Spend your days rushing from one task to the next, feeling overwhelmed by the demands of work and home life? Join the club says Trish Halpin, who embarks on an incredible week of change and transformation
My friend Debbie is one of those super successful, multi-tasking business women who never seems to run out of energy or enthusiasm for life and all it’s possibilities. For the past few years she’s been raving about Kamalaya, a wellness sanctuary on the Thai Island of Koh Samui, where she takes herself for one week every year and returns home with her batteries fully recharged, her mind relaxed and her body revitalized. When she suggests I join her for the next trip with a couple of other friends, it takes me a while to convince myself that, yes, I can leave my husband and kids on their own for a week, and that actually, I work really hard, so maybe I deserve this? If I can channel even a tad of Debbie’s feel-good energy while learning how to slow down and live a less frantic, more considered life, it will be well worth it.
So I’m super excited when the four of us meet in Bangkok airport – Debbie having flown in from Italy, Jacky and myself from London and Gaye all the way from Canada. Together we take the forty-five minute flight down to Koh Samui on the south-eastern side of the mainland, then it’s just a twenty minute drive to Kamalaya, where I hope to say goodbye to my burned-out self.
The Kamalaya philosophy is all about optimal wellbeing for body, mind and spirit, with each of these three elements being nourished through food, treatments and activities throughout your stay. Nine different wellness programs are offered, from detox and optimal fitness to sleep enhancement and embracing change. I’ve signed up for Asian Bliss, a mix of Ayurvedic treatments, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Thai therapies, not only because it’s recommended for stress (my middle name), but also because my energy levels are at zero and it sounds like the easiest one on the list.
My first appointment on the afternoon we arrive is a wellness consultation and Bio-Impedance Analysis, during which I’m attached to a machine to have key health markers, such as celluar integrity, fat and lean mass and hydration levels, checked. My wellness consultant Leila analyses the results (all of which are surprisingly OK, but there’s always scope for improvement) and asks me how I’m feeling about my life and my health, and what goals I’d like to set for the week. Where to start? The short answer is to feel less exhausted, less overwhelmed all the time and able to shift that constant feeling of heaviness weighing down on my shoulders.
Leila talks me through the Asian Bliss programme: I’ll be having two treatments a day ranging from scrubs, herbal compresses and Taoist abdominal massages, to acupuncture, reiki and one to one meditation. She also recommends what to eat (as a vegetarian, I need to up my protein intake for better energy) and explains how important it is to calm down the nervous system through holistic activities, such as yoga, meditation and Qi Gong.
Finally, she advises me to think about just two or three things to take home at the end of the week, rather than expecting to replicate everything that happens here when I’m back in the real world. This could be changing a few habits, making a few tweaks to my diet or continuing with a holistic practice.
That evening I have an Ayurvedic massage that certainly ticks the bliss box, and I sleep for eight straight hours, which is so unusual for me, not to mention unexpected given the jet lag situation. I wake up feeling ready for Kamalaya to work it’s magic.
‘Nature is the number one healer,’ according to Kamalaya founder John Stewart, so it’s no surprise that the gardens, pools, beach and open air treatment rooms are beautifully landscaped and extremely tranquil. Stewart built his paradise ten years ago into a steep hillside after discovering a monk’s cave, which still remains at the heart of the resort as a place for guests to light a candle and spend a moment of reflection. As lovely as my room and balcony are – simple styling in natural materials such as wood and stone – outdoors is where I want to be. So much so that I even come to think of the hill climbs as a bonus work out.
Maybe it’s the monk who’s to thank for the feeling of calmness and spirituality that permeates Kamalaya, but there’s another factor that definitely helps – wifi access is restricted to your room (one hour free per week) and there are discreet notices everywhere asking guests not to use phones. The effect is startling – on a personal level I manage to forget about my phone (apart from guilt-induced checking in with the husband and teenagers) but seeing fellow guests dining, relaxing on a beach, or going into an exercise class without heads bowed and fingers frantically tapping helps me to relax as well. I’d never considered before just how on edge and alert I usually am to everyone else’s pings and dings, never mind my own.
