What is it? Sunrise Springs is a 28-hectare spa resort outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the United States. It specialises in integrative wellness, emphasising mindfulness and connection to nature in a semi-luxury setting. Sunrise Springs was recently purchased, renovated and reopened by the owners of the nearby Ojo Caliente spa.

What on earth is integrative wellness? It’s a holistic medical theory that encompasses physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health. Much of Sunrise Springs’ philosophy revolves around an enormous Native American medicine wheel in the centre of the resort (below). Its four quadrants correlate to the compass points and phases of life and their corresponding challenges. Staffer Diane Chase likens the medicine wheel to the I Ching or a Tibetan mandala.

Sounds a little out there. That depends on who you talk to. Many physicians, psychologists and therapists visit in search of innovative ways to help their patients. Doubters will tell you it’s a bunch of hooey. Sunrise Springs insists all its offerings are evidence-based, and staff frequently cite studies supporting non-mainstream methodologies.

So, what are these offbeat activities? Some are Native American-inspired, such as sweat lodge ceremonies. Many involve nature and the resort’s greenhouse, including making eye pillows, incense and bookmarks with local plants and herbs. Massages in the spa, yoga classes, juicing and nutrition seminars, drawing in the art studio and participating in animal interactions are other options. Or guests can just relax on rocking chairs and gaze out over the pond.

Hang on, did you say animal interactions? Yes; guests can help train puppies in a programme overseen by Assistance Dogs of the West. After two years, the dogs know 90 verbal commands and can assist people with diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder, seizures and other medical conditions. There’s also a hen house with 21 silkie chickens (right), fluffy, docile birds descended from the ones Marco Polo brought out of China in the 13th century. Guests can sit quietly in the coop and feed dead meal worms to the silkies, which, if they’re lucky, might roost on a guest’s lap.

Sure, they’re cute, but what do guests get out of holding a chicken? Art therapist Sue McDonald, holder of two master’s degrees, was sceptical about the chicken experience, but soon changed her mind. “All I needed was one quiet period of time with a chicken,” she says. Now she leads guests in activities such as “Slowing Down with Silkies”. Cortisol levels drop when people relax, she says. “Chickens pick up on your energy. It’s very grounding to be able to hold an animal so that they feel safe.”

How long do people stay? Options range from half-day visits (US$119 per person) to the 14-day Immerse & Thrive programme (US$549 per person, per night). The whole integrative-wellness team collaborates to create individual programmes for long-term guests, who meet a licensed counsellor daily. Many come with a goal, such as curing insomnia or quitting sugar, and leave with a transition plan and the option of continuing the relationship via Skype.

What are the rooms like? The 20 pleasant, spacious, modern casitas (above and top) have gas fireplaces, private courtyards, king-sized beds, a desk area and tons of storage. Guests can also choose from one of 32 comfortable but more modest rooms in two lodge buildings.

What about food? The menu is heavy on plants, and dishes are artfully plated. The culinary team works with the manager of Ojo’s two-acre farm to grow the ingredients for upcoming menus. In accordance with the resort’s emphasis on mindful consumption, alcohol is available for just one hour a day, at a pre-dinner reception.

What else is there to do in New Mexico? Santa Fe is America’s third-largest art market, boasting 100 galleries in a town of only 70,000 people. Artist Georgia O’Keeffe spent her last decades in the area, and many visitors tour O’Keeffe country. You can see 10,000-year-old cave dwellings at Bandelier National Monument, buy Native American turquoise jewellery on the Santa Fe Plaza or tour the city’s art and history museums.

For more details, visit www.sunrisesprings.com.