concerns and assessed my issues and problem areas. Then he created a comprehensive plan with specific exercises for strength and mobility I can do at home, at the gym, while traveling or anywhere. The note he included on the detailed and easy to follow instructions for my regimen said, ‘Remember, ‘Movement’ isn’t just good for you physically, but mentally and emotionally as well!’
Everyone needs pampering and Sensei’s cosseting spa treatments, which are included in the program, deliver divine ‘Rest‘ – one of the cornerstones of the Sensei experience. You can indulge with a Gua Sha uplifing facial, get blissed-out with a desert herb poultice and oil massage, rejuvenate with reflexology or relax into the calming body cocoon that combines breath work and shea butter. The Thermal Body Mapping and Massage with skilled therapist Resaleen was my favorite. Using Sensei developed thermographic technology to create a visual map of my body that showed muscle tightness, inflammation and pain, she was able to specifically target and release my long held areas of tension.
There’s no shortage of places in this wellness sanctum to unwind, take in the beauty and commune with nature. Meander about the scenic walking path, laze in the hot tub, chill out poolside on a cushy lounger or snuggle up at the fire pit under the starry desert night sky. I relished them all.
Sensei Porcupine Creek is also home to premier golf and tennis facilities with its world-class 18-hole golf course and three tennis courts. Guests can work with a top Golf and Tennis Pro as part of their program to improve their game and achieve personal goals or, as I did – just have fun and reserve time on the courts.
I can’t think of a better way to ‘Nourish,’ – a core element of the philosophy here – than Sensei by Nobu, a High Temple of Gastronomy. The collaboration between rockstar chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Dr. Agus is a perfect marriage of nutritional balance and joyous dining. It was one of my favorite activities. You can savor Sensei by Nobu for breakfast, lunch and dinner served in the main dining room, the adjacent sushi bar or your room. With a menu of such tantalizing dishes, it was always hard to choose. And the quality of the fish, sushi and sashimi is unrivaled.
Whether delighting my palate with Nobu’s beloved classics such as tuna tataki, black cod miso, yellowtail jalapeno, ceviche and rock shrimp tempura with butter ponzu or savoring crab with inaniwa noodles, Jidori chicken, ribeye with truffle butter, prime tenderloin, a lobster roll or the silky, smooth tastiest salmon new style – everything was sublime. Breakfast delectables included avocado toast with za’atar spice, scrambled white egg, thyme and lemon zest, organic egg steamed with dashi, topped with crispy shiitake mushrooms, crème fraiche and caviar and waffles with wasabi- infused maple syrup. Just thinking about the scrumptious cuisine, ‘Moves’ my spirit!
The Rooms: As to ‘Rest’, one of the main tenets here, the retreat offers guests their own personal sanctuaries during their stay. The 22 plush accommodations include elegant Estate House rooms, spacious stand alone Casitas with private outdoor heated spas and two to four bedroom freestanding luxury Villas with full kitchens. Done in light woods with stylish contemporary décor in soothing neutral tones of white, cream, beige and tan, they are bright and airy with soaring ceilings, walk in closets and impossibly comfortable beds with the softest linens that transport you to dreamland. My villa, a heavenly haven, had floor to ceiling sliding glass doors that perfectly invited the outdoors in and flooded the space with light as well as a patio offering sweeping landscape vistas. Generous bathrooms include Toto washlets, rainfall showers and teak Ofuro tubs that call out for relaxing soaks.
The retreat provided a Guide to Growth with takeaways from my sessions consisting of ‘Reflections, Intentions Moving Forward and Actionables’ written by my various guides – that I could take home. I came here seeking a more harmonious, less stressful life and learned techniques to attain this. Now I have both great tools and insightful knowledge so I can continue the journey.
I can’t say enough about the amazing staff, from the the on-site facilitators eager to help with anything at any hour from itinerary changes to room requests, the folks at Nobu who were delighted I enjoyed each dish, to the pool attendants making sure I had every comfort. What really struck me was how dedicated all of the guides were to help me achieve my goals. I always felt supported and that each specialist was really happy to share their knowledge with me; was rooting for me and really cared. This is so important in a healing environment. Sensei Porcupine Creek is truly a Wellness Retreat Like No Other!
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