Food, according to Stewart is the number two healer, and eating becomes a revelation. I consider myself to be pretty healthy, I’m vegetarian, I get more than my five a day and enjoy food far too much to ever consider a trendy diet or punishing detox, instead subscribing to the ‘a little of what you fancy’ philosophy. Here, the menus are designed to be nutrient rich and flavoured with healing herbs and spices. You can choose from the vegan ‘Detox’ menu – healthy salads, broths and curries – or ‘Ideal Weight’, which bolts on a portion of protein such as fish or tofu.
Sitting down to our first dinner, I am genuinely concerned that the modest portion of lemongrass and coconut stew with a protein side of tempeh is never going to fill me up, and I’ll wake up ravenous in the night. When I finish though, it hits me that for the first time in forever I feel pleasantly full rather than stuffed, and understand what Leila meant when she advised me to eat until I’m 85% full. Usually I have carbs – pasta, noodles, rice, bread – with every meal and always finish every last morsel on my plate. I have none of these types of carbs throughout the whole week, which makes me realise if I eat the right kind – grains, legumes, squash – I’m going to feel a whole lot better.
Breakfast the next day starts with four rather challenging shots, tumeric, kale, wheatgrass and sweet potato, followed by fruit, eggs and avocdo dip. Within a day I’m feeling lighter, within two, my stomach looks visibly less bloated. Add in a Thai compress massage and yoga class and I’m positively floating.
Asian Bliss, it turns out, is not quite so blissful after all. The programme is scheduled to ease you in with the lovely treatments, and after a few days, they become more health focused with the introduction of acupuncture and a Thai Theraputic massage. The 90 minute session is one I will never forget, mainly because it makes me want to scream and vomit, but also because it fixes a shoulder injury I’d been struggling with for the best part of six months. Sasi, a young and tiny Thai doctor, kneels over me as I lie on a mat, while her bionic thumbs, knuckles and elbows knead knotted muscles and free my shoulder. The pain is intense and I have to breathe, talk and laugh my way through it, otherwise things could get very messy. An hour and a half later I leave the treatment room feeling slightly stunned, amazed at my pain free shoulder – and with a big girl crush on Sasi.
The staff at Kamalya are without doubt it’s secret weapon. Recruited for their caring qualities, as much as their professional skills, they are kind, gentle and intuitively know what you need before you do. On the beach, Kris and Wit magically appear with ice-cold ginger tea, fresh coconut water, or a little dish of frozen grapes. At the breakfast buffet Viktor has the patience of a saint talking me through the seven different types of vegan milk (from soy to sunflower seed) not once, but twice. When therapist Anya, gently presses my eyes to signal the end of a head massage I find it surprisingly moving. Compassion is the word that springs to mind, and reminds me that it’s not something I see – or practice – a lot in my every day life.
Perhaps the biggest moment of self-awareness though, occurs during my one to one meditation sessions with ‘Life Enhancement Mentor’ Rajesh, in which he asks me what I do to look after my mental health. Er, absolutely nothing? I’ve always been a bit of a gym bunny (in more recent years converting to yoga and pilates) and ensure exercise is always part of my weekly routine. But looking after my mind – well, it doesn’t even cross my mind.
That’s all about to be remedied as Rajesh teaches me Pranayama breathing, a controlled breathing exercise to oxygenate the whole body and strengthen the nervous system. In the second session the next day we repeat the breathing exercises and follow it with a meditation, in which my mind becomes completely still and I tune in solely to my breathing. Have I really sat completely still for the best part of an hour? Yes I have. Rajesh sends me on my way with a breathing practice to incorporate into my daily life, which is definitely one of my takeaways.
As the week comes to an end, all four of us feel like we’ve been on incredible personal journeys, and a group one – this is probably the first occasion we’ve spent time together that didn’t involve booze. I vow to commit time every week to my mental well being. I also want to be more tolerant of other people and less irritable when I’m on the Tube for my daily commute and I’m going to stop fretting about what’s happening tomorrow when there is so much to experience today. I leave with more words of wisdom from Stewart:
‘You can’t change your nature but you can change your habits’.
Kamalaya’s Seven day Asian Bliss programme, including treatments, meals, airport transfers and accommodation in a Hillside Garden view room starts at £3,600. For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org