EIGHT-THIRTY AM finds me, a confirmed lazybum, on an Astroturf-lined rooftop a stone’s throw but also a world away from Phuket’s Patong Beach, learning the Vajrasana, or Diamond pose, so named because it will make you “strong like a diamond”, or so Dr Alvin James informs us. It’s not a difficult position by any means – in fact, it’s pretty much just sitting on your legs holding your knees, but it sums up the subtle, relaxed approach to wellness at Avista Hideaway Resort & Spa, in that it doesn’t feel like you’re doing much, yet the benefits are wide ranging. By holding this pose, for example, I’m improving my digestive system while bolstering the muscles in my legs and back. Hey, anything with the word “diamond” in it can’t be a bad thing.
I’ve landed at this particular resort to investigate its just-launched Ayurvedafocused wellness programme, so new that the equipment doesn’t even arrive until day two of our three-night stay. Typically, the Avista Wellness Package advertised on its website includes a week-long stay with daily treatments, but no matter the length of your sojourn, a consultation with Dr James will inevitably be your starting point.
It feels almost desultory when the doctor glances at me and pronounces my elemental composition to be mainly kapha (earth) with undertones of pitha (fire). He takes my pulse, which verifies his diagnosis. But as he begins to describe the characteristics of each element, which include physical as well as personality traits, I begin to feel a little like I’m at one of those bizarrely apt psychic readings. He asks if – nay, informs me that – I sleep soundly, am prone to fluid retention, have a weakness for sweets and generally avoid stressful situations. Yes and yes and yes and yes.
For Ayurveda novices, the guiding principles of this ancient medicine suggest that the body is divided into kapha, pitha or vata (air), with predominance of any one an imbalance in the body that should be corrected through diet, activities and general lifestyle. For the average kapha, for example, the tendency is towards a sedentary and routine way of living, exacerbated by consumption of sweets and a lack of exercise. Combating this means regular exercise, preferably in the morning (thus, 8.30am yoga sessions), meals heavier in bitter foods, and dry/powder massages rather than oil-based treatments, to stimulate circulation.
To complement the results of the consultation, Chef Tim Westaway, a veteran of the Ritz-Carlton group, constructs a meal plan to suit each body type. For me, that means a cucumber-juice cocktail to start, while my airier friends drink sweet mango to calm overexcitement and my fiery companions take watermelon to cool tempers. Because of kapha‘s tendency to gain weight, a ginger soup stimulates the digestive system, while a simple salmon is a suitable substitute for red meat, and fruits are an adequate dessert.
Since my exercise routine is recommended to take place in the morning, the afternoon is left for treatments, which take place on a freshly delivered droni massage bed. With the focus being on general wellbeing rather than targeted muscle relief, you won’t feel the same de-stressing effect as with Swedish or acupressure massages, but the long-term effect on your body will be more substantial. Other treatments in Avista’s spa are managed by Thai operator Sukko Spa and include everything from Thai massages to aromatherapy facials.
It may seem strange that the folks at Avista expect people to come to Phuket to learn about the ancient Indian traditions of Ayurveda, but it’s just one more option in the tourist town’s increasing diversification, as resorts vie to come up with unique angles that will attract guests. As Avista’s investors are Indian, it’s natural that they export their native expertise. And that particular programme is just one part of the property’s charms – the rest being stunning architecture, even measured against international five-star chains. The open-air lobby with seating set into marbled pools and sweeping views of trees as far as the eye can see is one talking point; the three relaxing swimming-pool areas is another. And Avista’s lowest category of room is likely one of the best-equipped standard rooms on the island. The few drawbacks include lapses in service – while the staff are accommodating, the language barrier can often be frustrating – and the rather pesky problem of mosquitoes, though during our visit management jotted down our suggestion of planting citronella throughout the property to deter the bloodthirsty bastards. Of course, if any of this starts to get to you, there’s always another treatment to calm the nerves…