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Emotional rescue

At a time when the world feels increasingly unsettled, the idea of emotional healing is more popular – and more needed – than ever before. Jane Kitchen explores how spas are digging deeper to offer real transformation

Travellers are seeking ways to recharge and make positive changes photo: ANANDA
Spas are looking at ways to help guests heal from past traumas ANANDA
Connecting with nature helps people to thrive post-pandemic Cavallopoint

Long before COVID-19, the concept of emotional healing was slowly gaining traction among serious wellness destinations. The idea of treating people holistically is nothing new, but in the wake of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and fears about global warming, the demand for programming on a more serious level has skyrocketed. The World Health Organization reports that nearly 40 per cent of people are facing a wide range of post-pandemic emotional stresses, with COVID-19 triggering a 25 per cent increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression across the globe.

Spas are a natural place for people to turn to for help and the Global Wellness Summit has identified ‘serious emotional healing’ as a trend to watch. “People are in pain; they’ve been isolated; they seek serious mental healing and a deeper meaning in life,” the GWS explains. “And the future is more intensive, comprehensive emotional wellness solutions.”

Those comprehensive solutions include retreats, programming, specialised staff, and healers of all sorts – all of which adds up to something that guests hope will help them turn a corner, feel more at home with themselves, or just get their mojo back.

Jill Taylor, a US-based luxury travel advisor with Jet Set World Travel, says she’s noticed a change in what her clients are looking for when they travel. “I’m seeing more of a need to recharge, to connect with nature, to focus on making positive changes and not keep life as status quo,” she says. “Clients are sharing how difficult the last few years were and they’re looking for creative ideas on how to travel differently and more consciously.”

Across the globe, some of the biggest names in spa and wellness have seen this change as well and are offering up new programming and treatments to help their guests do more than just relax – these locations are increasingly looking at ways to help their guests heal from past traumas and make a meaningful change in their lives.

“People are seeking more than just wellness because they want to make sense of what is happening in the world,” says Anne Biging, who co-founded Healing Hotels of the World in 2006 to address a growing need in hospitality.

Healing Hotels member Euphoria Retreat in Greece (see page 114) is one such location and launched a Feel Alive Again retreat to address a growing need for reconnection and balance since the pandemic. At Preidlhof Resort in Italy (see page 110), Patrizia Bortolin has launched the Transformational Wellness Retreats earlier this year to great success, with the retreats already making up more than 50 per cent of the spa’s revenue.

The Art of Living Retreat Center in North Carolina, US, has been offering transformational retreats for the past 10 years. Since the Center reopened after lockdown in April, 2021, they’ve seen a 50 per cent increase in their Signature Retreats, Happiness Retreats, Meditation, and Stepping Into Silence Retreats, as well as their Ayurveda Wellness Consultations and Discover Ayurveda packages. The Center has also developed a post-pandemic R&R Program, which incorporates ayurveda lectures, dance, art, music, nature, cooking, yoga and meditation. “Guests seem more motivated to make sustainable, long-term lifestyle changes for their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing,” says Kimberly Rossi, director of business development at the Art of Living Retreat Center.

Molly Anderson, vice president of sales at US-based Canyon Ranch, says that services with spiritual wellness and mental health providers have been “extremely popular since the onset of the pandemic,” with demand more than doubling in recent years. Canyon Ranch also launched its Pathway experiences when it reopened during the pandemic in the summer of 2020, with two of the Pathways – ‘Reconnect with Joy’ and ‘Build Resilience’ – focusing on wellness intentions specific to living through and thriving post-pandemic.

In Miami, the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort organised a new holistic retreat for women, Integrative Emotional Wellness, partnering with internationally renowned relationship therapist Dr Paul Hokemeyer and Corey Spiegel, founder of the women’s networking organisation Light House.

Dr Hokemeyer says he hopes the programme can help people transcend the challenges of the past three years. “Over the course of the pandemic, I saw a surge in people struggling with a host of emotional wellness issues such as angst, sadness, insomnia and a general sense of disease,” he explains. “Now, I’m seeing these same issues manifest in people who are exhausted from the weight of their lives and the world, which has become even more chaotic and fractured.”

In the following pages, we take a look at how properties around the world are addressing this need, which Biging sums up simply: “So many people need support in their emotional state,” she says. “It’s really moved from the physical into more focus on the soul and emotional part.”

Rishikesh, India
Mahesh Natarajan, COO / ANANDA

Ayurveda, yoga and meditation, healthy cuisine and spiritual inquiry rooted in the Vedantas (one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy) have always formed the foundational pillars of Ananda’s approach, but now the wellness retreat has added a new focus on emotional healing. Spearheaded by resident experts Dr Roma Singh and Chandana Ganguly, individual emotional wellbeing coaching sessions are now incorporated in all Ananda’s offerings.

