Bathing rituals, sound therapies, and dedicated wellness retreats underscore the ongoing importance of wellbeing to luxury travellers. We take a look at what’s trending in wellness.
There has perhaps been no bigger emphasis on the concept of wellness than presently. Even before the pandemic forcibly made us slow down and confront the frenetic pace at which many were living their lives — and the repercussions of doing so on the body and mind — the parameters of wellness were shifting.
Buzz terms like ‘forest bathing’ (based on the Japanese practice, shinrin-yoku), involving immersing oneself quietly in nature, were entering the wider wellbeing lexicon as people sought more experiences that enabled them to tap out of the chaos, clear their minds, and reconnect with their sense of self.
The pandemic may have accelerated shifts that were already steadily in motion. Luxury travel experiences centred on wellness are seemingly evermore ubiquitous, while hotel spas are diversifying their offering by moving beyond traditional treatments like massages, facials, and wraps to incorporate the alternative and holistic within their menus.
In the Maldives, the luxury hospitality brand JOALI opened the archipelago’s first dedicated five-star wellbeing island in November 2021. JOALI BEING is focused on what it deems to be the four pillars of health — mind, skin, microbiome, and energy — evident in everything from its biophilic design to its dining offering, to individualised programs. Dedicated wellbeing spaces include a sound therapy room, a salt inhalation room, and treatment rooms suspended over the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean — visible through transparent floors.
With clubs in LA and New York, Remedy Place is touted as the world’s ‘first social wellness club’ where guests participate in remedial activities such as ice baths along with other members, to enhance social connection as well as self-care.
Closer to home, Aurora Spa & Bathhouse has opened at the new Continental Sorrento on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula with an expansive sauna and a ‘bathing ritual’ that follows the traditions of European bathhouses. Guests make their way through a 10-step journey comprised of hot and cold experiences, hydro massage, and magnesium-rich waters, with a botanical salt ritual and immersion in several pools that are set at different temperatures. Guests can experience sensory showers, a Nordic sauna, an aromatherapy steam room, a halotherapy (salt) suite, and thermal lounges.
In London’s South Kensington neighbourhood, the recently opened Other House is taking a holistic approach to wellness with its Other Space spa. Treatments go beyond the traditional to include the alternative and the spiritual, with options like reiki, sound healing, and even tarot readings.
Head of Wellbeing, Alex Holbrok, says her aim for The Other Space was to expand horizons for people by providing them with a transformative experience, discovering “some of the incredible wellbeing modalities for the first time” with the best in their field, who have been vetted by Holbrok.
Part of the unique offering at The Other Space is a set of enormous gongs, which Holbrok says are Europe’s biggest and are played together during OM sound meditation sessions led by renowned Swiss ‘sound artist’, Leo Cosendai. The sessions, along with a reiki-infused sound bath, have been two of the most popular treatments since the space opened in December 2022.
Reiki is traditional Japanese ‘energy healing’ that has been practiced for centuries. Various forms of sound therapy can be traced to ancient civilisations in Tibet, Nepal, India, and Indigenous Australia. The sonic vibrations emitted from instruments such as gongs, sound bowls, and tuning forks used in a sound healing session have been shown to slow brainwaves, calm the nervous system, and encourage a deep state of relaxation. Potential benefits can include lowering cortisol levels to reduce stress, improving mental clarity, and even boosting the immune system.
Olivia Howitt is a reiki master practitioner, south therapist, and founder of Energy Shaped as well as a practitioner at The Other Space. She attributes the increasing popularity of alternative treatments to high stress levels, heightened awareness, and the human need for connection with others — perhaps particularly resonant after the isolation felt during the pandemic and as the result of an increasingly digitised world.
“I think there is a need to feel human connection on a soul level and be part of something meaningful. Whether people are working towards change, a life goal, or simply want to relax and reset, these practices provide a space to let go and co-create a healthy relationship with ourselves and others”, she says.
I experienced the healing powers of reiki when, on a particularly grey day during the December ‘silly season’, I arrived at The Other House for a sound healing and reiki treatment with Olivia.
The hotel’s vivid, eccentrically decorated lobby is a stark contrast to the tranquil Other Space in its lower levels. After a brief introduction from Olivia about what the session would involve, I lay down in the centre of the room with my legs bolstered and a blanket over me to keep me cosy.
It didn’t take long for me to drift into a meditative state. I had some awareness of the sounds around me — and seemingly reverberating through me — but the main sense was one of deep relaxation and connection. Toward the end, Olivia used a brushing technique with her fingers to clear the energy from the room. As she moved around my head, I could feel tingling on my face and around my hairline, despite her not making physical contact at all — a peculiar but powerful sensation.
While practices such as reiki and sound healing might not be new, their increasing popularity is perhaps indicative of the desire for treatments that go beyond the conventional and nourish the mind and soul, rather than just the body.