“Keep breathing,” says the therapist, as you hold your breath. “Don’t be afraid to use your voice.”
Your four-handed Lomi Lomi massage has turned into a table-top dance, in which your body is eased and rubbed, cradled and moved in different directions. As you are asked to breathe deeply with each new movement, you feel a great welling up inside you, as if all your worries are about to be released. You close your eyes, and as the massage progresses, tears start streaming down your face. You make a noise and are surprised how liberating it feels. You keep breathing and making strange noises as your therapists work, until you reach an inner calm, the kind of calm you feel when you’ve been crying for hours or run a long, long way. Finally at peace, your body is laid out and covered, and you slip into a restful sleep. Ah, you think later – that’s much better than a facial.
Spa breaks can be deliciously pampering, but their increasing attraction for many of us in our busy, digitised world is their ability to make us feel better from the inside out. The word “spa” stands for sanus per aquam – Latin for health through water – and traditionally referred to a healing place that had a natural source of mineral water. Its definition has been joyfully stretched over the years to refer to any retreat, hotel or holiday that helps us relax, take stock, rebalance and replenish our joie de vivre. And why not, when most of us feel pretty stressed a lot of the time? There are now thousands of spas all over the world vying for our attention, with expert trainers, chefs concocting tempting and healthy diets, star yoga teachers, signature treatments, state-of-the-art products, holistic exercise regimes and dedicated well-being programmes designed to sort out our sleep, bad backs, eating habits, weight problems, immune systems, mental states and much more.
In the UK, ESPA Life is now available at the classy Corinthia London (020-7321 3050; espalifeatcorinthia.com) and Gleneagles, Scotland (0800 731 9215; gleneagles.com/spa/espa-life), and offers complementary and alternative medicine such as naturopathy, osteopathy, physiotherapy and acupuncture as well as nutritional advice and personal training alongside luxury spa treatments.
Lucknam Park (01225 742777; lucknampark.co.uk) in Wiltshire will open a new well-being centre on the hotel’s fairy-tale estate at the end of this month to complement its spa. The stressed-out will have access to visiting health consultants, light, sleep and flotation therapies, emotional detoxes, burn-out programmes and a brand new range of treatments designed by “beyond organic” skincare company ila, to address the effects of prolonged stress on your adrenal glands.
For a more extended fix of TLC, head abroad. Thailand’s exceptional holistic destination spa, Kamalaya, runs reliable, year-round health programmes. Wellbeing Escapes (0845 602 6202; wellbeingescapes.co.uk) has a seven-night Sleep Enhancement programme there to help re-establish healthy and restful sleep and address other sleep issues; the price of £3,399 per person includes all treatments, classes, consultations, return flights from Heathrow and transfers.
Decent short-haul (and more affordable) wellness retreats are also increasingly available. May will see the opening of Zening (00 357 26 321 011; zening.eu), an intriguing “yoga, meditation and wellness hotel” on the beach in the unspoilt north-west of Cyprus with five indoor-outdoor yoga venues, a vegetarian restaurant, Ayurvedic therapies and a meditation hall. The Healthy Holiday Company (020-8968 0501; thehealthyholidaycompany.co.uk) offers seven nights there from £929 per person, including full board, three yoga classes, three meditation classes, return flights from Heathrow and transfers.
Whatever you choose, taking a break for true respite is worth the time and money – whether you go for the facial or something a whole lot deeper.
If you're dealing with a trauma, such as divorce, or just feel your lifestyle isn't working, try a coaching break. They don't offer solutions but listen to you and ask pertinent questions to help you to take charge. Psychologist Graham W Price (020-7858 2241; abicord.com) offers a seven-day sailing and coaching holiday at Port Grimaud, above, in the South of France for £900pp, including all meals, training, sailing and transfers. Consciousness coach Louise Ramsden (020-8265 1319; theyogacook.com) has a two-night, Build Your Own Personal Retreat, at her south London home for £595pp, including organic meals and 14 hours of one-to-one attention.
