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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 11, 2002

New Age healing attracts vacationers to Maui retreats

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

HA'IKU, Maui — Kenny Hon will never forget his Maui vacation. It changed his life.

Boston yogi Baron Baptiste held a weeklong seminar at Mana Le'a Gardens in Ha'iku recently, teaching a form of yoga that promises to "detoxify, heal and electrify."

Timothy Hurley • The Honolulu Advertiser

While most people come here to soak up sun, play in the surf and explore the island, Hon and his wife traveled to Maui last month to attend a seven-day vacation seminar with the aim of improving their relationship.

"It was a mind-blowing experience," Hon said of the tantra workshop by Charles and Caroline Muir. "I'm not one to say statements like that. But it was a mind-blowing, powerful, healing experience. It was a life-changing experience."

Hon, a paramedic and firefighter from Redondo Beach, Calif., and his wife, Laurie Jo Taylor, a day spa owner, are part of a growing number of tourists who are coming to Maui to discover themselves, heal issues in their lives, achieve personal growth and search for spiritual enlightenment.

These tourists are paying hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on top of travel expenses to attend any number of workshops, retreats, camps and seminars ranging from yoga to spiritual drumming to the modern version of tantra, a Hindu and Buddhist sexual practice rooted in spirituality.

It's a small but growing segment of Maui's visitor industry.

"People from all around the world are coming to Maui for these retreats," said Tara Grace, a Maka-

wao travel agent who specializes in booking such events. "They're here because they need their lives healed. They come because they want to be improved and rejuvenated. They're here to regain their center."

It's a phenomenon sustained by Maui's beauty and tourist appeal, but fueled by the island's thriving New Age community, a population that has expanded since hippies flourished here in the late 1960s.

'Alternative' facelift

Veterans of the New Age movement, Charles and Caroline Muir of Maui have led workshops on tantra for two decades.

Timothy Hurley • The Honolulu Advertiser

Today, Maui is a New Age mecca, a place where alternative thinkers come to practice their own brand of spirituality and alternative healing.

It's a place where there is a listing for "drugless practitioners" in the Yellow Pages, where one can easily shun Western medicine for alternatives such as cellular rejuvenation, weekly colonics and chelation therapy to rid the body of toxins. Yoga schools, massage therapy and spas are the rage.

Even some of Maui's oldest towns are undergoing a New Age facelift. Makawao and Pa'ia now exude a distinctly New Age atmosphere and have become favorite addresses for alternative healers, herbal shops, incense merchants and organic food stores.

In Wailuku, services at Unity Church of Maui are standing-room-only, and officials are looking for larger property. Although it is based in Christianity, the church indulges its members' New Age leanings. Among the attractions: music director Raphael, a recording artist who also teaches "oceanic tantra" with his wife, Kutira.

Richard Welch, a two-year Maui resident and counselor at the church, said Maui appeals to New Agers because there's comfort in numbers.

"A lot of people on the Mainland might look at what's happening here and say, 'What a group of kooks.' But here, nothing's far out on Maui."

The burgeoning business of New Age vacation seminars has spawned a new type of tourist accommodation: the retreat center.

At Hale Akua Shangri-La, a 13-room estate in Huelo, crystals are buried in all four corners of the two-acre property and the pool is clothing-optional. Guest services include massages, astrological readings and complimentary yoga classes.

The 55-acre Mana Le'a Gardens retreat and conference center in Ha'iku offers a large hot tub for

rebirthing and other warm-water therapies, and a Native American sweat lodge. Guests are served vegetarian cuisine, and smoking and alcohol are not allowed.

Mana Le'a Gardens was established six years ago expressly for groups of 20 or more guests, who stay a minimum of four nights. More than 40 groups are signed up for retreats this year, and the number continues to climb, said director Sandi Topp.

Smaller retreats also are opening their doors — which has prompted the county to initiate enforcement action against those operating without required zoning permits.

