JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa’s Quintessential Wellness Workshop Programme blends fitness, nutrition and mindfulness
With the resort situated in the quieter Mao Khao Beach strip, away from the bustle of Patong, there’s an immediate sense of peace and lightheartedness as soon as you arrive. The first day leaves time to get settled in and a last non-nutritionist approved lunch, should you feel the need, before a blissful aromatherapy massage. Afterwards, an intimate welcome dinner takes place where we meet the experts handpicked by Linda Overman, director of Mandara Spa, who has created the wellness offering which runs for its third consecutive year.
We’re in good hands with practitioners like Hayden Rhodes, general manager of RPM Health Club (and performance coach who has worked with professional athletes and rock stars alike); sports nutritional specialist Craig Burton who has more than 20 years experience in the health and fitness industry and world-renowned yoga teacher Kim White. A wonderful opportunity to get to know one another before the programme starts, we chat about everything from yoga, politics and religion to the dark side of technology. Laughter bonds us quickly and we’re off to bed eager for Hayden’s class first thing.
Hayden’s Gentle Rise and Shine Movement is exactly that, a fun and lighthearted start to the morning, where it’s about zero judgment and doing what feels comfortable for you personally. There are elements of tai chi, Pilates in addition to caterpillar walks, air squats and planks which can all be modified according to ability. These parasympathetic movements activate the right side of the brain, and keep the heart rate low, an ideal way to pace ourselves. After a healthy breakfast of gluten-free breads and hummus, guacamole and homemade jam, Craig gives a talk on The Cortisol Connection to Fat Loss and Wellbeing.
He explains why the latest nutritional research is a far cry from the overly simplistic calories-in versus calories-out model of the past, and that raised cortisol levels are directly linked to increased body fat. He suggests an anti-inflammatory diet, along with quality sleep, daily meditation, keeping hormones in check and a balanced mindset and are key to the optimal lifestyle. To emphasise the latter, our first session with Kim is yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, a bit like that limbo when you’re about to drift off. The point is not to fall asleep but to remain aware throughout, paying attention to the breath and focusing on each part of the body. It was surprisingly challenging to lie still on the mat for an hour, which Kim says means we probably need to practise more and get really comfortable in our own skin instead of relying on external distractions.
Lunch comprises colourful salads and gluten-free wraps. There’s no dessert though, which leads us to Hayden’s talk on ‘How to Kick the Sugar Habit’. He reminds us that supermarkets and convenience stores, unlike farmers’ markets, are filled with processed, sugar-laden foods and should be avoided as they throw the body off balance, paving the way to malnutrition and disease. He explains that the ‘yang’ lifestyle sets off the urge for ‘yin’, or sugary, foods and equips us with the antonyms STOP – Stop, Time Out, Proceed whenever a craving hits. Something to try the next time a chocolate bar beckons.
She encourages us to use our hands more to touch and massage our bodies as they are the most intuitive tools we own.
Daybreak yoga with Kim set the tone for a serene day. We ease into the morning with an abbreviated version of sun salutation, a relief for those who struggled with the early start. Kim’s classes are free-flowing and her keen self-awareness evident. She explains the benefits of each pose and what each tries to achieve so I had a much better understanding than the classes where you go through the motions in textbook fashion. Kim’s next Lymphatic Drain Yoga class is a natural progression, focusing on releasing blockages in the body so we can move more freely.
She encourages us to use our hands more to touch and massage our own bodies, as they are the most intuitive tools we have. She shares her experiences of her teachers asking her to soften her heart, even though she was physically advanced. Initially she scoffed at the advice, but after three months of making an effort to come from a place of love in her interactions, she noticed a real difference in how people reacted to her, a valuable takeaway from the session.
As part of Hayden’s prescription of ‘Movement as Medicine’, his Pulse Class involves two sequences. Firstly, the straightforward mirroring format has us silent for half the session, watching and mimicking his every move from shoulder shrugs to back stretches which was an effective way to get people moving without thinking of it as a dreaded workout, before he provides in-depth guidance for the second half.
Hayden then introduces ‘Body Fat: Drop it Like its Hot’ turning the traditional theories, namely eating fat makes you fat, and doing more exercise means better results, on their heads. Instead he suggests replacing refined, processed foods with quality fats and using his work-play balance to reduce chronic stress. He also recommends intermittent fasting, interval training, and taking note of any potential underlying issues when emotional eating.
Before our last dinner, we walk together on the resort beach watching the sunset and practise mindful meditation on the way back. We arrive just in time for the water show that takes place each day in the lobby, complete with a dance performance and fireworks, before feasting on salmon ceviche, vegetable soup and grilled chicken at Andaman Grill.
The big picture is far more important – taking mindset, lifestyle, nutrition and movement into account.
Some of the group are apprehensive about starting the day with the Get Your Body Back Nature TRX session at 6am but it turns out to be one of my favourites. Hayden encourages training outdoors for a change of scene, shaded by palm trees. We learn to observe our personal challenge points with pushups, bicep curls and tricep extensions.
To demonstrate his Ferrari analogy of training effectively by using the maximum amount of calories in the shortest amount of time, he shows us an example workout – 15 seconds of intense work be it push-ups, burpees or swimming followed by 20 seconds of rest for four cycles. Something to aspire to! After breakfast, Craig imparts some final words of wisdom in ‘How to Create Your Own Unique Diet’. He explains why the outdated food pyramid concept should be replaced with one favouring good fats and fibrous carbohydrates.
For him, the big picture is far more important – taking mindset, lifestyle, nutrition and movement into account. He tells us if we take anything away from the talk, it’s to reduce consumption of sugar, vegetable oils and gluten. With our physical bodies attended to, we end with Kim’s mandala class who coaxes our creativity with an artistic take on yoga beginning with a mantra to open the heart chakra and approach life with kindness. We sit on a huge piece of paper and complete poses with charcoal in each hand tracing every movement.
The end result is a messy yet striking piece of art, which Kim believes sheds insight into our personality. Spending so much time as a group felt a bit like school camp, and I wasn’t quite ready for the workshop to end. There was a real sense of comradery between the practitioners, who were extremely supportive of one another, and participants who eagerly absorbed the information like sponges. Their passion and care shone through and although participants are scattered throughout Asia, it’s wonderful to know that our new support system is just an email or phone call away. www.marriott.com
THIS PAGE: Tibetan bowl yoga; colourful healthy, offerings. OPPOSITE PAGE: TRX provides a productive start to the morning
If you would like to ramp up your nutrition, fitness, yoga and overall well-being, the next Quintessential Wellness Workshop takes place on September 15–18 2016 at JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa.