The Rise Of The Asian Spa

Today’s wellness addicts are seeking the ancient wisdom of Eastern treatments—delivered in lavish surroundings.

At a day spa in Paris’s Montparnasse district, I read the menu to find that its Asian therapies easily outnumbered the European ones. Cupping, an old Chinese method of suction that helps blood circulation and results in firmer-looking skin, is the latest health trend among the A-list; everyone from tennis star Andy Murray to actress Jennifer Aniston is a fan. And let’s make it official: the Balinese massage is now just as ubiquitous as its Swedish equivalent, the most popular rubdown in the world.

In his book, Understanding the Global Spa Industry (Taylor & Francis; 2008), Gerard Bodeker confirms that in the past decade there has been huge interest, internationally, in Asian therapies. Equally, more than ever before, people from Asia are now seeking out their own wellness heritage.

“After meditation and yoga gained worldwide popularity, it was only a matter of time before Eastern remedies using natural ingredients would lead the way as far as spa treatments were concerned,” says Greg Payne, spa director at Amanresorts. Concepts such as chi, shiatsu, aromatherapy and ayurveda have gained prominence. All of these are based on the same principles: the interdependence of mind, body and soul, and the healing power of the human touch. The Eastern approach of providing a holistic experience—one that lasts longer than a massage—is now being accepted as the global standard.

That’s why many luxury hotel chains, such as Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas, Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts, Chiva-Som, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas and the Taj Group, take design, ambience and cuisine as seriously as they do their therapies and service. As Ravi Chandra, senior vice-president and managing director of operations at Banyan Tree Spa, says, “The best treatments are those that awaken all five senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.”

During a stay at Vivanta by Taj Bekal in Kerala, home to India’s largest spa at 1.65 lakh sq ft, I noticed how natural elements such as water, high-vaulted bamboo ceilings and pockets of fragrant gardens were incorporated into the spa’s design and architecture, echoing the aesthetics of the region. “Guests are looking for location-based experiences to rejuvenate their lives,” says Bina Patel, vice-president of spa operations at the Taj Group. Resorts that offer treatments using locally sourced organic ingredients (rather than well-known brands) are the ones that seem to be getting it right.

Health-conscious travellers are keen to enjoy an exotic holiday while improving themselves. Wellness resorts in remote places such as The Farm at San Benito in the Philippines and Ananda in The Himalayas near Rishikesh are famous for this reason. The former offers medically guided detoxification procedures in a picturesque, eco-friendly setting, while ayurveda is the focus at the r latter—from consultations with in-house practitioners to meals and treatments designed for specific body types. All the therapists here, who are mostly Tibetan, have been trained at Ananda’s own spa institute in Hyderabad.

Banyan Tree also has its own academy to ensure that its therapists really hit the mark. From intuiting how much pressure to apply in a massage to bringing you aromatic infusions to sip afterwards, Asian therapists’ level of service is what sets them apart.

With more than 2,500 spas operating in the country, Indians seem to be enjoying spa breaks now more than ever before; the Taj Group alone has 25 Jiva spas. More international chains are also launching around the country.

Delhi now has a Six Senses Spa at the Jaypee Greens Golf & Spa Resort. And Banyan Tree, the famous Thai chain, will soon open its first ayurvedic outpost—in Kerala. Treatment menus today cater to many different needs, even including options for children, pregnant women and the elderly. The increasing numbers of male clients has also led spas to customize more therapies for men, such as Banyan Tree’s udvartana treatment, which helps strengthen muscles. As the world moves faster and Asia develops further, its people are increasingly looking to ancient Eastern remedies to help them heal and regain their strength before getting back to the grind.

OUR FAVOURITE SPA EXPERIENCES IN INDIA

Ananda SPA AT Ananda in The Himalayas, Rishikesh  Their signature Tibetan Ku-Nye massage stimulates the lymphatic system through techniques such as cupping, acupressure, kneading and the application of hot poultices. (www.anandaspa.com; Rs6,100)

Club Prana Spa at Hyatt Regency, Mumbai The Choorna Pinda Swedam massage, which uses hot poultices of herbs and grains on the body, is perfect for treating stubborn sport injuries. (http://mumbai.regency.hyatt.com; Rs3,500)

ESPA at the Leela Palace, Udaipur The four-hour Royal Knights of Rajasthan, a full-body treatment from scalp to toe, is designed for men, and includes an aromatherapy massage. (www.theleela.com; Rs16,250)

Kaya Kalp - the Royal Spa at ITC Mughal, Agra The Exotic Pomegranate scrub, with its blend of pomegranate, milk, lemon rind and organic brown sugar, leaves skin feeling unbelievably soft. (www.itchotels.in; Rs2,500)

The Spa at Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore The 90-minute Balinese treatment is a deep-tissue massage, where the therapist performs shiatsu, skin rolling and gentle stretching on the client. (www.oberoihotels.com; Rs7,000)

Sereno Spa at Park Hyatt Goa Resort & Spa The cooling Aloe and Lavender Masque treatment, a full-body mask with amino-rich aloe vera and lavender, is ideal after spending hours under the Goan sun. (http://goa.park.hyatt.com; Rs3,750)

Six Senses Spa at Jaypee Greens Golf & spa Resort, New Delhi The Thai Herbal Massage involves acupuncture and hot, herbal compresses, which improve circulation. (www.sixsenses.com; Rs5,400)

Jiva Grande Spa at Vivanta By Taj - Madikeri, Coorg The week-long Panchakarma or ayurvedic detox treatment comes highly recommended. After a consultation, the in-house practitioners draw up customized treatments and diets for you. (http://tajhotels.com; Rs44,850)

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