Vacation bargain

Seminars generally cost $500 to $1,500 and last anywhere from a weekend to 10 days. But they can sometimes cost less than an average Maui vacation, because many participants stay in a dormitory setting with meals included.

"Vacationwise, you can't beat it," said Steve Sisgold, a Bay Area author and motivational speaker who holds a handful of workshops on Maui each year.

Sisgold, a former Maui resident who helped turn Hale Akua Shangri-La's into a money-making enterprise in five years by focusing on vacation seminars, said the workshops are especially popular with singles who don't want to vacation alone.

"You get to be in Hawai'i, but you also get to grow and learn and become refreshed and rejuvenated," he said.

There are, in fact, a legion of workshop junkies. Laura Ormsby, a former stock broker from Seattle, is one of them. Single and 49, she recently attended Mana Le'a Gardens workshop led by Los Angeles yoga master Rod Stryker. She calls workshops the ultimate vacation.

"You come back from your vacation feeling fabulous, and even though it can be a lot of work, it's fun and you don't feel exhausted," she said.

Suzie Hurley, who runs a yoga center in Takoma Park, Md., also attended. One reason was to check out Mana Le'a Gardens — and Maui — possibly for a future workshop. The verdict: She's looking to book a date in 2003.

Charles and Caroline Muir have been described as the grandparents of the modern tantra movement, having staged workshops for more than 20 years.

Their seven-day "Art of Conscious Loving" seminars are designed to teach "ancient secrets to achieve male and female ecstacy" and improve a couple's relationship through increased intimacy and "sexual healing."

Those who attend the $1,500 weeklong seminars on Maui will learn, among other things, "the lost art of kissing," internal muscular exercises for increased energy and pleasure, 1001 methods of pelvic movement, advanced lovemaking techniques and "female sacred spot massage ritual," including "step-by-step instructions to heal, awaken and release unlimited energy."

The couple has watched the vacation seminar trade take off over the years. When they started, the pages of New Age Journal and Yoga Journal held only one ad for vacation seminars — theirs.

"Now they're loaded with them," Charles Muir said.

The couple spend five months a year on the Mainland, holding weekend workshops to promote their Maui seminars. With more than enough business coming their way, they had planned to cut back this year and concentrate on their Maui events. Then Sept. 11 happened, and they'll be back on the road again.

Retiree Marlina Rinzen of Berkeley, Calif., has fond memories of her last trip to Maui and is saving money to return for a Spring Sufi Camp in Ke'anae.

The annual spring and fall camps attract hundreds of people for a week of dancing and music inspired by the Muslim mystical tradition, in addition to activities such as men's and women's circles, yoga, tai chi, a healing temple and "mermaid ocean play."

"The spirit is so welcoming and embracing," Rinzen said. "It peels away what's not real and puts you back in touch with who you are as a person."

Crater magnetism

Many claim the underlying reason for Maui's appeal to New Agers is so-called vortex energy emitted from Haleakala Crater, a concept that has no scientific backing. In 1987, the crater was a magnet for New Agers at the Harmonic Convergence celebrating the beginning of a new era.

"Haleakala creates an energy that promotes healing," said Maria Gardner, a psychic healer from Makawao. "People come here and they feel healed and they don't even know how."

James Bell said he felt Maui's energy as soon as he got off the plane here last month. A builder from Sand Point, Idaho, he attended a four-day tantra workshop by teachers Kutira and Raphael at the Huelo retreat.

Bell said he felt the same energy last year at a seven-day spiritual-growth retreat with author Alan Cohen of Maui.

Bell said the events have made his life more joyful and helped him get in touch with his "spiritual self."

"They've opened me up and made me more connected and grounded to myself," he said.

Hon, the firefighter who attended the Muirs' seminar, said he had been vacationing on Maui annually for 10 years, and is always struck by the island's energy.

"I don't know what it is," he said. "It's not only a magical island, but a spiritual place."

Correction: Haleakala Crater was a magnet for New Agers at the 1987 Harmonic Convergence. An incorrect year was given in a previous version of this story.