SWIRLING COCONUT OIL in your mouth for 20 minutes, scraping the body from head to toe with a dry brush, and urinating on a stick: not your usual five-star morning rituals. But Amanpuri in Phuket is doing things differently this summer with its new Wellness Retreat.
You will have ample time to bask on the beach and bathe in the balmy waters of the Andaman Sea, but the sybaritic splendour will be punctuated by moments of sweat, mild pain and a measure of deprivation.
The resort's spa team designs an integrated movement and nutrition programme tailored to each guest, which includes a series of Pilates and yoga sessions along with spa treatments that aim to boost circulation, remove toxins and imbue a general sense of well-being.
This jaded desk jockey was overdue a detoxification, but I had just three days to sample everything the five-day retreat had to throw at me. Could tangible results be achieved in such a brief stay? Resident naturopath Janelle Castle assured me they could.
First order of business is an hour-long evaluation with Castle, which covers everything from diet and medical history to sleeping patterns and exercise regime. She also asks after my mental and emotional health - didn't see that coming - and I open up after she explains the reason for exploring such personal territory. Castle is an exponent of polarity therapy, a discipline that blends mostly Ayurvedic principles with Western counselling techniques and traditional Chinese methods. It aims to "balance" the body's flow of "energy" through exercise, diet and what is referred to as "body work".
I'm told these hands-on sessions can lead to intense emotional releases such as crying or uncontrollable laughter, but for most clients they are just relaxing. My session goes off without any tears and only a little laughter. It involves little more than the laying on of hands and a gentle rocking of the head, hips and feet. Castle says my liver was giving off a lot of heat (cue the laughter) and the pool of sweat on the table is proof a lot of energy has been expended.
We're given coconut oil, a body brush and pH test strips. Castle explains the purpose of each. "Oil pulling" is an Ayurvedic cleansing technique. Swirled around the mouth on an empty stomach, coconut oil acts to "pull" toxins from the body while leaving beneficial micro flora intact. Castle recommends I continue with the daily ritual after the retreat. It's unpleasant at first, but by day three I'm looking forward to it.
Dry skin brushing has more obvious benefits. Besides sloughing away dead skin cells and promoting new ones, it helps the lymphatic system release toxins and aids in digestion and kidney function. You brush your arms, trunk, legs and back seven times on an upward arc towards the heart and lymph nodes. I notice results after three days. It is a simple and effective way to promote healthy skin. A definite keeper.
The pH test strips are to be used first thing every morning and Castle says I should aim for an alkaline pH reading of 8. This is where the "Wellness" food menu comes into play. She designed each dish with Amanpuri's sous chef and there are 25 items for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To complement each dish there are five delicious "tonic juices" and five "eliminators" (intense fruit, herb and vegetable concoctions in a shot glass).
There is no red meat and most of the proteins are in the form of fish, which is expertly cooked sous-vide or steamed to retain maximum nutrients. Among the stand-outs is a poached salmon with crispy salad of jicama, hazelnut, cucumber and radish. I also enjoyed the steamed white snapper with raw French beans in a dry chilli and lime vinaigrette, and the glass noodles in raw green curry with Thai herbs.
The kitchen is happy to prepare more than one dish at each meal, so guests can get to taste most items. There is also a snack menu, available any time, the star of which is a bright and delicate vegetable consommé.
The Wellness Retreat will not be everyone's cup of herbal tea, but it hit the spot for this city dweller.
"Imagine you are crushing a walnut between your buttocks."
So starts my introductory session under the tutelage of Argentine-born Pilates instructor Santiago Lautz.
The fully equipped studio takes up the bottom floor of the stunning teak and glass gym.
Once we get started it is great fun, and challenging. There is a lot to remember: heels together, knees apart, shoulders square, find your core … but halfway through the first session it all falls into place.
That walnut never stood a chance.
118 Moo 3 Srissunthorn
Phuket, 83110, Thailand
How to get there
Bangkok Airways flies daily to Phuket for HK$3,600. Amanpuri will provide transfers to and from airport (30-minute drive away)
Amanpuri’s Wellness Retreat runs until Aug 31. Rates start at US$3,365 for a three-night retreat, Pavilion category (single), including airport transfers.