“Everyone who comes for a wellness programme goes through this emotional wellbeing session,” says Mahesh Natarajan, COO at Ananda. “It’s been the single most transformative step we’ve taken. It will change what guests get out of a wellness retreat.”

A 90-minute cognitive assessment looks at personal challenges and blockages and includes deep subconscious work. Dr Singh works with clinical hypnotherapy and reiki, combining both modalities to create a powerful healing technique and address issues which are physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

“My sessions offer a chance to go deep into the recesses of the subconscious mind, identifying the source of traumas and providing emotional release,” says Dr Singh. “This kind of inner work promises true transformation.”

Ananda has also added a range of traditional therapies, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, Tibetan Kuu Nye, Kundalini and Japanese Shiatsu. Used to address health issues including chronic pain and migraines, immune enhancement, disease prevention, anxiety and depression, these therapies are designed to work on a deep energetic level to provide powerful healing and enhance the effectiveness of Ananda’s wellbeing programmes.

After the last two years, wellbeing also involves delving deep into our emotions, blockages, beliefs and values
Yoga and meditation are part of Ananda’s foundational pillars / ANANDA
People are now seeking optimal mental healing and deeper meaning in life / photo: ANANDA
Naturno, Italy
Patrizia Bortolin, Wellness project manager / marina italy segreta

Aleader in holistic, preventative and medical health, the 71-bedroom Preidlhof in South Tyrol, Italy, has launched a Transformational Journey Retreat under the guidance of wellness project manager Patrizia Bortolin. With more than 5,000sq m of wellness space and a six-floor Sauna Tower, the five-star resort and spa boasts a remarkable setting in the Italian Alps where guests spend time connecting with the natural world.

Based on new research into synaesthesia, the retreat is designed to facilitate inner transformation through the engagement of the senses, opening new emotional and neurological pathways and enabling people to find fresh perspectives. Bortolin, who studied psychosomatic naturopathy, dedicated her research to finding innovative ways to deliver meaningful and enjoyable wellness programmes.

The retreats were introduced in February 2022 and she says they quickly became the top activity at the spa – making up 50 per cent of revenues. Bookings for retreats are up 80 per cent from last year.

“My aim is to create an inner transformation that comes as a surprise, through unexpected experiences and perspectives that come together by the end of the retreat,” says Bortolin. “The last two years have transformed this vision from a niche, pioneering approach to it being our most requested offering.”

Massages stimulate the sense of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing; the Colour Massage uses a visual-intuitive test to identify which colour the guest needs and then the therapist selects corresponding massage oils, while the Sound Experience – performed on Gharieni’s MLX Quartz bed – uses Tibetan bells, gongs and voice to engage guests with their sense of sound and touch. The Water Awake Massage is a floatation treatment using elements of watsu and is offered in the saline pool at sunrise or sunset, or in the indoor thermal pool – where guests can see themselves in the reflective ceiling – to either stimulate the senses in the morning, or to enhance intuition in the evening.

These massage treatments are combined with wellness experiences outside the spa. An Apple Journey blends sensory analysis and mindful eating and guests learn how to taste, observe and develop their senses while enjoying the region’s famous apples. Forest bathing immerses guests in the healing properties of nature, accompanied by the resort’s 79-year-old mountain guide, Irmgard Moosmair, who brings spiritual wisdom and decades of experience in natural remedies, aromatherapy and Chinese medicine.

The retreats include a session with Dr Alexander Angerer, who specialises in complementary medicine. A simple heart rate variability test offers a glimpse into overall health and he’s able to prescribe and provide supplements to help with issues such as sleep problems. The programme also makes use of Preidlhof’s Deep Sea Relaxation room – a chamber where guests absorb vibrations and the energy of colour – and Yoga Nidra sessions, which help guests explore the moments between sleep and wakefulness.

It is perhaps the promise of a session with master therapist Stefano Battaglia that has attracted guests from across the globe. Specialising in Trauma Touch, Battaglia’s healing sessions are unique to each person and combine a mixture of physical therapy, massage, reiki and other energy work, all designed to release blocked emotions.

“Spas with a serious and consistent team of healers and therapists can make a massive difference,” says Bortolin. “We’re seeing people experience wonders thanks to the trauma healing sessions of Stefano Battaglia, while his work as coordinator for all of our holistic experts has really enhanced all the staff’s skills, intuition and healing touch, allowing the team to offer life-changing experiences. People really need this kind of deeper healing now – they want to go beyond passive wellness and trends.”

My aim is to create an inner transformation through unexpected experiences and perspectives
Guests spend time in the natural surrounding of the Italian Alps / arminhuber
The retreats include a session with Dr Alexander Angerer / wisthaler.com
Master therapist Stefano Battaglia’s healing sessions are unique to each person / Preidlhof
Guests enjoy forest bathing walks with Ingard Moosmair / arminhuber
Koh Samui, Thailand
John Stewart, founder / Kamalaya

Kamalaya’s Embracing Change programme focuses on enriching emotional wellbeing and addressing life circumstances. Designed for guests seeking support with change or challenging situations, the programme can benefit anyone navigating loss, anxiety and grief.

