IT HAS become pretty standard practice to fill out a form before a spa treatment. You sit in some soothing space decked out with Buddha statues and scented candles, wearing squashy slippers and a robe and feeling hyper aware that you’re naked underneath it.
You slurp herbal tea while scribbling notes assuring your therapist that you’re not pregnant or suffering from some highly contagious disease. So far, so standard.
At the One&Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives, it’s a little different. Watsu, a one-on-one water therapy session which takes place in a specially designed pool, is a brand new treatment at the hotel’s spa. I’m unsure what to expect from the experience, not least because, while filling in the standard forms, my therapist advises me that some people find that they have an “emotional response” to the treatment.
This is new to me. The closest I’ve come to an emotional response to a spa treatment was when a therapist got some deep-sea mud in my eye during a facial. I also got pretty giggly when a masseuse touched me on the bottom, but that’s it. I’m intrigued.
So, Watsu. Watsat? In short, it’s a sort of water shiatsu, hence the name. The session takes place in a private pool heated to a specific, comfortable temperature. Floatation devices are attached to my ankles and I’m encouraged to close my eyes, go floppy and relax while my therapist cradles me like a baby. Then, for the duration of the treatment I am pushed, pulled, dragged, twisted and manipulated in the water.
Some movements are smooth and gentle, others strong, exhilarating and deliberate. When I do manage to empty my mind I forget about the water and about the person holding me. With sound and light completely blocked out, there’s a comfortable nothingness, a sort of dull contentment that’s rather soothing. I’m not quite flying or floating. I’m suspended. It’s a little silly, of course, but no more so than any other spa treatment.
I don’t have an emotional response to Watsu, but some do. One of my travelling companions says the experience left her feeling a bit teary. Regardless of an individual’s response, Watsu has certainly got more impact than any four hands massage, and its introduction at Reethi Rah is part of a trend towards treatments and activities in luxury resorts which aim to work on our emotional wellbeing.
Of course, Reethi Rah caters to wellbeing on every level. Situated in the North Malé atoll, it is one of the most decadent destinations in a country packed with luxury hotels. It’s difficult to stand out from the crowd with such impressive competitors, but stand out it does.
One of the largest islands you’ll find in the Maldives, it boasts 6km of photo-ready beaches and 4km of sandy paths linking the 140 villas to the rest of the resort. Most guests get around on bicycles, which are parked outside villas, and I spend a happy afternoon getting lost on my bike on the winding paths, sheltered from the the glare of the sun by swaying palm fronds.
The island’s eateries are a draw in themselves. Tapasake, a slick, fine-dining Japanese restaurant is quite exceptional, with one guest declaring it better than legendary London-based Japanese restaurant Nobu. Praise indeed.
Each impressive villa has an incredibly attentive host (one guest tells me that hers picks out what she should wear to dinner) and, thanks to the size of the island, is extremely private. I don’t see another soul on the stretch of beach outside my villa, which lies a few feet above the highest point of the sand, meaning that anyone who does walk past can’t peer in.
My island paradise comes complete with a hammock slung between two palm trees, and swinging in it while watching a lightning storm flickering miles out to sea does wonders for my emotional wellbeing.
Speaking of which, next up on my list of activities designed to empty the mind and soothe the soul is art therapy with Australian artist Christopher Hogan. He caters to small groups or gives private lessons, teaching guests to create abstract paintings inspired by the nature around us.
Parked on the beach beneath the shade of the trees, Christopher hands out canvases and aprons. A couple of the people in our group look utterly petrified. Most haven’t picked up a paintbrush since school and there’s much jesting about not knowing one end from another.
Christopher is undeterred. He has given lessons to everyone from celebrities to royalty and he insists that everyone is capable of creating something beautiful. Anyway, this exercise doesn’t concern itself with the finished product. It’s all about the soothing nature of the process.
We are each given a piece of white card with a ‘window’ the size of a match box cut out of it. Christopher spreads photographs of wildlife from the Maldives across the table and we’re encouraged to leaf through them, placing our piece of white card over them in such a way that an abstract image is created by the window, an image to be copied onto the canvas.
Even the most reticent members of the group are soon daubing away happily and agreeing that it’s a very therapeutic way to spend a couple of hours on a desert island. By the end of it we’re all proudly showing off our canvases, even if we know they’ll never get anywhere near a wall.
Christopher explains that many of his “students” have spent every day of their holiday in his classes, leaving with as many as 20 of their own paintings. Others have been inspired to take up painting upon their return home. But again, that’s not really the point.
Most children take pleasure from drawing and painting regardless of how good they are at it, Christopher explains, but as we get older and become aware of just where we lie on the spectrum of artistic talent, we tend to down brushes. His aim is to reintroduce us to the joy of the process regardless of the outcome.
Certainly my rendition of a section of a nudibranch (a sort of squashy, colourful mollusc) won’t be winning the Turner prize, but painting it left me feeling suitably soothed. And my mum might stick it up on her fridge.
When I leave Reethi Rah by boat, heading for Malé to catch my flight back to reality, I reflect on my emotional response to my stay. Sure, there were no tears in the Watsu pool, and my artwork certainly isn’t going to move anyone, but I am more soothed, more relaxed, more unwound than any deep tissue massage, any yoga class, any session of meditation has ever left me feeling. Not an emotional response of the kind I had imagined back when I filled out that form, but an emotional response nonetheless.
• Prices at One & Only Reethi Rah start from around £600 per villa per night (based on double occupancy in a Beach Villa travelling this month). To book visit www.oneandonlyresorts.com
• Etihad Airways flies to the Maldives capital Malé from Edinburgh via Manchester and Abu Dhabi. Coral Economy flights from £552pp and Pearl Business Class flights from £2,371pp. Booked through on one ticket, outgoing and return flights are overnight, allowing travellers from the UK to spend an extra day in the Maldives. To book, or for further information, tel: 0845 608 1225 or visit www.etihad.com
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North west