With the pandemic putting an onus on wellbeing, Kamalaya – one of Thailand’s most acclaimed holistic retreats – is more relevant than ever. Duncan Forgan journeyed to Koh Samui to embrace its transformational qualities.
High on a hillside on Koh Samui, the mystic is making a bold request. “Imagine yourself as a tree,” he implores, his expression exuding wisdom that seems to come more naturally to elderly gentlemen with long wispy beards than to the rest of us.
I often have difficulty altering my perception of myself. Even four years after the birth of my child, it can still be a shock to realise that I’m a father with all the responsibilities that role entails. On my slowest workdays, meanwhile, I can’t fathom how I ever managed to make a living as a writer.
Therefore, channelling my inner sycamore involves a not insubstantial leap of faith. Paying close heed to my breathing – one of the key planks of Qi Gong, the ancient Chinese healing technique to which I am being introduced – I plant my roots, steady my trunk and let the gentle tropical breeze blow through my metaphorical boughs.
Effecting meaningful change is never easy. But few places in the world are better at smoothing the transformative process than Kamalaya, an award-winning wellness and spa resort that, in November 2020, celebrated 15 years at the top of the holistic heap in Thailand.
The retreat’s selection of carefully designed programs, which include plans for detox, stress, and burnout, healthy lifestyle, treatment for addiction, and sleep enhancement, have earned it a devoted global following over the years, with clients ranging from stressed-out high-flyers to long-term devotees of Eastern healing methods.
Kamalaya’s expertise at nurturing mind, body, and soul has never been needed more urgently than at this current critical juncture, according to its owners, John and Karina Stewart.
“We are all going through this incredible collective trauma right now,” says Karina, referring to the extraordinary mental toll that the current global health crisis is exacting.
“It (the pandemic) has and continues to cause so much uncertainty. It has put everything off-kilter. It might seem that we can’t take any positives from it, but for those of us fortunate enough to be able to do so, right now is the perfect time to enact real, meaningful change in our lives.”
Accordingly, I’ve journeyed down from Bangkok to embark on one of Kamalaya’s core plans: one that is particularly relevant to the current world situation. Entitled “Embracing Change”, the programme was designed to engender emotional balance and wellbeing.
Like most of us, I’ve had my ups and downs over the past year. Prolonged separation from family and friends, work uncertainty, and the seemingly endless barrage of unsettling information emanating from news and social media have all taken their toll. I’m in dire need of a reboot. Thankfully, I’m at a place where tools to smooth the recalibration process are state of the art and easily accessible.
Throughout my five-day program, I benefit from a range of holistic treatments known for their ability to unblock natural energy flow, facilitate the release of accumulated emotional stress, and regulate the circulatory and nervous systems of the body. These include acupuncture, Indian head massage, and Chi Nei Tsang: a Taoist abdominal massage.
Most powerful of all is a series of one-on-one sessions with a mentor, who helps me explore my emotional patterns and arms me with meditative and healing practices to instil positive life changes.
The process is certainly no picnic. Indeed, exploring the dustier recesses of the conscious and unconscious mind is often as traumatic as the most demanding work assignment and considerably more emotionally draining. After five days of this, I’m mentally exhausted, but feel better equipped to go back to the maelstrom that is city life. I can’t promise I’ll never shake my head in despair at the vagaries of the world, but perhaps I’ll be more mindful of its plus points.
“For a complete recovery from high stress, you need to target both the physical and emotional condition by adopting a holistic approach that incorporates diet, exercise, and therapies that restore and maintain the physical and emotional balance long-term,” adds Karina. “We cater for varying levels of stress. Some guests arrive at breaking point, whereas others are seeking ‘time out’ to relax and rejuvenate, and we guide them through the program that most suits their needs.”
Kamalaya’s gorgeous environment makes the hard work seem considerably easier. Stylish suites and chic villas – complete with architectural and decorative flourishes drawn from Hindu and Buddhist spiritual traditions – nestle amongst lush tropical gardens alongside steam rooms, rock pools, and yoga pavilions. Meandering paths lead up, down, and around the property, crossing streams and passing several spirit houses along the way. There’s even a monk’s cave for meditation purposes.
Dining is also a highlight. Menus revolve around plant-based principles with healthy cooking methods like grilling and light stir-frying to the fore. But there’s no scrimping on flair in dishes such as pistachio crusted king fish with roasted sweet potato and turmeric foam or rack of lamb with basil and goat cheese risotto.
“We wanted to create something with substance that also suited our guests’ taste for indulgence,” explains John.
On my final morning at the retreat, I absorb more knowledge on the same hillside perch as before, this time as part of a session of Hatha yoga. Lying on my back with my knees pulled up to my chest I adopt the ananda balasana or “happy baby” pose. As I wiggle my feet while rocking gently back and forth, I let my conscious mind ponder. As a grizzled 40-something, the age of innocence is long behind me. But I can think of no better place to be reborn than Kamalaya.
To find out more, visit kamalaya.com.