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Travel
July 18, 2011

Soul Therapy

Text by Nisha Jhangiani

A search for an alternative spiritual experience that doesn’t compromise on comfort and luxury leads to the calming island of Koh Samui, Thailand. Verve discovers Kamalaya, a sanctuary of wellness in its purest sense

DAY 1
Koh Samui immediately lifts your spirits doesn’t it? The sounds of gently crashing waves as you drive through winding streets, smells of local foods being stir-fried, lush greenery around every corner, the ever-smiling Thai people greeting you at each stop, the tiny massage parlours where tired backs are kneaded into relaxed compliance.

And then there’s Kamalaya, the ‘lotus realm’, a way off from all the island buzz, an expansive haven set amidst undulating hills, a tropical forest where gently gushing fountains and stone figurines of Ganesha and Brahma reside. I sip on the most tender coconut water I’ve ever tasted as I wait in the lounge area, mesmerised by a giant Buddha, whose visage glows with the aid of massive candles lit all day to worship this deity.

My villa is an oasis. I walk past a slatted wooden path into my patio, which opens into a sitting area, going a few steps down to my generously proportioned room, which features floor-to-ceiling windows facing three sides of my bed. I can look out to a peaceful stream of water surrounded by plants of every variety. Thanks to a pre-filled questionnaire that I’ve answered, a neck pillow has been thoughtfully placed by my bedside. It’s a nature and health story playing out in the room – birds chirping on the instrumental music playing in the ensuite iPod, yoghurts and juices stocked in the mini bar, handmade ceramic pots and cups with a selection of green and jasmine teas, aloe vera gels and herbal repellents placed to combat sunburns and mosquito bites.

I shower in a wood floor bathroom, where a shrub corner is blooming and blossoming before heading to lunch at the Amrita Café; sitting in my private sala and looking out on to the sea, I gorge on papaya salad, Thai curry and fresh orange juice (I have conveniently skipped the enormous detox menu that most guests swear by).

It’s time for the real day to begin. I walk a gruelling five minutes uphill to the holistic spa complex, a gargantuan building of treatment rooms, open air hubs and consultation suites. My Bioimpedance Analysis (BIA) follows and it’s not the best news. The BIA includes a ten-minute, non-intrusive gauge machine, which tracks crucial health factors – body mass index, body capacitance, total body water and more. This helps the therapist to locate every individual’s strong and weak triggers; how well the body can store energy, how metabolically active it can be, how hydrated one is, depending on the water content in the cells. Consequently, a diet, exercise and vitamin intake regime can be determined. As expected, I’m either higher or lower than an ideal range on most factors, although Emma, my knowledgeable nutritionist, points out that a few changes in my eating habits can quickly change this state of affairs. She also hands me an elimination diet chart, a quick and effective method of finding out what foods may not suit one’s system.

The tough part over, I head for my first massage of the week, a traditional Thai treatment with hot poultice. I have opted for the Asian Bliss programme, which mainly focuses on relaxing and rejuvenating; at Kamalaya, one can choose from a host of prepared programmes or simply customise a series to best work for individual needs.
So here I am, being stretched and patted and dabbed with poultices in an open pavilion – the sea is in full view, the birds are singing their evening song and I am being literally transported into a state of sedation.

I grab a quick dinner at Soma, the evening restaurant, before literally crashing into bed.

DAY 2
Is it my laziness or the utter relaxation of last evening that makes me miss the group Hatha Yoga class this morning? Kamalaya offers all its guests a weekly guide of daily group sessions, which can be combined free of charge with the programme of massages and therapies chosen by the customer. Other than the yoga session, I can choose today from a health cuisine cooking class, a beach power walk, an aqua aerobic hour and a singing bowls concert, all at evenly spaced out intervals.

I almost throw up on the supremely effective wheatgrass shot (the regulars here stoically go through a couple of them along with the equally potent ‘brain tonic’ shots) at breakfast but I’ve promised myself a healthy week. Wholewheat croissants, shaved almonds and an egg white omelette later, I stroll to the beach for an hour of leisurely reading – the more active and adventurous have the option of walking eastwards along the beach to a reef opening with deeper water depths, ideal for swimming.

It feels odd to assent to an Indian head massage in the heart of Thailand; my doubts are quickly wiped out as the masseuse tackles my arms, legs and rusty joints – initially it feels like my limbs are being pulled out by forceps, and then, without warning, there’s a sudden stillness and release in my body. The head massage that follows is a natural flow in this direction, heightening the feeling of being free from physical stress, ache and pain.

I walk a few steps down to the steam cavern, which is literally a cave-like setting. Shocking my system with the ice shower outdoors gives me a burst of energy, which I use up washing out all the oil in my hair. Appetite reignited, I choose a diet-recommended coconut water, steamed dumpling and fruit sorbet selection for lunch.

My Reiki session is a mixed success. While I do feel the warm waves of peace glide over me, my therapist tells a different tale. She finds my mind so heavy with thought and clutter, her palms begin to sweat badly with the strain of healing. She proceeds to show me how I can transfer this brain energy to lower parts of the body to achieve more harmony and balance.

