Yäan: a shaman-inspired wellness resort

Our spa columnist embarks on an intense three-day spiritual and physical cleanse in the Yucatán. Will it prove as life-altering as promised?

The Energetic Limpia cleansing treatment
The Energetic Limpia cleansing treatment

Away from the touristy end of Tulum’s 7km beach, close to the Sian Ka’an nature reserve in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, sits a cool bastion of the gypset movement – Be Tulum. Designed and owned by Argentine Sebastian Sas, the 20-bedroom boutique hotel opened four years ago, but after a vision prompted by an encounter with a shaman, Sas recently decided to expand it with an energy spa and wellness centre, Yäan.

Here, fellow Tulum resident Dr Bobby Klein runs healing cleanses, spiritual enlightenment sessions and meditation classes. A former photographer who toured with The Doors, Klein is one of the pioneer practitioners of acupuncture in the US and an influential spiritual and I Ching teacher. He has brought in Inca healers, doctors, yoga teachers, massage therapists and personal trainers, and I’m ditching mescal and ceviche to partake in an intense physical and spiritual cleanse.

Day 1

1pm I leave Be Tulum, head across a dirt track to Yäan and walk past the slanted façade and woven-grass walls into the reception, where I’m met by a cloud of smoke from the copal (sacred tree resin) and palo santo (sacred wood essence) burning in an antique wrought-iron oven. I check in for my “intuitive life-path counselling” appointment with Klein and am offered some of the home brew made with herbs picked from the roof garden.

The entrance to Yäan Wellness Energy Spa
The entrance to Yäan Wellness Energy Spa

Lorena, Klein’s assistant and spa manager, walks me across smooth, hand-cut-stone floors and I peek into the wooden cabins set on stilts – gorgeous beacons of modern sustainable architecture dotted throughout the grounds. We pass the healing-waters circuit consisting of an indoor pool with a wall whose many niches are filled with flickering candles; steam and sauna rooms; and hot and cold plunge pools. “The natural cenote water has been purified through osmosis and an ultraviolet light system,” says Lorena. We glide past a domed, clay temazcal (a pre-Hispanic sauna) and through the garden towards Klein’s office. The yoga shala perched above it overlooks the jungle, which stretches as far as the eye can see.

1:30pm Klein looks every bit the healer in a white cotton shirt and flowing orange garb. White-bearded and well-rounded, he bear-hugs me, leaving me sticky with his sweat. His office is a cross between the African witch doctor’s I visited in Zimbabwe and the new-age healer’s I saw in Thailand – feathers, bones, crystals and books are piled everywhere. He stares sweetly yet intently at me. On the table between us sit a giant plastic brain with removable sections, a stone dolphin and a variety of spiritual gewgaws. “I am not a shaman,” he explains. “I am merely a portal. For 45 years I have been channelling spiritual messages and healing people.”

We chat for half an hour, traversing between what he sees, what he is told by his spiritual guides and his experiences. I have said very little, but I don’t need to – he already knows my story. I find myself overwhelmed and very emotional as he explains with extraordinary accuracy where I am, emotionally, in my life and what has brought me here. Klein prescribes a cleanse based on the ancestral healing of Mexica, pre-Hispanic royalty. “These rituals were performed before an important decision had to be made or before battle, to renew the self and be reborn, to start a new beginning,” he says, and adds that everything in my life is shortly to change beyond recognition. Indeed, he continues, my womb must be cleansed and prepared. I feel a bit nervous and unsure, but know I must trust him. He suggests I follow a regime of six juices a day in rainbow colours: one orange, another berry red, a variety of greens containing kale and cucumber and a couple of whites made from nut milks.

Klein asks me to lie on a massage table, where he places a giant crystal on my heart and cups my head in his large hands. I feel the heat of his palms. As the minutes pass he occasionally mutters, “She is ready.” I try to surrender to the weirdly wonderful experience by not letting my mind wander and focusing on the pressure of his hands and my breathing. I feel reassuringly calm and have a sense that I am exactly where I am meant to be. When he has finished, he looks pale-faced and exhausted. “That’s enough for today,” he says. I leave feeling tired but elated.

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6pm Klein has sent my “prescription” to the Yäan reception, so when I arrive I am quickly ushered into the shower to get ready for a traditional Mayan cleanse. I gaze at the changing colours of the sky through a round hole in the roof as it changes from day to dusk, before being wrapped in a gown. Within minutes, I am flat on my back for the Energetic Limpia treatment, which uses plants, smoke therapy, sacred feathers, eggs, crystals and herbs. The treatment is performed by a Mayan therapist and is intended to purify both the spiritual and physical being.

A pot of burning copal is moved five times around my body in a clockwise motion and the movement is repeated beneath me from under the table. I am brushed with a horsetail of herbs, while my therapist chants ancient prayers. Enveloped in fragrant smoke, the process is completely transfixing. To conclude, she rolls an egg up and down each side of my body before breaking it into a glass of water. The yolk smashes and a milky substance lies on top of the yolk. She seems pleased. “The bad energy has been removed,” she says.

My therapist then starts the Sobada Maya deep massage – a fertility ritual. She explains that it was used in ancient pre-Hispanic times to release energy blockages. “It is very powerful,” she says. “We’ll start in the abdominal area to discharge negative energies, realign your organs and expand the energy channels.” I feel a strong heat move from my liver to my bowels. She begins to work on the rest of my body – from top to toe – stretching tendons and using local healing herb concoctions to unblock areas where she feels there is stagnant energy. She then focuses on my womb. “You will be engaged soon and will be thinking about children before the year is done,” she says, placing her hands on my stomach. I feel the heat sinking deep into my skin.  

