Sleep is ‘balm for the soul’, ‘chief nourisher in life’s feast’, it ‘knits up the ravelled sleeve of care’ – which is all great, unless you’re not getting enough of it. According to NHS and Bupa surveys, 1 in 3 Britons suffers from insomnia of some degree. If you’re one of them, you might be interested in the new Sleep Enhancement Programme offered by Thailand’s award-winning wellness retreat (and one of our favourite Asian escapes), Kamalaya. Maike Bohn went to check it out.
My sleep has been elusive for the last ten years. I’ve tried most remedies, from acupuncture, exercise and warm baths, to lavender, homoeopathic remedies and old-fashioned sleeping tablets. So when I arrived at Kamalaya on a rainy day in early December, I felt sceptical about what the new sleep enhancement programme at Samui’s top wellness retreat could do for me in a week. Chronic stress, hormones and a profoundly disturbed sleeping rhythm make me a “tough nut to crack”, as Laurel, their lovely and knowledgeable naturopath, informs me with a smile. We sit in her room, perched on a green hillside above an ancient monk’s cave and looking across lush gardens to a beautiful sandy bay studded with large boulders. Ah, well. At least I can have a wonderful time relaxing in tropical sunshine and Bali-esque comfort; and who could object to being massaged on a daily basis?
The 7-day sleep enhancement programme looks impressive: two to four treatments a day, carefully devised by Kamalaya’s co-founder, Dr. Karina Stewart. Everything is geared towards slowing you down and grounding you. Leg and hand massages, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, ayurvedic treatments and several mind-body-balance consultations are all working together to re-set your mind and body and enable you to continue managing your sleep long after you’ve left the warm embrace of Kamalaya.
Kamalaya doesn’t try to impress with lavish furniture or ostentatious rooms. It is all about nourishing your mind and body. The grounds are beautiful and serene, and there is always a glass full of water, juice or tea within reach, whether you’re at the beach or in your room. To feed your mind, there is an impressive array of resident therapists and visiting practitioners who give free lectures and demonstrations, among them Yoga, Qigong, Pilates, reflexology, NLP and relationship management. Aside from their intrinsic benefits, they are also an easy way to start chatting to my fellow guests, many of whom have come to Kamalaya on their own to recharge.
My initial consultation – every guest has one – throws up a few pleasant surprises: my cells are as healthy as a 25-year old’s and my mineral levels aren’t depleted. However, I am dehydrated and in need of a few more muscles. Laurel recommends sipping small amounts of water throughout the day and to stick to Kamalaya’s healthy menu which has protein and vegetable quantities all worked out. Armed with a timetable and the results of my bio-impedance analysis, I walk to the beautiful restaurant, Soma, to rehydrate with a detox juice of coconut water, pineapple and Thai basil. Tom yum soup and a citrus salad with prawns and scallops contribute the necessary protein, and a pilates class hopefully helps to address the issue of muscles.
On day two I wake up earlier than usual and go for a swim at the beautiful shallow beach, protected by a coral reef. Time has already started to slow down and I am amazed that I’ve spent an hour on the beach and not opened my book or ipod once. Yellow and blue butterflies dance along the path as I wander to a talk on mindfulness by Rajesh, a very wise yet approachable former monk. We all have a small number of storylines that play again and again in our heads and can define our life, he explains. The goal of mindfulness is to become aware of those negative stories and render them ineffective in our minds; to switch off the “doing” mind in favour of “being”.
The biggest surprise of my stay is the Reiki treatment I’ve opted for: I wouldn’t have considered doing anything like this back home. Ruby, the charismatic Indian healer, gently moves her hands all over my body, lingering over my stomach where she feels energy is ‘blocked’. And halfway through this an amazing thing happens – feelings of joy and happiness well up inside me, as if the dam has burst and tension has flooded out. Another Indian treatment, Shirodhara, later involves the therapist moving an oil drip constantly over my forehead. It feels like a gentle finger caressing me and puts me into a trance-like state.
The emphasis of the programme is on creating good habits and bringing your energy back down to your feet before going to bed. Kamalaya more than delivers. Starting the day with Bircher muesli and a healthy juice has become second nature to me, coffee is a distant habit and I am in bed by 9.30 to catch the 10pm cortisol drop that will send me to sleep more easily. My mind is calm and I’m spending much more time looking inward, without judgment. Even on the way home, I notice the difference: sitting in the departure lounge at Bangkok airport, I don’t feel my usual pang of anxiety when my name is called out over the intercom (turns out I dropped my boarding pass – obviously I’m a little bit too relaxed). It’s too early to say for sure how long I can hold onto this new, better pattern; but one thing I can say for sure is that Kamalaya has set me up brilliantly – and my week there was one of the most illuminating, pampering and restful weeks of my life.
Maike Bohn is a German-born, Oxford-educated communications consultant now based in Bristol, UK. She loves away-from-the-crowds travel, good design, Thai food and boutique hotels – many of which she has reviewed in the company of her husband Michael Cullen.