There are a million and one ways to die in Big Sur, California. The violently picturesque landscape, for one: Should your eye wander from the wheel of your car to the gorgeous coastline of Route One, you run the risk of overshooting a craggy turn, your Kia Forte plummeting into the surf. You might think you’re safe once inland, but oh my God, you’re wrong. A miasma of fog envelops your car like a Twin Peaks special effect. The motels that pepper either side of the road look like places where cheerful, optimistic coeds are routinely murdered. And then bear attacks! It is a tourist deathtrap.
That said, you should go, it’s very beautiful. And when you do, you can choose to die the way I did: By being relaxed to death at the Post Ranch Inn.
It only sounds like a quaint place to stay. The Inn is, in fact, a sprawling 100-acre campus of modern-rustic buildings, as if Frank Lloyd Wright designed a small village overlooking the Pacific — a view so breathtaking there should be an asthma warning attached. In addition to being the nicest hotel I have ever seen in photographs, let alone in person, the Post Ranch Inn has a list of complimentary amenities and services so long, it makes Passages Malibu look like a halfway house: There are wood-burning fireplaces in every room, along with Jacuzzi tubs and fresh-baked cookies. There is a Michelin-star restaurant and a yurt. I think if you ask, they just give you a Lexus to drive around. It is insane and gorgeous and fatally soothing. But where your soul really leaves your body, the killing floor of the Post Ranch Inn, is the Big Sur Spa.
“Would you like to be smudged?” A woman named Deva asked me when I arrived for an hour-long menu item called “Vibrational Therapy”. This is something I had never wanted before, but the room was warm and overlooked the mountains, and I was wearing a lavender scented robe, so the words “Oh my God, yes” spilled out of my mouth as if they had been waiting there for years. Deva smiled and instructed me to lay down. It was time to begin vibrational therapy.
Vibrational therapy, in addition to shamanic counseling and energy-balancing, is situated firmly on the New Age wellness side of the beauty spectrum. I wanted to try it because it sounded like something a celebrity would do to treat their vague illness. All I have is pervasive anxiety.
I more or less mentioned this to Deva, who explained that she would tailor the experience to my spastic mind. Is it unusual that I felt very deeply understood by a person I had only just met? Empathy is a rare treasure. At the Big Sur Spa, it is merely another luxury amenity, like free WiFi.
Vibrational therapy is like an aural massage — perfect for people who like to be relaxed but hate to be touched. You start with a sound bath, in which Deva surrounds you with a kind of serenity that sounds like a gong, and the chime of it vibrates inside your ears and gives you goosebumps. Tuning forks are placed along your back; Deva taps them and they sing into your skin. The tuning forks are replaced with a series of bowls, lined up along your spine like a Thanksgiving buffet. They hum intensely, tweaking your body’s rhythm along the way.
While vibrational therapy is decidedly an alternative form of medicine, many people are quick to assert its medicinal abilities for treating everything from chronic lower back pain to nausea that accompanies chemotherapy. There is (of course!) little in the way of evidence to back this up. But the synchronicity of sound and touch —
hearing a low, ambient chime, but also feeling it in every muscle in your body — is the ultimate in relaxation therapy. This, in turn, has its own myriad benefits: better circulation, lower blood pressure, improved digestion, a nice way to spend an afternoon. Even the most cynical of doctors harangue the negative effects of stress on the body. Vibrational therapy is a great and unbelievably luxurious response to all that.
Because I’m an incredibly anxious person — the kind of person for whom a scenic vacation is also an opportunity to imagine hundreds of gruesome deaths — Deva threw in some craniosacral therapy free of charge. She rubbed the base of my skull for what felt like hours with a monklike intensity, which at first felt like relaxation torture, until it went on for too long and felt like actual torture. I begged Deva in my mind’s eye to stop, and finally, she did. My body felt like a sack of pudding, and it took me five minutes to properly sit upright because my bones had disintegrated. I shuffled to the front of the spa, signed a receipt, and flopped back to the tiny Fallingwater where I lived for the night. Somewhere along the way, I left my soul.
More ways to relax that don’t involve dying:
Or you can dunk yourself into a red wine bath: