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Tibetan Mountain Retreat

by Rona Berg

A place of peace and healing in upstate New York

On a fertile stretch of land in Phoenicia, NY, a few hours north of New York City, Robert (Bob) A.F. Thurman, professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, and his old friend, the Dalai Lama, decided to create a Tibetan-style mountain retreat, which they called Menla.

Tibet has long been known by its neighbors as the Land of Medicine, and Menla means “Medicine Buddha” in Tibetan. It sits on an energy vortex that is said to be the oldest known meteor crater in the world, and you can feel it. Maybe it’s electromagnetic, or maybe it’s the amazing energy of the people here, but Menla is a powerful and nurturing place that draws you like a giant magnet.

In 2006, the Dalai Lama blessed the land and the stated mission at Menla: to be a place for health, healing and spiritual evolution, based on the wisdom of Tibetan medicine.

Menla offers integrative healing—merging Tibetan, Ayurvedic and other holistic traditions—along with fresh clean air, hikes and perhaps the most authentic Tibetan treatment therapies this side of Lhasa. According to Thurman, “This place is a precursor of the global healing spa.”

Thurman is also cofounder of Tibet House US in NYC, with Philip Glass and Richard Gere. His wife, Nena Thurman (yes, they are Uma’s parents), a former top fashion model turned psychotherapist, is managing director of Tibet House and Menla. A prolific writer, Bob is coauthor, with William Meyers and Michael G. Burbank, of the soon-to-be published Man of Peace: the Illustrated Life Story of the Dalai Lama of Tibet, a gripping graphic novel based on the life of the Dalai Lama (Tibet House).

At the beautiful yoga studio, classes such as Nejang Longevity Yoga, Healing Yoga and Mindful Meditation are offered. Guests can sign up for a range of upcoming retreat workshops held in the cozy barn—check the calendar before you book your stay—on topics like Spiritual Evolution; Embracing the Sacred Feminine; Buddha and the Yogis; Anxiety, Depression & Addiction: Buddhist Psychological Insights for Mental and Spiritual Health in the Modern World. And, if you are lucky, and the timing is right, you may take part in a guided meditation with Bob.

Or, you can simply stroll along the beautiful grounds, hike on nearby Panther Mountain, or relax in your comfortable room—designed “to bring you to Tibet,” says Nena—decorated with Tibetan art, photography and textiles from artists who have exhibited at Tibet House. Most important: Give yourself some time at the extraordinary Mahasukha (“Great Bliss”) Spa, designed by Clodagh, who worked with Nena to create a spa where “you feel like you’re in Shangri-La,” says Nena. “I wanted to bring in the natural environment [i.e., repurposed wood] and a Tibetan aesthetic. That’s what makes it unique.”

Hand-painted and sculpted by two artists from Tibet, the incredible spa balcony took more than a year to create. At Mahasukha Spa, authentic Tibetan healing treatments offer profoundly therapeutic benefits. The Tibetan Herbal Bath, where you steep in medicinal herbs grown on-property, is custom-blended and prepared 24 hours in advance of your visit, to treat a range of ailments: sluggish circulation, joint pain, stress and more. The KuNye is a traditional Tibetan massage, where herbal oils are worked into muscles, pressure points and energy meridians to restore balance and well-being to the body. Consultations are available with two talented Tibetan doctors, who have also trained the spa therapists in traditional practices like KuNye, cupping, tapping and moxibustion, but you may need to book ahead for an appointment.

There is a sweat lodge, sanctuary and conference center. Menla also features a glorious organic garden directly outside the spa, along with a greenhouse, where Head Horticulturalist Lisa Taranto grows a variety of Tibetan herbs used in spa treatments, compounded by the Tibetan doctors for medicinal purposes or integrated into the culinary menu. “It is a pleasure to be able to grow such powerful plants in this valley,” she says.

An example is Tibetan Gentian (Gentiana tibetica) “used in a tea at Menla as a tonic for the stomach and digestion, to increase digestive enzymes,” says Taranto. “When you look at the medicinal use of herbs, it’s more in a tea than in food, because they can be so strong.”

Most of all, Menla is a deeply spiritual, restorative place, where you can reconnect with your higher self, ponder life’s true meaning or perhaps, better yet, contemplate
“All methods of making the world beautiful for others,” says Bob.  menla.us

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