An unexpected gem set among 100 acres of rolling Iowa meadows, the Raj is one of the few places outside India where you can experience a complete Ayurvedic cleansing, called panchakarma. This is not simply an Ayurvedic massage (a hot trend at many American spas) but rather a full, multi-day process that clears the body of toxins and restores its balance using treatments like Abhyanga, the mind-bendingly delicious application of warm herbalized oil by two massage therapists working as one. Let Western doctors scoff, but some sufferers of disorders like fibromyalgia and depression say they experience dramatic improvement after a stay at the Raj.
The Raj is here because Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—the Indian guru who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the Beatles and to America in the 1960s—and his followers bought Parsons University in the small town of Fairfield (populaton 10,000) in 1974. It is now reincarnated as the Maharishi University of Management, where those earning degrees counteract the stress of academia by practicing daily meditation. The Maharishi has since moved to Holland, but his presence is still felt in the Maharishi Vedic City, made up of 150 homes, an observatory, an organic garden and dairy, and the Raj, which opened in 1993.
Just 18 male and female guests can stay at the spa, and days are highly structured: organic vegetarian meals (most made from the gardens on the grounds); 2 to 3 hours of treatments; a gentle yoga class; and after-dinner lectures; plus lots of time for resting in between. The last treatment of the day is the optional basti (or enema, to the uninitiated). It’s just one more weapon in the war on toxins like pesticides and PCBs, which the Raj claims it can reduce by 50 percent in one six-night stay.
The cleansing process begins before you arrive, as you’re asked to avoid not just Cheetos but cold water, chocolate, and a host of other enjoyable things. Once there, an Ayurvedic practitioner assesses your current mind/body balance and recommends treatments. They vary, but can be as strenuous as relaxing in an herbal steam chamber while an attendant pours coconut oil on your head to keep you cool— considered a health treatment here. For beauty, your skin is nourished with mud collected from remote regions of India, then rinsed with organic milk from a local dairy, where the cows listen to ancient Vedic melodies.