Wellness retreats for weary travellers

Wellness retreats for weary travellers
Guests of Chosen working out on a beach in Bali.
PHOTO: The Chosen

Wellness retreats, with their well-appointed accommodation and tailored programmes, are catering to a new breed of travellers.

In this fast-paced, time-stressed world, more people are planning for purposeful holidays - using their holiday time not just to unwind but to be rejuvenated through some "me time". Wellness retreats are getting serious with their luxury accommodation and personalised packages for high achievers seeking alternative therapies in luxe destinations

Tapping ex-Olympians


Bali/Guatemala/Iceland/New Zealand


A gluten-free breakfast. Photo: The Chosen.

Chosen founders John Stanton and Robin Connelley admit they are the hippies of this generation. They might be high-flyers in the private equity business but they're still hippies at heart, constantly searching for their better selves - but in luxe accommodation and with expert guidance.

MBA holders and very well-travelled, they were both looking for a one-of-a- kind holiday retreat when they finally decided to design the one of their dreams. They took three months to do their research and market data trends confirmed what they saw and experienced among their high net-worth peers - and wanted for themselves.

So, Chosen - derived from a Japanese word which means "to challenge" - was born, as a retreat that combines physical, social, intellectual and emotional elements. It's about good food and unusual physical adventures, but it's also about self-motivation and improvement - with, of course, some pool time in-between.

Its unique point is that it has mostly former Olympians or specialists in their respective fields to guide each retreat. But it's not meant to be a sports boot camp as much as a place to "take you out of your comfort zone" and help you discover more of yourself, says Mr Stanton.

"An Olympic swimmer might not be well versed in some other sport, like canyoning, for example, so the idea is to get out of your comfort zone," he explains.

In the field of sports, some of the consultants include former Olympic swimmers Michael Kim and Andrew Lauterstein from Australia, and CrossFit athlete and coach Taylor Rank while on the nutritional side, there is Elisa Haggarty, founder of Culinary Farmacy.

"The personality is very important and we got lucky with our first consultant, Elisa Haggarty, whose vision of her company aligned with ours quite well and she lives a lifestyle that we're aspiring to live," says Ms Connelley.

Chosen's global operations manager Josh Davies, who used to run Watercress Restaurant in Bali, doubles as the executive chef of Chosen, designing and closely monitoring the menus for the various Chosen retreats.

Already, various groups have taken part in the Chosen programme in Bali since 2013. Three other destinations are now available - New Zealand, Guatemala and Iceland; the programme was launched globally in Singapore a month ago.

"As business people, we wanted to make sure the business was replicable and expandable before we launched it worldwide," says Mr Stanton.

Every aspect of the programme has been carefully curated. A typical retreat lasts seven days and six nights, although shorter trips can be tailored for corporate groups. "For now, though, we cater to mostly individual retail clients," Mr Stanton adds.

Guests look at Chosen's calendar, and possibly the specialist leading it, and send in a request to join the retreat. They have to fill up a detailed questionnaire on their reasons and goals for attending the retreat as each person's itinerary and dining menu will be tailor-made for them.

"We want guests who are choosing to embark on a Chosen experience to unlock their full potential or realise it once again," says Mr Stanton.

What is wellness to them?

Mr Stanton and Ms Connelley note that they are already living the lifestyle they want and that they are accountable to themselves to be healthy and happy. "It's about being personally sustainable," Mr Stanton adds. "We see that more people are demanding that of themselves these days."

Chosen experiences in Bali take place about once a month and costs US$5,400 (single occupancy) and US$4,900 (double occupancy). Guatemala is hosting three more (from US$6,600), and there is one each in Iceland (US$11,500) and New Zealand (US$7,600) this year.

DNA testing for guests

Anantara Hotels & Resorts

Balance Wellness Retreats


Anantara Phuket Layan's Muay Thai boxing ring. Photo: Anantara Hotel.

Anantara Hotels & Resorts launched its Balance Wellness programme last year in response to the growing demand for healthier living, not only at home but also on the road, whether for business or holiday. Guests can choose from health, fitness and wellbeing programmes besides staying at Anantara's luxury hotels and resorts for an indulging and relaxing holiday.