The treatment ends with the Baño Maya, a herbal bath. I clamber into a giant steel tub filled with warm water, herbs and flowers. It is a wonderful way to relax after the intensity of the afternoon. I float around for about half an hour, inhaling the scents and feeling giddy with happiness.

Dr Bobby Klein
Dr Bobby Klein

9pm I end the evening with one of my prescribed juices. It is a concoction of creamy-white cashew milk and cinnamon. It is nourishing and, although I haven’t eaten all day, I feel somehow sated and sleep deeper than I have in months.

Day 2

10.10am I wake up late and just about make it to the daily yoga in Yäan’s tree-top shala, clutching my green breakfast smoothie of kale, aloe vera and cucumber. The class is a combination of hatha, vinyasa flow and ashtanga. There are five of us of mixed ability, so we keep the pace moderate. The view is spectacular and the whole experience feels magical. About 45 minutes into the session I feel a lifting – not just physically as I raise my bottom off the floor for the “crow” pose, but in my spirit. I feel lighter and the heaviness in my heart seems to dissipate. It’s hard to explain, but something seems to have shifted.

12 noon More energy cleansing awaits me in the Clay and Crystal Temple, which has jungle-inspired decor and twinkling chakra lights. My therapist begins by saying prayers and performing a light massage as music plays. There is a choice of local green clay, black volcanic clay or bespoke mixtures, including blends of honey, clay and aloe vera, which I opt for. She gently massages the clay onto my body, then places “activated crystals” on key chakra points for healing and alignment. “The crystals and stones are a combination of amethyst, which calms the body and clears the energy, Egyptian lapis lazuli, which is known as the wisdom stone and activates truth and an honesty of spirit, and labradorite, which opens the third-eye chakra, bringing peace and centring the body,” she says. It feels very relaxing, the stones sitting heavy and hot. As the clay dries, I chant my mantra and meditate.

Herbs being used during the Energetic Limpia cleansing ritual
Herbs being used during the Energetic Limpia cleansing ritual

Finally, I am rinsed down with hot water, massaged with aromatic oils and visit the healing-waters circuit of pools and steam rooms in order to release the last vestiges of emotional detritus. I feel calm, as if the outer, damaged layers of an onion are being peeled away.

That afternoon, I slip back into holiday mode – lying on the beach, reading, walking, swimming, going for a bike ride and doing some shopping. I drink my green juices when my stomach rumbles.

9pm I have been abstaining from meat and alcohol for a week so that I can take part in a traditional South Amercian Ayahuasca ceremony with a shaman, involving a hallucinogenic infusion that can induce spiritual revelations. It’s not offered on Yäan premises, so I have arranged a session with a respected practitioner recommended by local village shaman Cristóbal.

A short journey into the jungle and I find myself sitting cross-legged in a temezcal. The smoke-filled room is bedecked with feathers, crystals, herbs and flowers – and there’s a bottle of brown liquid. The concoction is as ghastly as I feared – bitter and nausea‑inducing – but I drink the entire contents of a small cup. The female shaman lies me back on a pillow and starts whispering as she massages my head. Sparks seem to fly behind my eyelids when I close my eyes. My mind is a merry-go-round of vivid colours and wild animations. I can’t make sense of anything, but it’s not scary. The liquid makes me vomit – I thought this might happen, but it feels like a wonderful release rather than being horrid.

The smoke of sacred cobal and herbs used in the Sobada Maya treatment
The smoke of sacred cobal and herbs used in the Sobada Maya treatment | Image: Manuel Cappellari

As night turns to morning my visions seem to become more real and the cartoon characters turn into people. Those I had long forgotten come and go – some with messages. I want to write them down, but the shaman says it’s about letting go and all I need to remember will stay with me. Nine hours later, I crawl out of the temezcal, dishevelled and exhausted.

Day 3  

12 noon I wake up, stumble to the beach and fall into the ocean. I try to grasp the impact of one of the most intense experiences of my life. Everything looks the same, yet it feels very different. My senses are heightened from the Ayahuasca ceremony and colours seem brighter.

I head for a Mayan Heaven spa ritual before a final session with Klein. Two therapists work in sync to massage my body. It is 90 minutes of pure bliss. “You look amazing,” says Klein, and I know the words aren’t hollow flattery. My face is glowing, my skin plump, radiant and filled with colour. The session transpires in much the same way as my first, but feels more powerful. Unlike last time, I am in a relaxed, happy zone. At the end, Klein sits me up, smiles and kisses my forehead. “The crystal is yours now, you have what you came for and everything you need.” And he sends me on my way.

The healing-waters circuit indoor pool
The healing-waters circuit indoor pool | Image: Manuel Cappellari

The Bottom Line

Few places offer healing of this type and quality; I could feel the authenticity and potency in every touch. I arrived with few expectations, but left utterly happy and free of emotional baggage. For those for whom this experience is a chant and a crystal too far, however, it’s worth emphasising that the juice detox is a fantastic cleanse that left me less bloated and a few pounds lighter. My skin was clear and bright and I was full of energy.

Any experience at Yäan is a very individual one, and mine was very special. Eight months on, I can now look back at the effect Yäan had and appreciate it: with renewed zeal, I was spurred on to launch a new business and, with my heart open, my love life perked up too. I have a ring on my finger to prove it.

Spa Junkie Inge Theron is the founder of FaceGym. She pays for all her own travel, accommodation and therapies.

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