Yoga reaches new heights at Six Senses Yao Noi

Buzz term “integrated wellness” is at the centre of Six Senses Yao Noi’s new health resort-meets-holiday escape. Our spa columnist prepares to turn island relaxation on its head

Aerial yoga helps core muscles and balance
Aerial yoga helps core muscles and balance

I’m yearning for a relaxing holiday where the healthy attitude extends beyond the spa, but isn’t too hardcore – a break that swaps dirty martinis for green juices, punishing schedule for pummelling massage and late-night meals for early-morning meditation. And I know just where I’d like to go. Six Senses has added to its extensive spa and wellness offering (which already includes visiting yogis, nutritionists and exercise gurus) at four resorts with a new integrated programme – bespoke nutrition, treatment and exercise agenda – that has been in the planning for two years. The Italian and I book for the Thai island resort of Yao Noi.

Day 1

It’s an 80-minute plane trip to Phuket from Bangkok, a 30-minute car drive to the marina and 45 minutes by private boat to Phang Nga Bay and Koh Yao Noi – one of the quieter and least developed of Thailand’s islands.

The long journey is worth it for the spectacular arrival: limestone cliffs jut out of the water all around us, and between them is an island of former rubber plantations, with gently undulating, jungle-carpeted slopes scattered with rustic chic, elevated wooden bungalows.

Ours is the one-bedroom Hideaway Pool Villa; I kick myself for not having specified a sea view, but it’s gorgeous nonetheless, with large beds, a bath with a view out over the trees, outdoor shower, yoga deck and private pool that connects the bedrooms to the open-sided living room.

There’s time for a quick dip in the ocean before heading to the spa – a beautifully articulated complex of wooden cabins in the forest, furnished in rattans and sisal and enveloped in the smell of lemongrass. Dorelal, the yoga instructor, books me appointments with the resident Ayurvedic doctor at the start and end of my stay, morning personal-fitness or yoga sessions and evening spa treatments.

Supper is a leisurely affair: Asian tapas as the sun drops into the lambent Andaman Sea.

Day 2

Breakfast in our villa is a plate of fruit and a green juice (kale, celery, spinach, lime and ginger) that I ask to be protein-enriched. The resort’s kitchen is stocked with super-healthy supplies, from chia seeds to matcha, ready to pimp my smoothie however I like.

9am Dorelal radiates calm as he leads us to the large open-air yoga pavilion, a second-floor platform above the sizeable fitness centre, overlooking the jungle.

The infinity pool and restaurant at Yao Noi’s Hilltop Reserve
The infinity pool and restaurant at Yao Noi’s Hilltop Reserve

There are six swathes of fabric hanging from the ceiling for aerial yoga (also known as flying yoga or antigravity yoga). I begin with a combination of floor and flying yoga as Dorelal gauges my fitness level. He explains that flying yoga works the core muscles, is amazing for spinal decompression and focuses the attention on balance.

We launch into a rather fast Vinyasa flow. Once I’ve worked up a bit of a sweat, we move onto the aerial ropes. We begin with basics, such as lunges (which involve supporting one foot behind me in the “seat” of the material, and the other on the ground, lunging forwards), plank poses (where one leg is supported by the material while I pull the other knee up towards my nose), and leg lifts (where I sit in the bottom loop of material and lift both my legs). After a few planks I collapse on the ground and manage only a couple of leg lifts before yelping.

10.30am The doctor explains that he’ll base my programme on a wellness test using a bespoke screening machine that analyses key physiological biomarkers, including oxygen levels, metabolism, heart function, circulation and stress. Dorelal joins us. I step onto two metal plates, wires are stuck on my forehead and my middle fingers are placed into a gauge. Within a few minutes the results are in: “Khun Inge, it appears you have high levels of toxins, your liver is overworked and your lymph and digestive systems are sluggish.”

I score just 18 out of 30 for lifestyle – calculated from my circulation, inflammation and cholesterol results. Even worse is the stress test: 16 out of 30 – my gaba (the amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system to calm nerves) is in overdrive. My environment test (which looks at metabolism, pH levels, oxygen and oxidative stress) is 18, but I fare better on the body-composition and fitness test – 27 out of 30. So in a nutshell, I look fit and well but I’m an acidic, stressed-out mess inside.

12pm We lunch on tom yum soup and coconut water at the infinity pool overlooking the bay. I refuse even a sip of the Italian’s Piña Colada. We agree that my nightly half bottle of red wine – a reward for getting through the day juggling a stressful job and a baby – should probably stop.

We look over my programme. It includes a daily aerial or mat-based yoga class plus one detox yoga session – a series of “cleansing” postures accompanied by lightly salted water drinks to loosen the bowels and springclean the intestine, liver and lymphatic channels. There’s also meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises) to help reduce muscle and neural stress, while suggested spa treatments include a detox massage, Thai massage to help circulation and blocked energies, and a dreamcatcher massage to improve sleep quality. My diet will be mainly fish and vegetables – but it sounds delicious rather than a hardship.

4pm We go for a gentle guided 90-minute bike ride around the main perimeter of the sleepy island, through a rubber plantation, stop at a coconut farm to buy fresh coconut water, and past the village market.

