On a trail in Southern California’s Santa Rosa mountains, high above a bottle-green golf course, the Palm Springs-adjacent city of Rancho Mirage sprawls below me. The setting sun of the Colorado Desert is easing into a pink and purple sherbet haze, and the air is still as pebbles crunch beneath my shoes. And for the first time in years, my right foot is completely free of pain.
I’m at Sensei Porcupine Creek, a new wellness resort owned and founded by physician and author Dr. David Agus and Silicon Valley giant Larry Ellison—the 230-acre spread that the hotel now occupies was once the tech magnate’s personal estate. The resort opened in November 2022 and is Sensei’s second property; its first was a partnership, the Sensei Lānaʻi, a Four Seasons Resort, located on Lānaʻi (Hawai’i’s sixth largest island, of which Ellison owns 98 percent). Porcupine Creek sees the Sensei brand stand on its own, but much as at Lānaʻi, guests here can take an ultra-personalized, science-based approach to wellness under the guidance of accredited experts in the fields of nutrition, rest, and physical therapy.
My stay at Sensei Porcupine Creek was my very first foray into the wellness retreat world, and I wasn’t sure what to expect—what does wellness mean after all? At Sensei Porcupine Creek at least, being well is all about the connection between physical and mental well-being—you simply can’t have one without the other. Years ago, I lost my footing on a hike and incurred an injury that left me unable to walk long distances for a couple of weeks. Foolishly, I powered through it, and now an ache in my foot and hip rears its head if I’m on my feet for too long. But with Sensei’s small army of experts, guides, and physical therapists, maybe I could get some advice on this long-standing ailment—and hopefully feel more generally rounded, rested, and centered in the process.
At Sensei, healing begins before guests arrive at the resort. During my stay, I embarked on the Guided Wellness Experience, a three-night package that includes accommodations, two spa treatments, and two consultations with Sensei experts focused on either mindset, yoga, fitness, or nutrition. A couple of weeks before my trip, I was sent a survey with questions about my habits and diet and whether I’d like to focus on nourishment, movement, or rest. Sensei then followed up with a phone call to review the choices I’d made and to set the intentions for my stay. Though my intention was very specific (my ankle pain), many guests come with broader goals, like improving mindfulness, nutrition, or even their golfing, and the pretrip questionnaires help them hone in on the focus of personalized plans—with its small army of experts, Sensei is prepared to do it all.
Driving past the wooden gate, I immediately find myself in a manicured setting filled with sculptures created by the likes of Keith Haring and Robert Indianna (many are from Ellison’s personal collection) and enhanced by palm trees and bougainvilleas. In a nod to the original Sensei in Hawai‘i, tiki torches dot the area around the main estate house and the pool. However, unlike Sensei Lānaʻi, which has 96 guest rooms, Sensei Porcupine Creek has only 22 suites, making for an ultra-private atmosphere. Ten of those are spacious, traditional hotel-style rooms located in the estate house; there are also four stand-alone, one-bedroom casitas and eight villas, which offer multiple bedrooms. All accommodations are outfitted with generously sized walk-in closets, Toto washlets, and beds topped with fluffy duvets that beckon travelers to sleep in a little longer. Rounding off the sumptuous offerings of the property are an 18-hole golf course, three tennis courts (two are hard and one is clay), and a spa. All of the resort’s offerings are exclusive to Sensei guests.
On my first day, I meet with Dr. Tegan Reeves, who has a PhD in psychology and who serves as my main, go-to guide for any questions throughout my stay. After we review the intentions that I’d set in my pretrip consultation—I wanted to relieve that pain in my right foot—she has me hop on a SECA body composition analysis machine, which measures body fat, muscle composition, weight, and hydration levels. Though Reeves assures me that weight is not something they normally focus on at Sensei, the analysis does shed some light on what could be ailing my foot: The muscles on the right side of my body are heavier and more developed than the ones on my left. Could overuse be contributing to my foot pain? She then sends a note to the physical therapist, who can give me some more insights.
Despite their science-based approach to wellness, Sensei Porcupine Creek is not one of those places where guests are required to follow a calorie-restricted diet or forgo alcohol and coffee. Sensei is a place to indulge. Guests have access to not one, but two Nobu restaurants on the property: the Sushi Bar and Sensei by Nobu, which features a menu created by Nobu Matsuhisa and Dr. Agus that emphasizes health and well-being. Some Nobu classics, like the famous black miso cod, made the cut and are on offer. If a restaurant setting doesn’t appeal on any given night, you can order all of this from your room.
I spend the day relaxing at Sensei’s Mediterranean tile-clad spa where I experience my first Thai massage (they really pull you every which way, don’t they?). Then it’s finally time to meet . . . the resort’s physical therapist for a foam rolling session. Even foam rolling is a science at Sensei, and one that has turned me into an ardent believer. Physical therapist Nick Russo explains that there is a network of connective tissue, called fascia, that holds all of our muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and organs in place. Over the years, fascia can get stiff—foam rolling can literally help work out the kinks. Stiff fascia, combined with the overuse of the muscles of the right side of my body, could be contributing to the pain in my foot, Russo theorized. After the class is over, he gives me a lacrosse ball I can use to regularly massage the bottom of my feet that will help loosen the fascia.
Now, with my newly loosened fascia network, I take a meandering hike up Sensei’s private walking path that snakes through the Santa Rosa mountains and is criss-crossed with footpaths createad by bighorn sheep. After years of dealing with ungodly enormous crowds in the L.A. area, it is nice to have an outdoor space to myself. And without the usual twinge of discomfort in my foot, I’m able to take in details that might normally pass me by: the stillness of the air, the small desert flowers blooming in the sandy soil, and how blissfully alone I am on this trail. More present in the moment, pain free, and armed with a lacrosse ball to keep it that way, the connection between mental and physical health is as clear as the cloudless Rancho Mirage sky before me, illuminated by the fast setting sun.
Book now: Sensei Porcupine Creek
Sensei Porcupine Creek is located in the city of Rancho Mirage, which is a 20-minute drive from the Palm Springs Airport. However, many visitors to the Greater Palm Springs area often fly into Los Angeles International Airport—it’s a two-and-a-half hour drive if traffic permits.