In need of a reboot? Escape the external pressures of high-flying corporate life at Aja Malibu, a luxury rejuvenation retreat perched high in the lush Californian Santa Monica Mountains.
The gentle wind rustles the foliage overhead; the scent of sweet guavas and almost-ripe citrus fruits drifts in from another garden; hummingbirds flutter about feverishly foraging for food — the only creatures on the 9 hectare estate moving swiftly. Everyone else is in no rush.
Aja Malibu is like no place in the world, and even at the end of my week here I can’t find the words to describe it. Inannya Magick (yes, that’s her real name, and she’s an 8th generation Australian) is fine with that. “In our culture, we often want to label, but in mystical and spiritual wisdoms there are teachers who say problems can arise when you start labelling. I feel like this — whatever it is — it wants to be free. It’s a place to explore consciousness. It’s a place of growth,” she says.
Aja Malibu is Inannya’s love note — a person’s heartfelt message to the world that came to fruition in September 2016 after 8 years of hard work.
Inannya’s interest in the mystical and spiritual world began much earlier, though. As a child, she was frequently sick, and when traditional medicine did not relieve her problems she began to explore natural therapies. From there, Inannya started delving into religion and philosophy, mystical and spiritual studies, travelling the world and meeting remarkable people, all while deepening her understanding of both herself and the universe.
“I healed myself, and then during my travels I realised I had a vision to serve — to help others on their journey of healing,” she recalls. “When I moved here 8 years ago, that was my clear intention, and from there Aja just evolved. It’s good to have a vision and be clear, but it’s also good to be open as the vision changes. So in 5 years, if Aja wants to be something else, I’m open to it.”
Right now, Aja Malibu is a dreamlike place where people come to heal, to transform, to get to know themselves (‘know thyself’ is one of the key phrases and messages of the week). There are 7 beautifully designed bedrooms (all with organic room amenities and hypo-allergenic robes, towels, sheets and linens), and there won’t be any more rooms as the small numbers allow Inannya to get to know her guests — and for the guests to get to know each other.
There is no TV or wi-fi access, no junk food or room service, but the biodynamic, plant-based meals are so delicious and filling I don’t miss my usual afternoon coffee and chocolate pick-me-up. And although the rejuvenation program is tightly scheduled, I find I have plenty of alone time just when it’s needed, and spend most of it simply drifting around the gardens.
There are 7 beautifully designed bedrooms, and there won’t be any more as the small numbers allow Inannya to get to know her guests — and for the guests to get to know each other.
The 7 chakra gardens are a pivotal part of the property, although when Inannya first discovered the site she never intended to create them. “It wasn’t part of the plan, but when I got here I felt 7 distinct energies and it made sense to create the gardens.” It’s no coincidence that the Aja Malibu program is 7 days, with each day dedicated to one of the healing chakras.
Every morning, a gong signals the start of a brand-new day and guests are encouraged to journal while sipping on tea that is brought to their room. The day’s official proceedings kick off with Inannya’s introduction to the chakra of the day over tea in the Om room; then the morning activities vary depending on the chosen chakra.
The first is the root chakra, associated with the earth and grounding, and after an introduction to Qigong (which we practice almost daily as the week progresses), we go on a garden exploration with expert herbalist Julie, as she enlightens us about plants, tea medicine, and how to use apothecary.
Inannya encourages guests to use Aja’s herb apothecary at any time. You’re also encouraged to collect plants that ‘speak to you’ and leave them hanging to dry; and you can go in and blend your own teas (as the days go on we learn which plants can help specific health conditions so that we can customise our tea blends).
I spend most afternoons in the spa, enjoying massages, acupuncture, shirodhara therapy, craniosacral therapy and more. In between treatments I explore. I always find a new plant or bird to watch in the gardens.
We head to El Matador State Beach on sacral chakra day where we sit beneath the cliffs and ponder the meaning of water (the sacral chakra relates to movement, flow and sensuality). Another day we venture out for a hike, finishing up with meditation and Qigong before heading back to the retreat.
At first, I find the pace of activities a little too relaxed for my liking, but as the days progress I find myself getting used to — and even relishing — the way life here is soaked in a beautiful slowness.
I spend most afternoons experiencing what the spa has to offer: enjoying massages, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, shirodhara therapy and more. In between treatments, I explore the property and surrounds. I always find a new plant or bird to watch in the gardens; sometimes I sit in the library poring over the many books or just admiring the furnishings.
Every single item at Aja has been sourced with love and deep thought, and some of the stories connected to the objects are nothing short of astounding. The beautiful pillowcases that I lean on when lounging in the library are former Kurdish saddlebags creatively redesigned; the tea set Inannya uses each morning is a lovingly handmade collection from Taiwan; in my Dreamweaver Suite there’s a beautiful indigenous bark artwork that Inannya found while travelling through outback Australia with her father; while the intricate tapestry that I sit on and stare at before going to bed each night was crafted by an elderly female Shipibo tribe member in Peru. “They draw the lines of energy,” Inannya tells me when I ask about the mesmerising artwork.
In the evenings after our various therapies and downtime, the group comes back together for ‘soup and share’, a time when everyone sits around eating soup out of big mugs while sharing contemplations. Then, usually, another post-dinner activity follows.
The word ‘activity’ doesn’t come close to capturing what we see, hear, smell and experience each night. On root chakra day, a shaman visits Aja to lead an emotional fire ceremony. We gather around a crackling fire singing, playing instruments, and sharing stories deep into the night. On sacral chakra day, we are taught to breathe deeply and loudly for what feels like hours, our teacher Thomas asking us to breathe even deeper and bigger than I thought possible. A sound healing session on throat chakra day moves me to tears; I have no idea why but, such is the power of this place, we all end up with watery eyes at one moment or another.
When it’s time to head home, no-one wants to go, but at least we leave with plenty of seeds planted within ready to sprout. “The point of Aja is to remind you that you have the answers within,” Inannya tells the group pre-departure. “We live in a culture where we are always going outside for help. I hope that Aja has reminded you that you have so much of what you need within.”