Holistic healing

Sue Davis is the health and vitality development manager at Thailand’s premier health resort, Chiva-Som. She tells Leisure Manager how she helps guests to live at their optimum through the use of holistic therapies and naturopathy

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By  Sarah Gain Published  October 15, 2006

HME: In September, a team of therapists from Chiva-Som spent a week in residence at the Burj Al Arab. What brought you to Dubai?|~|Sue-B.jpg|~|Sue Davis, health and vitality development manager at Chiva-Som.|~|We wanted to give people an opportunity to sample the Chiva-Som experience and the Assawan Spa was the ideal partner for the event. Chiva-Som’s guest profile and that of the Burj are fairly similar — both are extremely luxurious and appeal to people with expensive tastes.

The difference is that where the Burj is primarily a hotel with a spa aspect, we are first and foremost a spa, with a hotel on the side. We had to adapt our therapies to fit with the hotel spa environment, but we felt that this event would give those who weren’t familiar with the Chiva-Som concept a chance to get to know what we’re all about, and for people who know Chiva-Som, this was a chance to enjoy our treatments right on their doorstep.||**||HME: Is Chiva-Som popular with guests from the Middle East?|~|Chiva-Som-B.jpg|~|Chiva-Som is a popular destination with guests seeking to repair the damage caused by Dubai’s frenetic lifestyle.|~|We do get a lot of people from Dubai, and once someone arrives at Chiva-Som they become a regular. Average stay is about a week, but we find that people from the Middle East predominantly come for a whole month. It’s mainly Arab nationals that come for longer stays, but we also get expat guests that are based over here. We had two British businessmen who came for a full month just to get up to speed. They felt that two weeks just wasn’t going to do it — that would get them to where they wanted to be, but a month would really consolidate the benefits. They say if you do something for 21 days, it will stick.

If you’re trying to quit smoking, for instance, or if you’re trying to create a healthy eating pattern or a fitness regime, 21 days will do it, so we also get a lot of people that come for a three-week stay.

The fitness, body tuning and weight management retreats are very popular, probably because of the lifestyle here — people work very hard, long hours and travel for business frequently, which makes it very difficult to be healthy. A lot of people now are aware that they struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle here, and they look for help.||**||HME: Can you describe the Chiva-Som experience?|~||~||~|as weight loss, detox, de-stress. We have health and wellness consultants and each guest has a private, individual session as soon as they arrive in resort.

We check height; weight and blood pressure and we establish what their health objectives are.

A lot of it is counselling, and we get the guests on a fitness programme. There’s an activity schedule, with group classes like Thai Chi, stretching and aqua-aerobics every day at 11am.

For some people that are quite overweight, as quite a few of our Middle Eastern guests tend to be, we’ll do one-to-one sessions in the pool, because to put them on a treadmill would be very uncomfortable for them — they get very hot, and sometimes have joint problems — the buoyancy in the water means there’s no strain on the joints and we can still do resistance work to get the heart rate up.

For the future, we’re actually considering the possibility of getting specialist gym equipment, such as treadmills and bikes, specifically designed to be used in the pool.

The fitness regime is very varied to help get people motivated, but the beauty of Chiva-Som is that it’s not a boot camp — you can do as little or as much as you want.
Also part of the experience is that every guest gets a daily massage.

There’s a choice of three massages — the Chiva-Som signature massage, which is a Swedish-style oil massage, then there’s a traditional Thai massage, which uses the therapist’s body weight to deliver acupressure. Finally, there’s an invigorating massage that gets the circulation going and is really good for guests with low blood pressure.

The food is also an important part of the experience. All meals are included and it’s not just carrot sticks and lettuce leaves. It’s Thai-influenced spa cuisine, so it has no saturated fat and no added sugar or salt. It’s very tasty, however, because we use spices and herbs to give it a good balance of flavours. Even though it’s portion controlled, you don’t feel like you’re being deprived. ||**||HME: What facilities does the resort have?|~||~||~|We’ve got a very big spa with over 40 treatment rooms where we do all the cutting-edge treatments, from facials and massages to detoxifying balneotherapy and Reiki. As for the hotel, it only has 57 rooms, which is potentially 114 guests when we’re 100% full in high season. Generally, we have about 50 guests in house at a time.
||**||HME: What is the most popular therapy?|~||~||~|Our holistic department is probably one of our most popular departments.

