When one thinks of wellness retreats, spa treatments, healthy meals, and long stretches of yoga classes inevitably come to mind. In 2019, such aspects of a wellness retreat are, simply, par for the course. Today’s expectation of a healing holiday has taken on a distinctly spiritual plane.
Targeted at restoration, previous notions of the luxury wellness retreat were more synonymous with the ‘self-care’ movement, a term that has become somewhat nebulous and all-encompassing that can include anything from meditation to manicures.Today, that expectation is shifting again, this time in tandem with the New Age resurgence. The popularity of crystals, sound healing and reiki are an indication that mysticism has gone mainstream.
But these new leanings on alternative therapies aren’t entirely new age; many are now turning to ancient spiritual healing beliefs, some even rooted in religion, to improve one’s emotional and mental wellbeing. Stress, and getting burnt out are a real epidemic of today’s world. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 300 million people suffer from depression worldwide.
The hunt for inner peace and improved mental health, has altered the scope of hospitality. Yet for Aman, this has always been the beating heart of its philosophy — its name means ‘peace’ in Sanskrit after all. This year, it has taken the philosophy a step further with its new six-night retreat, aptly called Journey to Peace.
The retreat is anchored on the Bon Tibetan belief that peace is an internal state of consciousness that can give one true happiness. Led by revered Buddhist monk and mindfulness coach Master Geshe Yongdong, it focuses on one mind-altering aspect each day, such as letting go of attachment and changing perceptions. These are accompanied by Tsa Lung breathwork exercises, individual sessions with the Master himself, and sessions of chanting, mantra recitation and meditation. It takes place across its sumptuous properties in Vietnam, Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, and Phuket.
This spiritual take is mirrored in its other wellness retreats available this year. Shamanic and Javanese rites take centrestage at its Amanjiwo property in Java, where guests go through meditation in Borobudur and underwater, spiritual excursions as well as ritual bathing. Its year-round Bhutanese retreat in Amankora involves forest and prayer flag bathing. Over in Bali’s Amankila, you can trek Mount Agung, and learn the arts of story-telling and meditation from local healers and elders.
Luxury and spirituality can co-exist
Like Aman, Como Shambhala has spirituality built into its wellness DNA. Its properties espouse proactive holistic wellness, with a combination of modern science with ancient healing methods. Found in 13 locations across the world, its name takes inspiration from the mythological kingdom of Shambhala, which, in ancient Tibetan and Buddhist texts, refer to a perfect place of bliss. Therapies include spiritual pursuits; Como Shambala Estate offers visits to a local Balinese healer who refers to the lontar (traditional Balinese scriptures). General Manager Ram Harilal tells us that the property has seen an increase in interest for one-to-one workshops that feature spiritual elements. “In particular, in the last six months, our guests seem to want to better understand and learn about offerings such as our chakra healing sessions or our meditation lessons,” says Harilal.
Like Aman and Como Shambhala, Six Senses champions wellness with treatments that go beyond the ordinary. Its Bhutan outpost is located across five diversely designed lodges spread across the west and central valleys of the remote Himalayan kingdom. Each of these lodges are outfitted with meditation huts and yoga facilities. The transformative power of this deeply spiritual destination is further enhanced with sunrise meditations, private astrology readings and butter lamp lighting ceremonies.
At Six Senses Duoro Valley in Portugal, you’ll find Tibetan Singing Bowl meditation. The sounds generated from it are believed to be an energy medicine that heals disorders by restoring the normal vibratory frequencies of diseased parts of the body, mind and soul. Its Krabey Island property even features a meditation cave, rooftop sala yoga, and an aerial yoga studio.
Know the difference
But Nick Downing, General Manager of The Siam, cautions that “there is a fine line between the more spiritual slant resulting in being a commodity or gimmick versus something genuine and authentic.” The property he manages is quite unlike the aforementioned resorts. For a start, it’s located amid the hubbub of Bangkok. Set in the lush gardens along the Chao Phraya River, it’s an urban sanctuary in a bustling city.
For The Siam, spirituality takes on an unconventional slant with a space dedicated to Sak Yant (pronounced Sak Yan), which is the tattooing of sacred, geometrical designs on skin. These tattoos boast a rich, mystical significance as they are thought to bestow magical powers, luck, protection, or fortune to its wearer. Its history is traced to animistic Tai tribes in southwestern China and northwestern Vietnam and has become closely tied to Hindu and Buddhist traditions. When asked about the type of clientele that does Sak Yant, Downing says they range from expatriate business executives in their 60s to young men and women travelling through Asia for the first time. “We even had one entire family from Scandinavia, two sons, Dad, and eventually Mum all doing matching Sak Yant with us a few years ago and have since returned for additional designs to be completed,” says Downing. The property’s further plans for more spiritual therapies include everything from Gong Therapy to Theta Healing, and Memory Therapy to Cranial Sacral.
Wellness goes hand-in-hand with science
Downing stresses that “the concept of spirituality is something very personal to the individual”. This could be why wellness properties like REVĪVŌ Wellness Resorts steers clear of an entirely spiritual philosophy, choosing instead to focus on the science of healing. CEO Laurie Mias describes its focus on neuroplasticity as being “focused on the idea of training the mind and helping individuals find that emotional balance”.
“We are actively exploring ways to help guests develop their neuroplasticity… By being connected with ourselves – visualising our breath and our body movements – and by being 100% fully present in the moment, we increase our brain activity and therefore our brain plasticity.”
An increase in brain plasticity has been proven to decrease stress hormones, fight degenerative disorders and slow down the ageing process. Kathy, its wellness coach from REVĪVŌ Bali says “you must take on the mindset of a scientist and become curious about your mind and body”. Its emotional balance and mind training retreat, for instance, incorporates personalised yoga and Pranayama breathing sessions and mindfulness practices.
Whatever your wellness needs, there’s a retreat out there for you — spiritual or secular. Due diligence goes a long way in helping you determine if a spiritual retreat is right for you, and if it will prove to be a soul-cleansing, authentic experience.