Celebrating 21 years as the authority on health and wellness, Chiva-Som sharpens its competitive edge with new launches to enhance its position as one of the wellness originals. I am here for an abridged version of the Emotional Wellbeing Retreat, which tackles stress and re-energises through a holistic approach to therapies, nutrition and fitness, and lucky for me, with the addition of the latest spa treatments adapted from other programmes.
What sets this health sanctuary apart is its individualised approach which incorporates a detailed consultation to assess objectives and select treatments, private fitness classes and a specifically tailored nutrition plan. Situated in Hua Hin, a two-hour drive from Bangkok, serenity is imminent as soon as you enter the swaddled environment of a koi-filled pond framed by picturesque bridges and manicured gardens.
There’s little more welcoming than a spa initiation, and the Chiva-Som Signature Massage, which improves circulation and lymphatic drainage, dissolves the last traces of reality and city life, followed by an indulgent dinner (knowing the restraint required in days to come) of pad Thai, vegetable stir-fry and mango sticky rice.
As part of the cleansing diet, breakfast is a delicious raw cereal and almond milk with flaxseed, sesame and almond (FSA) and Ayurvedic powder, served with green juice and mushroom tea. After an introduction from CSR Manager Brian Anderson on Chiva-Som’s energy efficiency, waste and water minimisation and community education initiatives, we visit Krailart Niwate. To promote science education and ecotourism in the area, the Mangrove Ecosystem Preservation & Science Education Centre is a collaborative effort with staff and their families rolling up their sleeves to plant trees in the swampland.
Next stop is the organic farm located in Hua Hin (they have another larger farm further afield where the climate produces a complementary array of produce) where the chef guides me through a greenhouse filled with honeydew melon, a covered area with hand-sprouted beans, oyster mushroom huts, dragon fruit trees, and all the basil you could possibly dream of. As much as 80 per cent of the produce used in the restaurants, and some spa treatments, come from their own gardens.
Back at base, the probiotic salad, comprised mostly of cauliflower, and steamed vegetables served with tamarind dressing, garlic oil is more than enough on a hot day, and with the wheatgrass shot and green smoothies between meals, completely manageable.
A facial consultation is complimentary for all guests, where the dermatologist takes photos of every angle of the face, to produce a report with percentile score depicting your rank relative to others of the same age, gender and skin type. My scores are decent (the higher the number, the better) for red areas, pores, brown spots, UV spots and wrinkles, but lower for texture and porphyrins.
Onto the sleep-inducing Back, Neck and Shoulder massage, a streamlined version of the Deep Tissue Massage, to loosen tightness around the neck and shoulders, particularly for those who spend the best part of the day sitting in front of a computer. The Gyrokinesis mat class to follow was highly complementary, blending gentle movements of yoga, tai chi, gymnastics and dance through flowing sequences. A traditional Thai Massage with emphasis on pressure points, stretching and bending, was a blissful way to ease any lingering tension.
The ‘liquid’ day of the cleansing diet starts with potassium broth, livened up by miso paste and herbs and spices to add colour to the bowl, along with a green juice and ginkgo biloba tea. I meet Naturopath Tal Friedman for a consultation. Having experienced the usual neck and shoulder pain that comes with too much time spent sitting, Tal demonstrates a chest stretch (for a minimum of 90 seconds to have any effect) and a scapular push-up to try before or after a workout to help maintain good posture. In terms of diet, he suggests upping protein, especially in the morning, accompanied by vegetables and healthy fats.
With sleep my other main concern, Tal recommends putting at least 10 to 15 minutes aside each day to focus on internal dialogue, to avoid it arising when your head hits the pillow for example, with quiet reflection free from phones, TV and music. He suggests planning the day ahead, using good old-fashioned pen and paper to free the mind of thoughts before unplugging for the night, if not meditating or journaling. I enjoy hearing Tal’s thoughts on the perception of stress, and the need to be mindful that our attitudes and beliefs create realities. For the most part we have little control of a situation, only the way we manage our response.
I have heard a lot about Chiva-Som’s speciality Chi Nei Tsang abdominal massage, which focuses on the navel and surrounding area where stress, tension and negative emotions tend to accumulate. It’s also ideal for anyone suffering from digestive problems, encouraging the elimination of toxins in the gastrointestinal tract. Having internal organs massaged is more pleasant than it sounds, quite gentle actually, to the point that you may feel like dosing off.
After a lunch of emerald soup, it’s time for a private pranayama class with Preeda, which proves challenging with a cold. We practise ujayi, a short breath to the chest, ribs and belly; breath retention where the inhale and exhale are equal in length; and the energising kapalbhati breath which is perfect for mornings. For relaxation, nadi sodhana or alternative nostril breathing calms the mind, while bhramari, also known as the bee breathing technique helps release agitation, frustration, anxiety and anger.
The day’s highlight is a session with Satoshi Hashimoto, a Japanese acupuncturist and all-around miracle worker who, after I complain of soreness on the left side of my neck, takes one look at my ankle (mildly sprained the week prior) and can instantly tell that the energy blockage there is the cause, which makes complete sense in hindsight. He uses the Seiketsu-Shiraku treatment, a bloodletting method where a needle is inserted at a specific point at the tip of the hands or toes and tapping between 30 to 40 times, and the stiffness dissipates almost instantly.
I tell Satoshi I am getting over a cold, with a stuffy nose the last noticeable symptom. With another flick of the needle in my toe, I can breathe clearly again straight away, perhaps the most obvious fix. But he has more up his sleeve. Observing that my breathing is shallow, possibly stress-related, he opens the heart meridian with another prick, none of which is painful, and an amazing sense of calm washes over me. I mention a slight feeling of lethargy and he manipulates the balance of the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems with more needling, and it’s as if I have knocked back a double espresso. The 90-minute session is mind-boggling and worth making a special trip for.
Before the last liquid meal, detox tom kha and raspberry sorbet, I am treated to an Oriental Scalp Massage to release neck, shoulder and scalp tension with deliciously nourishing coconut oil. Using a fusion of Eastern and Western therapies combines deep-tissue massage and myofascial pain release techniques, so I can sleep soundly, dreaming of solid food tomorrow.