The naturopathic therapies provide the body with tools to heal itself. I truly believe that a lot of health issues stem from an emotional cause, so for example if someone has very high stress levels, they might throw their stress down into their digestion, causing them to get bloating and to not digest their food very well.

A doctor would give them something to help the bloating, but we go to the root cause as to why someone’s not living at their optimum. It comes down to diet, lifestyle, nutrition and counselling.

During the naturopathic consultations we see quite a few couples that are having difficulty conceiving. All the tests might say they’re fine, but we go deeper than that to find the root cause, because they’re obviously not getting pregnant for a reason. Quite often you’ll see they’ve got pretty bad diets, they’re stressed, they’re not exercising, they’re probably not drinking enough water or taking any supplements — no wonder they’re not getting pregnant.

Under stress, the body will shut down certain functions because the primeval response to stress was to save your life. Usually digestion and fertility are among the first to be shut down because they’re not essential to survival. Often someone will go for IVF before they even look at their diet and their lifestyle. They might just need to relax, take a zinc supplement and get down the gym a bit more. ||**||HME: Do people really get tangible results from holistic therapies?|~||~||~|At the start we asked a focus group of destination management companies, I really believe in them. When I was a therapist I had a lot of clients that were sceptical at first, but they found that the therapies helped. Take the flower remedies, for example. They’re subtle but they’re powerful. You don’t really feel a great change immediately, but everything sort of gradually melts away. That is probably my favourite thing to do because I get such good results.

I use flower cards to find out what guests are attracted to, as that says a lot about what they need, and I do a counselling session as well. Through this process I can identify which remedies will help and mix a few into one bottle to create a personalised remedy for the guest.

The flower essences work on the subconscious mind, and often cause guests to have quite vivid dreams, which clear all the suppressed worries and issues. It sounds a bit vague, but I’ve had many guests say that the flower remedies have changed their lives. They help you change your perception on something and if you change, other people will change in their reactions to you.

For example, I once did a session with a Japanese lady, and they are often quite suppressed with their emotions. Her husband had died in an accident two years earlier and she was in absolute shock, but she’d just swallowed it down and got on with life. She’d met another man and she was feeling a bit guilty about her first husband. She was conflicted.

I gave her a flower remedy and her husband’s face came to her in a dream. She came into my office in floods of tears, but we discussed the dream and she came to see it as a sign that her first husband had given this new relationship his blessing, and she was able to move on and be happy. ||**||HME: How did you get involved with holistic and naturopathic healing?|~||~||~|I was working in the corporate field — I was a marine insurance broker — so I really did a 180-degree turn. I was working in London, then I went to Singapore, and on to Hong Kong. Living in polluted cities, I was very conscious of the fact that I was not living in a healthy environment and I began to get very interested in alternative medicine. I went to see my doctor for a well woman check-up and I was asking her all about alternative therapies. She was the one that suggested I do it professionally.

I thought you had to be a doctor to become involved with alternative medicine, but I found it was possible to do it from scratch.

I started looking into the colleges, but the ones in the UK didn’t really do it for me. I found a course in Australia that sounded fascinating — it covered everything from nutrition to iridology and counselling.

The core training is very much like a doctor, you have to learn about symptomology, diagnosis and the anatomy, and it’s a four-year degree, so it’s very intensive work.

I’d actually been to Chiva-Som as a guest before I’d left Hong Kong, and it just so happened they were recruiting around the time I graduated, and I knew it would be a good place to cut my teeth. I was based in resort for two and a half years, managing the health consultants, before I took up my current position as health and vitality development manager. I was only to be with Chiva-Som for about a year, but three years later I’m still there.||**||

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