Detox breaks can help you to shift excess weight, soothe stressed skin, treat digestive disorders, boost your immune system and increase your energy levels. The most effective, if you're short of time, are supervised juice fasts combined with colonic irrigation, gentle exercise and supportive treatments. For a lighter alternative, choose a place that offers a raw-food detox.
For personal attention in the Cornish countryside, The Raw Retreat (01566 88 00 90; therawretreat.co.uk) hosts just one person or couple at a time in a Grade-II listed barn and has a three-night health programme for £695pp, all inclusive.
Or, for guaranteed heat in a serene environment, Lotus Journeys (0845 170 1747; lotusjourneys.com) offers an eight-night detoxification at the Absolute Sanctuary on Koh Samui in Thailand, left; the price of 66,500 baht (£1,345pp) includes daily colon hydrotherapy, yoga classes and three massages, as well as juices and supplements. Flights and transfers are not included.
Do it in a day
You can get a lot out of a day spa, but go somewhere nearby so you don't get stressed by the travelling. If you're exhausted, go for holistic treatments such as shiatsu, Thai massage or anything Ayurvedic. These seek to rebalance your energy but leave yourself time to use the facilities. The Turkish Baths & Health Spa in Harrogate (01423 556746; turkishbathsharrogate.co.uk) has sessions in its colourful, traditional baths for as little as £14.50; treatments start at £29 for an Indian head massage. The classily peaceful Ushvani (020-7730 2888; ushvani.com) in Chelsea, west London, has 90-minute holistic treatments with use of the facilities from £180. The upmarket but unpretentious Lime Wood (023-8028 6998; limewoodhotel.co.uk) in the New Forest, has a Cleanse & Mend spa day for £195, including a Voya wrap, detox lunch, use of the serene Herb House Spa facilities and Voya treats to take home.
Who said spa breaks need to be serious? Sometimes a little bit of what you fancy does you good. Work on the 80/20 rule – if you choose to be healthy 80 per cent of the time, you can indulge for the rest of it. Yeotown (01271 343803; yeotown.com) in North Devon runs long weekends that team yoga with earthly pleasures such as cooking, surfing, belly dancing and live music; for example, it has a yoga and chocolate retreat from 9-11 March for £485pp. Or what about a spot of clubbing? Ibiza Retreats (00 34 662 093 499, Ibizaretreats.com/rockovery) offers a three-night Rockovery break, above, on the White Isle that combines Balearic nightlife with relaxing post-party care from well-being professionals; the price of €565pp includes a three-night, half-board stay at the Ibiza Rocks hotel, three juices, a detoxing massage and a yoga session.
Pampering in a spectacular location is always worth saving for. Book treatments ahead of your stay and don't be afraid to ask for specialist therapies – a decent deep-tissue massage, for example. Elegant Resorts (01244 897516; elegantresorts.co.uk) has two nights at Monastero Santa Rosa, above, on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. This 17th-century cliff-edge monastery has been converted to house a spa in its vaults. The price of £715pp includes B&B, flights from Gatwick and transfers. Treatments start at £48.
Meditation is designed to help us tame our "monkey minds" by concentrating on our breath, a symbol, or a mantra – and anyone can do it. Fairfield House in Somerset (01984 634503; fairfieldretreats.co.uk) has an introduction from 12-14 April for £175pp, including meals and tuition, while the London Buddhist Centre (0845 458 4716; lbc.org.uk) has regular all-inclusive weekends in the Suffolk countryside for £140pp. For a luxurious alternative, Ananda in the Himalayas (00 91 124 4516650; anandaspa.com) in India, above, has a seven-day Vedic Meditation Retreat (24-30 March) for £2,650pp including meals and tuition but not flights.
Caroline Sylger Jones runs queenofretreats.com, an independent online resource of reviews and advice on spas, retreats and healthy holidays.