Realm of relaxation
A Wellness Sanctuary on Koh Samui is perfect for sorting out the stresses of everyday life
For many of us, life is stressful. We start our days with a sandwich and coffee from a vending machine, skip lunch, barely taste our late dinner, and when we get to bed, our minds are focusing on what we have scheduled for the following morning. Peaceful moments are few and far between.
Kamalaya Koh Samui, an hour south of Bangkok by plane, is a whole world away though my thoughts are still occupied by work when we land.
"Sawasdee kha. The weather today is very hot. Please have some refreshment," says Kamalaya's receptionist, kneeling down to serve me a welcome drink with a friendly smile.
It's a short distance from my room at Rock Top Villa to the Wellness Sanctuary, and I try to focus on the hike.
Filling in the four-page personal health questionnaire allows me to catch my breath.
"Your blood pressure's a bit high," says the nurse, reading the results from the monitor on her desk.
The bio-impedance analysis, a clinical assessment of tissue and fluid compartments, is quick and painless.
"You can opt for the seven-day Balance & Revitalise programme over your five-day stay, meaning you'll have two to three treatments per day, which is quite tight. If you think the schedule is too much, please let us know," says the Sanctuary's naturopath and nutritionist, Samantha Van Dort, skimming through my health profile.
Three appointments sound like a breeze after my usual office schedule.
My treatments start with Kamalaya's signature vital essence oil massage, an Asian rub that's blended with aromatherapy.
"We have five element essential oils: water, wood, fire, earth and metal. Your choice has nothing to do with your element. You can choose any aroma that suits your current mood," says wellness receptionist, Jub.
I choose the wood element essential oil, which is good for relaxation. After slipping on a sarong, I'm led by the therapist to the treatment room up the hill. Walking up the steep slope requires concentration, willpower and strong thighs. The first two I have in large quantities, the third less so.
The open-air bamboo-built treatment room with a thatched roof allows the breeze to gently kiss my skin and I'm happy to lie on the bed and relax as the therapist carefully kneads my body, pressing hard around the tight muscles in my shoulders. The ambient sounds gradually calm my restless mind. One hour passes and for the first time in several months, I don't feel anxious about the time.
"Your right shoulder is very stiff. I could hardly knead it to break up the knots. If you leave it like this, you might have headaches and feel numb around your right hand and arm. Exercising and changing your position every 15 minutes when you're working at the computer might help," advises Por, the therapist.
Strolling to the restaurant for dinner, I suddenly feel a sharp pain from in my right shoulder. My head is hurting too. I fall sleep early and when I wake, it's morning. My headache is gone though my shoulder still hurts.
The second day's treatment starts with a traditional Asian foot massage and chi nei tsang, a Taoist abdominal massage, meaning that I need to fast for at least one hour before.
"Chi nei tsang releases physical and emotional stress. It enhances digestive functions and promotes circulation to the vital organs," Bee, the therapist, explains.
Synchronising my breathing while the therapist presses and releases pressure around my navel is not unlike meditation and we are really getting into it when I hear a loud shout. I look enquiringly at Bee.
"A patient getting rid of his depression," she smiles.
An Indian head massage is listed on the programme for day three. It increases blood circulation to the head, neck and shoulders, which will improve concentration and relieve stiffness in the neck and shoulders area.
"I spent almost half an hour trying to soften the muscles in your right shoulder. I think maybe we should switch to a hand massage instead," says therapist Aoy teasingly, as she gently pours warm coconut oil on my scalp and kneads.
"Back home, you should take salt water baths to increase circulation and promote the healing of sore muscles," she recommends.
My fourth day starts with a royal Ayurvedic massage with Indian masseur Asha from Kerala, a state in southwestern India that's well known for therapeutic treatments.
Asha finds stiffness at the back of my waist, in the left and right buttocks, at the back of my right knee and around my right eyebrow.
"These sites represent back pain, stiff shoulders and a stiff leg. If you leave it like, this you might not be able to walk when you are older," she warns.
Four hours later, I am ready for Shirodhara, one of the oldest Ayurvedic treatments, which is used to relieve insomnia, depression, headaches and to improve memory.
After cleansing my feet with warm bergamot water, Asha massages my body, puts cotton balls in my ears and places a soft cloth over my eyes.
A metal bottle with a slow-flowing spout is positioned over the centre of my forehead. The warm thick aromatic oil slowly "crawls" through my scalp and hair. It feels like thousands of soft hands are kneading my scalp and brings total relaxation to my body and my mind.
"After the treatment you should not expose yourself to strong sunlight or have a steam/sauna treatment for at least four hours. Avoid cold beverages too," says the soft-spoken Asha.
My thick black hair absorbs the herbal oil to the last drop while my mind sponges up the peaceful environment. The health advice I take back with me to the bustling city life.
Salt bath anyone?