You don’t need to travel far to see first hand how wellness is all the rage right now. Just walk anywhere in Hong Kong, especially around chichi enclaves such as Soho and Sheung Wan, and you can’t escape the health shops, yoga studios, juice bars and athletic-wear stores that are sprouting everywhere like mushrooms in the rainy season.
While as little as two years ago high spenders wouldn’t think twice of splurging on status items such as watches, bags and shoes, they’re now turning to fitness and health, contributing to a wellness craze that shows no signs of abating and has deeply altered industries such as fashion, food, beauty and travel.
This focus on well-being goes hand in hand with luxury consumers’ shift from products to experiences, the idea that it’s much better to part with your hard-earned cash for a memorable trip rather than ephemeral designer duds or the latest high-tech device.
Chōsen Experiences, a travel company founded by Robin Connelley and John Stanton in 2013, was born out of a desire to offer busy city dwellers immersive fitness-centred retreats in locations as varied as Bali, Guatemala, Iceland and New Zealand. The globetrotting duo, whose peripatetic lifestyle sees them shuttling between Bali, Hong Kong, the US and the Chōsen locations, describe these seven-day retreats spent working out, relaxing and eating wholesome food amid nature as their idea of the perfect week – and after participating in one of them, it’s hard to disagree.
If you’re familiar with the typical five-star wellness resort, you know what to expect: daily pampering such as massages and facials; extremely healthy – and often not very filling – meals; activities such as yoga and one-on-one fitness sessions; private consultations with nutritionists and other health specialists. You usually end up leaving lighter, both physically and mentally, but oftentimes the cookie-cutter approach and lack of interaction with other individuals can take away from the experience, especially for those who want to have fun while staying healthy and who don’t believe in deprivation as the cure for all ailments.
At Chōsen, on the other hand, having a good time is paramount and you definitely won’t feel underfed – you just have to be ready for a week of challenges that will take you out of your comfort zone (the name Chōsen comes from the Japanese word for challenge).
To begin with, you won’t be spending much time on your own and you’ll be mainly hanging out with fellow Chōsen participants, fitness- focused and open-minded professionals from a wide range of backgrounds. You may think that bonding with a bunch of strangers after just meeting them is not your cup of tea, but once you see them rappelling down a gorge in the middle of a forest while clad in superhero-style wetsuits or attempting for the umpteenth time to get up on a board on their first surfing lesson, you’ll feel like you’ve known them for ages and can’t wait for meal time to come round to engage in fun and random conversations with the group.
As for those meals, you’ll be raving about them long after you’ve left and are faced with the sad reality of your empty fridge back home. Chef Josh Davies, who’s in charge of the ever-changing menu, will make you realise that food that’s good for you can actually taste good, and even better than the fancy concoctions that many chefs nowadays pass as gourmet grub. His gluten-free and protein-rich dishes, such as tuna tataki and a cooling gazpacho with crispy bacon and avocado, provide the fuel you need after intense beach workouts, a day spent canyoning in the jungle or swimming and doing yoga in the luxury villas where you’ll be staying.
It’s no surprise that after taking part in one of the journeys, many alumni (as the company likes to call them) become addicted and come back for more, signing up for retreats in other locations. While it’s easy to dismiss this need to recharge and rebalance as just a quick fix to make up for the unhealthy lifestyles that city folk often fall prey to (think the work-hard, play-hard ethos many Hong Kong residents live by), it’s not the case with most Chōsen participants, who tend to be health- conscious and balanced individuals with a passion for fitness and the outdoors.
With wake-up calls around 5.30am and much-needed early bedtimes that will surprise even the most hardcore night owls, a Chōsen retreat has the power of truly changing your habits, without, however, delivering the preachy and holier-than-thou platitudes of some holistic practices, which can often put off people who want to be healthy but don’t necessarily feel comfortable with the New Age spiel typical of many wellness gurus.
From the daily yoga classes accompanied by cool music from the likes of The xx, to the therapeutic treatments (body alignment with Leesa Gray was a godsend in Bali last summer, especially for those prone to sports injuries), Chōsen is not your average pampering retreat; it’s not about quickly shedding those extra pounds and aggressively detoxifying your body but about actually feeling, and getting, stronger, healthier and happier during – and after – your stay.
The sense of community and laidback vibe of what started out as a passion project make Chōsen a life-changing journey, a true investment that will keep reaping benefits long after you’ve left. And even if you don’t apply any changes to your lifestyle once you’re back to the daily grind, you’ll definitely have made a bunch of new friends. Talk about true luxury.