6pm The Italian has a tennis lesson while I have a private pranayama session with Dorelal. We do breathing exercises lying down and standing up, but the most intense is done cross-legged – I’m told to take my thumb and block my left nostril, then take a deep breath, pinch my right nostril closed, slowly release my thumb from the left nostril and breathe out of that side. We repeat it deeper and faster. I feel heady and elated.

7pm I head to the spa for a 60-minute customised massage. The masseuse kneads me from head to toe using poultices of fresh herbs – the stress melts like butter on a hot knife. My legs especially feel reinvigorated.

9pm We finish the day with dinner and a movie, Pretty Woman, under the stars. There’s a table filled with hot popcorn and snacks, and about 10 of us lie on sun loungers under blankets while the film is projected onto a white sail held aloft between bamboo poles. The waves lap behind us. Magical.


Day 3

7am The day starts with a visit to the hen pen, to collect eggs for a breakfast of goat’s cheese and spinach egg-white omelette (accompanied by a green juice). Happy hens lay healthy eggs, says our guide, who explains the resort’s sustainable “Waste to Wealth” programme, where as much waste as possible is composted or recycled. We eat at one of the resort’s beautiful restaurants, overlooking the 14 limestone islands stretching out before us.

I go for a 40-minute run around the resort before my flying-yoga class. The paths are pretty steep, so it’s an intense workout, but the views are amazing.

Flying yoga begins with basic moves, then steps up a notch. Standing with both feet in the “seat” of the fabric, we hold onto the sides and slide our legs as far apart as we can. We then sit down in the fabric, leaning back so we are parallel with the floor, engaging our stomach muscles, lifting our legs and separating them. I have to hold on tight to maintain control. Next I hang upside down. Dorelal encourages us to lift our hands up off the floor so that we are totally suspended. By the end my arms and abs are burning; we finish with stretches on solid ground.

11am We are taken in a longtail boat to a beach spot 20 minutes away where kayaks are kept. We break away from the group with two guides on a mini water safari. Eagles soar above us and monkeys come to say hello. Sadly the spell is broken when very loud tourists come up stream, heading for Koh Phi Phi Leh, aka “The Beach” – made famous by the film of the same name with Leonardo DiCaprio. We reverse paddle and decide to snorkel in a secluded coral reef, after which we have a picnic lunch of grilled salmon and bok choy, with coconut water.

4pm While the Italian has a Muay Thai lesson on the beach, where there is a boxing ring, I have a detox yoga session on the platform outside my room. I sip the slightly salty water while doing simple poses like sun salutations. Several times I have to rush to the bathroom as the saltwater takes effect. We follow up with calming pranayama and meditation.

Then to the village for a traditional Thai massage with our clothes on, lying on a thin mattress on a wooden floor in a simple cabana on the beach. The masseuse walks on my back and pulls and pushes my limbs with her feet and hands. It’s fairly punishing, but leaves me exhilarated.

Day 4

9am To the amazing new open‑air, sea-facing pavilion for aerial yoga. I build on my skills, hanging upside down and using my core to lift my torso. I feel muscles working in places I didn’t know there were muscles. We move on to do a downward dog, keeping our hips in the rope. Dorelal shows us how to shift into a handstand – but we burst out laughing at the seeming impossibility of the move. He comes to help, lifting both my feet up and wrapping them in the material to keep me supported.

12pm We hire a traditional longtail boat to go island hopping and snorkelling – pulling up at a beach for a picnic of Thai-style baked salmon and a plate of dragon fruit.

A spa treatment room at Yao Noi
A spa treatment room at Yao Noi

4pm After an energetic game of tennis, the Italian heads back to the Muay Thai boxing ring while I return to the yoga studio for another hybrid aerial and mat-based yoga session. I try and finesse the headstands and inversions – with some success.

6pm Back to the spa, where a dreamcatcher massage uses hot oils on my head and body. The head and foot rubs are a little too gentle, but the body massage is fabulously firm. The Italian has a silk cocoon facial, known for its amino acids, which are great for skin elasticity. He gives it the thumbs up and, indeed, he does look very fresh.

8pm Our last dinner is in the resort’s more formal European restaurant in a booth looking over the jungle – it feels like eating in a treehouse. We throw out the detox rule book and crack open an amazing bordeaux and order a three-course feast.

Day 5

Time for my exit test. I step on the screening machine and the results are quick to calculate.

the Bottom Line

My tests reveal my stress score has improved from 16 to 25, and my cardiovascular is a cracking 28, while my environment score is up from 18 to 22.

After three days of aerial and detox yoga I feel – and look – more toned and less bloated. I might not have lost any weight, but that wasn’t my ambition; I needed to detox and de-stress, and the pranayama breathing, yoga and vegetable-and-fish diet did the trick. My skin also looks plumper, full of colour (and not just a suntan).

This may not be a hardcore medispa, but the tests gave me an insight into what is happening in my body and helped focus my mind. I’ll use the knowledge to make small changes, such as reinstating my thrice-weekly yoga and meditation sessions, and paying more attention to my diet – including reducing my alcohol intake. Φ


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