The singing bowls concert sounds intriguing but doesn’t match up to its interesting title. True, the fabulous sea view, perfect acoustics and cup of lemongrass tea are welcome, but overall, the hour goes too slowly for me.

I request, and am granted, food with chilli oil at dinner – need I say more!

DAY 3
Ashtanga yoga at eight a.m. If the timing wasn’t bad enough, the severely sore muscles at the end of this 90-minute workout, that beats any fast-paced cardio, drive me to the sanctum of the poolside for some much-needed vacuous lying around.

I reluctantly get up and about for my personal mentoring session with Rajesh Ramani, a genius of a man, whose simple life concepts and easy manner put things into perspective. His inner thought techniques and meditation rituals are ones I follow to this day, with positive results.

I’ve decided to try a facial acupuncture with Dr. Song, to rid myself of the blemishes accumulated through travel and this first-time detox. I realise now why I had to fill an extensive questionnaire prior to this meeting; Dr Song quickly identifies my stiff neck and delicate stomach as concern areas and then proceeds to twist and pressurise the hell out of them. He opens up my shoulder muscles, cracks my joints, leaving me stunned. On my face, he uses liberal amounts of oil, which he massages with gentle but firm strokes, through two unique pieces of jade. Then come the needles – little pricks all over, which will unlock and release my glow. I also learn that my dark circles are a result of kidney blockage and my short temper, a side-effect of a below-par spleen. I am given a few tips on how to combat the two and I leave a very satisfied customer.

A refreshing foot massage and herbal bath treatment is followed by a group meditation class on the hilltop yoga pavilion, with Rajesh again. This time, it’s more about balancing the chakras and the sounds and breathing involved to bring each one in tandem with the body. I leave energised, with a helpful sheet in hand, listing what I’ve just learnt through diagrams and pointers.

The Alchemy Lounge is a wonderfully quiet reading area where one can enjoy a few snacks and while away time – which is precisely what I do before a group meeting with Wayne Walker, a clairvoyant who specialises in release therapy, a process of delving into one’s past life, but in a conscious state, as opposed to hypnotherapy. Kamalaya is an institution founded on this belief of natural upliftment; all the programmes and techniques offered here come together in the single point agenda of spiritual, physical and mental balance through massage, meditation and holistic practice.

DAY 4
One hour post breakfast, I trudge uphill (feeling many grams lighter already) for a bout of Chi Nei Tsang, an intensive abdominal massage, which is a fairly painful but natural process, known for its balancing benefits. The half hour is soon over and moves into a pampering Asian Thai massage; a pleasant surprise considering how hands are usually ignored or cursorily breezed through during a typical body treatment.

My lunch appointment with Kamalaya founder Karina Stewart is enlightening. After 22 years of study and practice of Asian healing and spiritual remedies, as well as a background in traditional Chinese medicine, she meets her match in John Stewart, a practitioner of 16 years of spiritual studies, based in a Himalayan community. Kamalaya has absorbed their inherent holistic approach where people from all spheres can meet, connect and heal together. Karina has conceptualised the feel of the place – natural luxe, no manicured lawns and sterile opulence here, but phenomenal service, world-class therapies and environs of foliage-filled beauty.

Karina has also created the menu for the restaurants; I’m tempted to try her choice of broth and grilled salmon but veer instead towards a lip-smacking penang curry.

All that coconut milk intake must be burnt off so I share a golf cart with two gentlemen as we go uphill to the Yantra Hall for an hour of Cardio Combat. As we get chatting, one of the men reveals how he has moved to Koh Samui to be a regular outpatient of Kamalaya, following his many run-ins with serious illnesses.

I can barely move after a series of martial art routines and some Thai boxing, but some regulars walk straight into the next-door gym for more punishment. I do a slow beach stroll, continue with a soothing oil massage, nibble at wholewheat pasta and contemplate calling for a DVD (there are no televisions or newspapers provided in the rooms; guests can request films that can be viewed through hoisted screens or catch a daily 8 p.m. showing of diverse cinema in the resort’s library). Sleep wins though.

DAY 5
A Kundalini and Hatha yoga class takes me through breathing techniques and smooth flowing exercises that focus on principles of balance again. Emotions collect in the lower part of the body and we are taught an easy version of a headstand that allows movement to the top half of the body to create ideal alignment.

I’m almost enjoying the wheatgrass shots by now…and the Reiki session is more effective as well – this time, I can sense my body parts caving into relaxation and I’m able to absorb the heat energy being offered to me.

Dr Song pricks needles into me once more, distracting me with tales of his life in heartland China; his habit of living there five months of the year, honing his Tai Chi skills and his dream of visiting Hrishikesh and Dharamshala. I happily exchange business cards with this little magician before trotting to Rajesh for my final lesson in heart meditation. We part on a happy note, hoping to meet again in some other part of the world.

I’m in a state of suspension and completely unable to join the group session of mantra chanting and Pilates respectively. I sleep the afternoon away, waking to the sunset which I enjoy on the beach. Tonight, I am finally ready to try the flavourful broth and grilled salmon.

I’m now beginning to understand why so many guests here are repeat customers, coming year after year for a thorough cleansing of mind, body and soul. Don’t we all need it!

For more information, log on to www.kamalaya.com

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