Through either five- or seven-night stays, the holistic programme helps guests learn to recognise and understand their habits to release, heal, rebuild and strengthen emotional patterns before learning how to sustain a personal practice and establish healthier levels of balance.

Guests work with naturopaths, TCM practitioners and a life enhancement mentor to embark on a journey of self-discovery, exploring their inner life and emotional patterns. Specially selected holistic massage therapy and TCM facilitate the rebalancing of the physical body to accompany guests’ renewed emotional stability.

While the programme was on Kamalaya’s menu before the pandemic, John Stewart, founder of the resort, says he’s seen more interest in it since the pandemic. “Many people are dealing with loss, isolation that results in feelings of loneliness, separation in long-term relationships, or simply anxiety,” he explains. “This programme has always been one of our most popular, but now that’s true more than ever.”

The importance of health and mental resilience is paramount when dealing with challenges and unexpected hardships
Guests embark on a journey of self-discovery, exploring their inner life / Kamalaya
The programme benefits guests navigating loss, anxiety and grief / Kamalaya
Healing Arts Center & Spa
Cavallo Point, California, US
Heather Stewart, director / Cavallopoint

Nestled at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge within more than 75,000 acres of national parkland, Cavallo Point includes the 1,022sq m Healing Arts Center & Spa, which opened in 2010. With its 11 treatment rooms and a heated outdoor meditation pool, the centre integrates cultural healing practices from around the world, with services including energy work, meditation and reiki, chakra energy balancing, hypnotherapy and guided imagery, as well as applied kinesiology, herbal remedies and shamanic journeys. Also on offer are neuro-graphic art, cacao ceremonies, intuitive readings, sound baths and more – all designed to create positive changes in guests’ emotional, physical and mental wellbeing.

Since the pandemic, interest in these healing offerings has grown, says Heather Stewart, director of the Healing Arts Center & Spa. A monthly guided meditation session has seen a big increase in attendees, as well as the number of repeat guests and sessions such as cranio-sacral work and reiki have also seen a substantial increase, she says.

“Everyone is coming in with their own needs,” says Stewart. “I think people are wanting a way to connect to themselves and others. Finding that ‘space within’ through guided meditation or energy work can really open people up. Spas can play a crucial role by creating a place for people to focus on emotional wellbeing and by letting them know they’re not alone.”

Spas can play a crucial role by letting people know they’re not alone
The centre has 11 treatment rooms and a heated outdoor meditation pool / Cavallopoint
Therapies are designed to create positive changes in guests’ emotional, physical and mental wellbeing / Cavallopoint
Euphoria Retreat
Mystras, Greece
Marina Efraimoglou, Founder / Euphoria

On the Greek Peloponnese, Euphoria Retreat has created a Feel Alive Again programme, specifically designed to bring guests fresh energy and vigour. The four-night programme is described as “perfect for anyone feeling exhausted, lethargic, bored, confused, lost or numb” and offers “an opportunity to process and purge the effects of the pandemic”.

The group retreats run for three hours each morning, leaving the afternoons free for guests to explore the resort’s extensive spa, enjoy the natural and historical surroundings, or find quiet time alone. The programme can either be booked by itself and customised with additional treatments, or added to one of Euphoria’s other programmes. Hosted by founder Marina Efraimoglou along with Euphoria’s spiritual mentor, Mary Vandorou, the retreat is limited to nine participants to foster a sense of group connection and trust.

“The Feel Alive Again programme is designed to help people put everything into perspective, which is essential in these challenging times,” says Efraimoglou.

Meditation, breathwork, expressive dance, journaling, personal mandala making and even treasure hunts all are incorporated to help guests reconnect and re-energise. Performance work, rooted in the Greek myths and tragedies, includes a session using traditional masks from Greek theatre to explore feelings and emotions.

Euphoria has built its philosophy around the five elements and the retreats make use of this, helping guests identify and connect with elements they’re drawn to and offering ways to balance the elements they need more of in their lives.

Euphoria has a wealth of other holistic programmes offering personal journeys of transformation. The Odysseus Journey helps guests learn about themselves through the story of Homer’s Odyssey. Incorporating group discussion and the five elements, the retreat is designed to be a fun, engaging way for guests to reflect on life decisions and where they’re leading them.

The Emotional and Physical Transformation retreat offers an intensive seven-day programme, combining group sessions with solo treatments, while a two-day Self Awareness Through the Five Elements is designed as a mini-retreat to give a taste of Euphoria’s core philosophy of joyful transformation.

The Feel Alive Again programme is designed to help people put everything into perspective
Meditation, breathwork and yoga are incorporated in the retreat / Euphoria
Guests create theatre masks to explore feelings and emotions / Euphoria
The retreat is restricted to nine participants to foster connection and trust / Euphoria

Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2023 issue 1
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