I Went to the Maldives For Sun, Sand, & Sound Healing
And discovered that sometimes a vacation is the best form of therapy.
When it come to luxury wellness retreats, all too often the options sound more like punishment than pleasure. From The Ranch Malibu’s daily four-hour hikes to Vivamayr’s buckwheat chewing-trainer bread, the disconnect between wants and needs is real in the world of wellness destinations. And so, when an invitation to a distinctly different kind of offering arrived in my inbox (after an overindulgent holiday season, followed by an overworked awards season and fashion week), I was all in. Situated on the secluded island of Bodufushi in the Maldives’ Raa Atoll, Joali Being bills itself as a first-of-its-kind luxury wellness island retreat, offering all of the benefits of a health-focused getaway without any of the deprivation usually associated with a mind-body reset.
Made up of over 1,000 small coral islands spanning 510 miles across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has played host to everyone from Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas to the The Prince and Princess of Wales thanks to its next-level resorts, crystal clear waters that play host to sea turtles, reef sharks and manta rays, and paparazzi-free, white sand beaches. The 40-minute journey from Malé International Airport to Bodufushi on the resort’s private seaplane (flown by barefoot pilots) provides an aerial tour of these idyllic resorts but Joali Being stands out thanks to the soaring, white 'Gate of Zero’: a permanent sculpture designed by Turkish artist and sculptor Seçkin Pirim that acts as both arrival and departure lounge and metaphorical gateway at which you check your ego in preparation for your transformative experience.
Upon landing, I was greeted White Lotus-style by a row of waving uniformed staff and served the first of many wellness tonics, before being introduced to Initgam: my dedicated “Jadugar” (the Maldivian word for “magician”) slash PA for the duration of my stay who ushered me into a golf cart and gave me an introductory tour of the island. Covering 30 acres, Joali Being has 68 rooms (known as Well Living Spaces) which are a combination of the over-water bungalows the Maldives are known for and beach villas; three restaurants; a spa; holistic fitness pavilion; water sports center; vegetable gardens; and turtle conservation sanctuary.
My Well Living Space was a 1,000-square-feet beachfront villa, complete with a private infinity pool and outdoor soaking tub and shower. Built according to biophilic design principles the accommodations, along with all of the architecture on the island, aim to evoke harmony and balance by eliminating negative vibrations and enhancing the energy flow of the landscape. My villa also included a meditative musical instrument (a sort of xylophone) in place of a TV, and while it did have WiFi, I also had the option to go off grid and switch out my smartphone for a dumbphone to communicate exclusively with Intigam, which I did not take as I wanted to use my iPhone to take pictures for the gram (because, you know, ‘pics or did I even go to Maldives?’).
Before arriving in the Maldives I had completed a questionnaire covering my health history and my wellbeing goals, followed by a phone consultation. Joali Being’s wellness programming designed by Dr. Gerry Bodeker, a public health researcher and academic specializing in lifespan wellness and integrative healthcare, combines ancient knowledge with modern science, and the curated offerings are woven around Four Pillars: Mind, Skin, Microbiome and Energy. I had decided to focus on microbiome, as it plays a foundational role in our overall health controlling the digestion of food, the immune system, the central nervous system, heart health and even brain health. I also wanted to address my bloating and a general feeling of sluggishness that was affecting both my energy levels and my skin.
After settling in, I jumped on my complimentary bike and headed over to Areka, the resort’s center for diagnostic services, specialized therapeutic, and alternative healing, for an in-person consultation with expert visiting practitioner, Dr Jayvant Bhagatjee. Built to seamlessly fit into the the jungle, Areka features 39 treatment rooms equipped with a signature sound tuned to planetary frequencies and its location on the island, and separate men’s and women’s relaxation areas with an ice grotto, sauna, steam, and outdoor vitality pool. There is also a huge hydrotherapy hall housing a Russian banya, Watsu water therapy pool, halotherapy suite and hammam; and a herbology center where a resident herbalist mixes up custom aromatherapy blends and healing tonics. Most unique however was the dedicated sound healing room complete with a vibrational treatment bed and 14 sonic therapy instruments specially created for the resort by sound healing expert Aurelio C. Hammer that work to down-shift our brainwaves from the beta state (normal waking consciousness) to alpha (relaxed consciousness), theta (meditative state) and finally delta (sleep; where internal healing can occur).
After taking all my vitals, Dr Jay administered a Qest Bioresonance test that uses energy wavelengths to measure everything from adrenal gland, thyroid, liver and sinus function to stress levels and food intolerances. The test showed that my pancreas resonance was weak, affecting the function of the digestive and endocrine systems; my muscle resonance was stressed, affecting the movement of internal organs, including the movement of food through the digestive system; and my thyroid gland resonance was also weak, affecting my metabolism. In addition to these physical effects, the test results also outlined the emotional symbolism of these weaknesses — pancreas energy is related to maintaining balance in life, conflicts are often held in the muscles as memory, while an energetic imbalance of the thyroid can be the result of repressing one’s emotional needs over duty — all of which definitely hit home.
Based on the results, Dr Jay then prescribed a treatment plan of microbiome therapy, visceral manipulation, and reflexology along with a nutritional plan, Watsu (a type of aquatic body therapy), and sound healing. While I hadn’t associated sound healing, massage, or even cryotherapy with the microbiome, research has shown that lower levels of stress hormones are correlated with healthier microbiomes so, along with the nutrition plan (which was in no way restrictive thanks to the delicious earth-to-table dining throughout the resort), these treatments turned out to be key part of my wellness program.
My first treatment was a Four Pillars Massage using essential oil blends to calm the mind and stimulate the flow of vital life force in the body. My therapist immediately identified tension and blockages in my digestive track so a series of abdominal massage combined with reflexology to clear these and rebalance my energy system was arranged for the following days. Using deep visceral manipulation, these sessions focused on working on structural issues that could be could be causing a microbiome imbalance in the small intestine. The massages, using a custom oil blend, focused on the internal organs to mobilize the tissue and create more efficient function throughout the body.
Reflexology meanwhile targeted various reflex points in the feet and legs that connect to the stomach, helping to improve digestion and relieve bloating. The treatments were pretty intense and I felt mentally and emotionally exhausted afterwards, which is where the Watsu came in. A combination of the words “water” and “shiatsu,” Watsu is a shiatsu massage performed in warm water to alleviate physical tension and encourage relaxation. Each evening, after recovering on my private stretch of beach and swimming in the bath temperature Indian Ocean, I also had different sound healing treatments. One was a group sound bath meditation session in the enormous pyramid shaped Lotus studio; one was a sonic healing session with specialized instruments on a vibrational treatment bed; and one an outdoor immersive experience on the Discovery Sound Path — a winding trail through the jungle featuring wind chime bells, plate gongs and a pentatonic lithophone. By the end of my stay this combination of therapies had me feeling more clear-headed, positive, and calm than I had in months.
My time at Joali Being taught me something I think I really knew all along, that a holistic approach to health is about fixing the causes of a condition, not just alleviating the symptoms. My microbiome was out of whack due to high stress levels caused by being continuously connected. Going off grid, escaping to a desert island and tuning in, in order to tune out, was exactly the cure I needed. I hope I can go back soon.