Heavenly healing

Jessica Humphries is swept away by the luxurious indulgence and philosophical guidance on offer at Amatara Wellness Resort, Phuket.

In Sanskrit, Amata refers to the quality of immortality — an endlessness that withstands the passage of time. Arriving at Amatara Wellness Resort, I felt instantly enveloped by the vibrant tranquility of this lush little health and wellness village located in an unexpected corner of Thailand’s buzzing Phuket. Thailand was my last stop on a whirlwind tour of Asia and I arrived feeling worn out, jetlagged and overwhelmed.

Amatara Wellness Resort is tucked away in Phuket’s Cape Panwa, a peaceful town unaffected by intensive urbanisation, with luxury villas lining the beach and fishermen’s huts sleepily dotted in between.

Wandering around the picturesque resort grounds, I felt sceptical. What can I possibly learn about yoga at a luxury resort? I wondered as the buggy driver escorted me to my private villa. How deep could I really go in this superficially beautiful, lavish place?

The space was truly spectacular, with impressive 180-degree sea views. A luscious infinity pool overlooked the ocean, and there was an abundance of wellness spaces, restaurants and villas that created the feeling of being in a small, peaceful town. Succulent gardens lined the perfect paths that led to nooks and crannies of goodness, like a private beach area for guests and a sumptuous wellness spa. I felt like a celebrity arriving at my private villa. I admired the huge, round spa bath in the middle of the bathroom, overlooking the private infinity pool with ocean views, and the bedroom and living room with dark polished floorboards and an inviting king bed. I was delighted to find a plethora of healthy snacks and coconut water to enjoy as I sprawled myself out on a pool chair and let the relaxation begin.

My first consultation was with Phoebe, an Australian naturopath who has been living in Thailand for ten years. Phoebe was my personal wellness coach throughout the five-day yoga retreat. She explained that we could meet as often as I liked, allowing me to create my own experience and level of guidance. At first I felt slightly uneasy in my vulnerability, as though this woman could see through to my core, but it wasn’t long before I began divulging my life story and listing all of the ailments I wanted to heal.

That afternoon, I met with Uttam, my very own private yoga, meditation and philosophy teacher. Originally from India, Uttam told me about his travels around the world teaching on different yoga teacher trainings, as well as world-famous health and wellness resorts. He was clearly the real deal, and I felt my initial scepticism begin to dissipate. I was curious about Uttam’s yoga journey and began to delve more deeply into his fascinating story.

Uttam said, “My journey with yoga began in childhood. My grandfather was a Bhakti yogi, and I have very strong memories of chanting and singing with him every evening when I was five years old. That experience is something I can’t describe with words, but I feel that it was my beginning in the path of yoga.”

When Uttam finished his schooling, he moved to Rishikesh where he became more disciplined in his practice, waking every morning at 5am to practice at Swami Sivananda’s ashram. “One day I met a man near the ashram, and the minute I looked into his eyes I felt that he was my guru from many lives. We talked for some time as he tried to remind me of my past lives. After that, I touched his feet and he blessed me. I started to feel burning all over my body, as though something had been awakened in me. I started meeting many great masters and teachers as I travelled around India seeking knowledge of yoga and life,” he said.

As Uttam continued along the path of yoga, he studied many lineages with senior teachers, as well as completing professional courses and a diploma in yoga. While working for a world-famous resort in the Himalayas, Uttam taught students from all walks of life, including the rich and famous. “It was a helpful life lesson to see that those with great positions and wealth are also stressed and in need of yoga,” he mused. I looked forward to my daily sessions with Uttam who helped me to refine not only my physical practice, but also my understanding of yoga’s deeper philosophies.

After three days of daily yoga, meditation, pranayama, wellness consultations and relaxing treatments, I experienced the mother of all spa sessions — the Thai Hammam Journey. This three-hour pampering honours the bathing traditions of Morocco and Turkey, and infuses Thai spa therapy in a delicious concoction of ultimate indulgence. The treatment included a traditional sauna, rainshower, steam, black soap massage, deep exfoliation, thermal mud treatment, salt cave therapy and signature massage using 100% natural products.

As I walked back to my room, drunk on this blissed-out pampering, I found myself circling back to doubts of the potential to realise one’s full potential in such a serene space. I became aware of the niggling belief that when it comes to a yogi’s goal towards awareness, progress can only be achieved through struggle. Surely enlightenment requires a lifetime of trudging through murk and turmoil. I saw myself refusing to acknowledge the suffering I’d endured in the past, or indeed the suffering that comes simply as a result of being human. I dismissed all the work I’d done to get here, and saw myself resting in the comfort of unworthiness. In the past, the feeling of constant struggle gave me a sense that everything was as it should be. As I started to open to this new environment and experience, I felt myself beginning to surrender and open up to the insights available in every area of life, including the blissfully indulgent.

As the peaceful days continued and I dropped into a sense of belonging, I enjoyed light, fresh cuisine, a perfectly paced schedule of movement, mind-expansion and relaxation, and inspiration and practical guidance from the hands-on team. With contributions from all over the world, the retreat’s cultural fusion caters perfectly to Westerners whilst maintaining the romance of Thai tradition.

On the last evening, I met with Phoebe for a sumptuous healthy dinner at The Retreat, the resort’s healthy cuisine go-to. Having memorised the menu, I swiftly ordered my favourites: a hearty green soup, Thai papaya salad and sweet coconut chia pudding. After having Phoebe lead me through the experience, I felt truly held by this woman, and connected through our shared love of wellness and her passion for creating a space for people to heal, guiding them towards a deeper connection to and responsibility for their own health. “I used to think discipline was a dirty word,” she said. “But now I feel like it’s a perfect way to contain the chaos. And it’s necessary.” I took a mental note of these words of wisdom as motivation to continue my wellness journey. Phoebe’s support didn’t stop when I left the resort. Upon returning home, she contacted a naturopath in my local area so I could continue on the path to optimum health and vitality.

Saying goodbye to Uttam was bittersweet. I had received so much fundamental guidance from him, and I felt ready to move forward with this momentum, but a little sad to leave. I asked Uttam what yoga means to him. “We say yoga means union and I feel that unless we see all humankind as our family and help each other, we can’t understand the real purpose. For me, life is yoga and yoga is life,” he said. I wondered what advice he had for me as I moved forward in my own practice. “Go beyond the physical practice and learn more on the eight limbs of yoga or Ashtanga yoga. Apply these teachings in your life and become more disciplined physically, mentally and emotionally, not only stretching the body but stretching the mind also.”

The guidance and support I received, and the potential of long-lasting changes in my lifestyle and practice was on par with the kind of transformation one experiences during a yoga teacher training. I felt into a space of clarity to manifest change, and gained the momentum to charge forward. On the day that I left Amatara I realised something — I felt truly, blissfully, completely happy.

For information about Amatara and the programs offered at the wellness resort, go to www.amataraphuket.com