Vanessa Stoessel, director of Wellness and Spa Projects at Minor Hotel Group, says that it's about inviting guests to make healthy choices that suit their time, needs and goals. She notes that guests are demanding that more wellness options be made available to them on a daily basis. "Properties that allow you to combine all these experiences in one with flexibility and personalisation have most appeal," she adds.

The Anantara Phuket Layan offers a combination of healthy cuisine and raw juices, fitness classes for body and mind, educational wellness seminars, results- driven spa treatments and healing alternative therapies.

"Guests choose what they would like to focus on - weight loss and body toning, detoxing and anti-ageing, de-stressing or holistic healing, or simply the satisfaction of returning from holiday looking and feeling great," says Ms Stoessel.

A key component of the programme is education so that when guests return home they can continue to practise all they learnt, she adds.

A typical Balance Wellness offering would be a three to seven-night transformational Fitness & Weight Loss and Yoga Retreat, run in partnership with Lifestyle Health Retreats (LHR). Their belief is that successful lifestyle change comes from education, planning and the implementation of new lifestyle strategies for long- term behaviour change.

Every guest joining a retreat will have to undergo a DNA test. The DNA, taken through the saliva swab method, will reveal the guest's unique physical constitution and genetic needs so that a wellness and fitness programme can be tailored for them for optimal results.

During the retreat, guests benefit from professional guidance from experienced fitness, nutrition and wellness specialists, positive language and mindset re-programming, along with a realistic, motivational action plan.

After the retreat, the coaching continues for 30 days, through Skype or telephone calls, to monitor progress and provide additional advice.

The hotel group has a "Masters of Wellness" visiting practitioner calendar throughout the year that includes specialists in Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, sound healing, energy healing, diagnostic hair profiling, DNA testing, trigger point therapy, meditation, tai chi and lifestyle and nutrition consultation.

Guests can book one session or a series of therapy sessions. The "masters" on the hotel group's list include Ella Rankine (Reiki, sound healing and Chakra balancing therapies) and Dr John Rogerson, whose expertise lies in biophysics research, functional wellbeing, cleansing and nutrition.

What's the typical cost?

Prices start from 24,700++ baht (S$945++) per night for a seven-night Yoga Retreat at the Anantara Phuket Layan (http://phuket-layan.anantara.com/Yoga- Balance-Wellness-Retreat/) which includes a minimum of four hours a day of workshops, one-to-one coaching, a 60-minute spa treatment, 30 days of follow-up coaching besides the usual airport transfer, luxury accommodation and three healthy meals a day.

In touch with the inner self


Your Balanced Wellbeing: Yoga and the Grinberg Method


Saakalya, which offers yoga retreats in Bali, also connects guests with local communities in those retreats. Photo: Saakalya.

Wellness is being redefined in broader terms to include the mind and spirit, not just the body, believes yoga instructor Alexander Schmutterer.

"Nothing is more valuable than taking time for oneself and truly switching off. And this younger generation, particularly millennials, is not just seeking escape but also an education on how to adapt to a healthier routine," she says.

Ms Schmutterer, who spent eight years in marketing and communications in the hospitality and technology industries, relocated from Germany to Singapore in 2006 and worked at Pan Pacific Hotel Singapore.

She started training as a yoga teacher and quit her job in 2014 to develop her Saakalya brand, offering yoga at her 44 Jalan Merah Saga studio and holistic travel packages.

"The travel started because of clients' requests," she says, and Saakalya Travel takes it further by connecting guests with local communities and businesses during such retreats.

Ms Schmutterer conducts annual yoga sessions at Amanwana on Moyo Island, accessible via flights from Bali or Lombok and then by boat to Sumbawa Besar.

For her own "Your Balanced Wellbeing" travel wellness programme, she's scouted out another location in the north of Bali.

Her speciality is chakra yoga, which comprises exercises to unblock all the seven chakras in one's body. "So for a seven- day programme, we do asanas to focus on one chakra a day," she explains.

At her retreats, Ms Schmutterer pairs yoga with the Grinberg method which increases willpower, confidence, and even tackles physical and psychological pain.

"It's designed to brings guests back in touch with nature and their inner selves. Saakalya's experiences build on fun, healthy lifestyles, offering guests a chance to recharge and break free from their stresses," she says.

The double occupancy rate for the programme is priced at S$1,650.


This article was first published on June 18, 2016.
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