It was May by the time I realized it had happened again. As usual, my new year’s health goal was to get fit and lose weight, starting from day one of January. Did that happen? No. Of course this sort of thing doesn’t happen by itself. I meant to go off to a fitness retreat in January. Did that happen? No.
Never mind the reasons I didn’t get to a fitness retreat in January. I finally pulled myself together and made it to Absolute Sanctuary in Koh Samui in May. I knew the Absolute wellness brand through their many yoga studios in Bangkok and had been curious about the resort in Samui for some time; I’d been hovering around their attractive website looking at all the offerings for a few months before I actually arrived there.
Billed as “the fitness wellness resort”, Absolute Sanctuary had originally started off as a yoga resort and had recently started promoting a more comprehensive range of fitness and wellness programs from yoga, detox, Pilates, lifestyle change, fitness, weight management, anti-stress, and more.
I’d gained a few extra kilos from stress eating over the past few years, had stopped doing a regular exercise routine and felt utterly terrible and discouraged with the sad state I’d fallen into. I’d gotten pasty and had developed dark circles under my eyes . It was too hard to lose weight and change my diet at home with all the demands of family life and work. Plus, it was the environment at home that made me stress eat. I had to remove myself from my normal routine with all its stress triggers. So I signed up for the Fitness Program with the aim to tone up and lose weight. Getting fit was my main goal, with the hope that some weight loss would result as a byproduct of all the exercise and sweating I’d be doing.
Absolute Sanctuary offers two options of fitness programs, moderate or intensive, I signed up for the more intensive Ultimate Fitness Retreat, which included daily personal training sessions, Pilates Reformer classes, a variety of spa massages and Far Infra-Red Sauna sessions, core suspension classes (I had no idea what that was, but was open to trying new things), a private yoga class and a private Pilates class.
On top of this I could take as many group yoga classes as I wanted from the daily yoga schedule, which offered three to four different classes a day. And there was the swimming pool and juice bar where we got our daily power blast drinks filled with nutrients that give energy for the day’s exercise. The whole package was very comprehensive and covered a greater variety of activities than I’d seen at other resorts. While most wellness retreats offer a standard program of yoga, meditation, health food and spa massages, Absolute Sanctuary is the only one in Koh Samui and one of the few in Asia offering both Pilates Reformer and hot yoga, which is what their studios in Bangkok specialize in.
I love hot yoga and had stopped doing it years ago, so I looked forward to this chance to reconnect to hot yoga and its myriad health benefits – improved muscle flexibility, increased metabolism and blood circulation, and detox and weight loss from the profuse sweating. This was also a chance for me to try Pilates Reformer class, which I was surprised to discover that I really enjoyed.
I have to say my previous experiences with Pilates had not been encouraging. My first introduction to Pilates had been a boring Pilates mat class in a hotel gym, and my second experience was at another place doing a Pilates Reformer class taught by a trainer who didn’t look at me, didn’t care, didn’t hide his boredom, and made me bored too. After these experiences, I thought I hated Pilates, didn’t understand why people loved it, and had resisted all my friends’ attempts to get me to join. I thought I probably just wasn’t a “Pilates person”, the way some people aren’t “yoga people”.
But since Pilates was in my program here and I’d committed myself to full immersion, I put myself into it found that it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was more interesting than walking on a treadmill, and everything people said about its benefits was true.
After getting used to the strangely clumsy system of boxes and springs, I found that it was challenging and fun, and after only a few days of Pilates Reformer classes (sometimes I had two classes a day) I was amazed to see my body shape changing and the new, long lean muscle definition on my arms, thighs, and especially the sides of my torso. Seeing the results made me feel great and encouraged me to keep doing more. It was fantastic.
While I’d been kind of scared about starting my fitness program since I was so out of shape, I eagerly looked forward to trying the health cuisine, after admiring the colourful and inviting photos on the website.
One of the comments you hear over and over again among guests at Absolute Sanctuary is how great the food is. Eating low-fat food is a pleasure here, and the portions are generous.
The resort’s Love Kitchen restaurant specializes in visually appealing and really tasty low-fat, high-energy health cuisine made from high-powered nutrient-rich superfood ingredients. There are even delicious vegan and gluten-free desserts like chocolate brownies and carrot cake. (I ate two carrot cakes during my week there and still lost weight).
With different menus depending on what program the guests are on, I was on the spa menu while many of the detox program guests were on the detox menu, which had different selections of dishes. There’s also a more comprehensive regular menu for people not on special programs and outside guests, since the Love Kitchen is also open to outside diners who want fresh, high quality health cuisine.
Unlike most other wellness retreats I’ve been to, Absolute Sanctuary doesn’t have a “community table”, which is a group table where solo travelers can dine with other solo travelers, socialize, and make new friends. For most of my first meals, the quiet dining room at Love Kitchen consisted mostly of tables of one, silently munching vegetables while staring into their phones, including myself.
I rarely saw more than one or two diners per table at a time, and wondered how I was going to make friends. (Later, other guests told me they overcame this by sitting down at other people’s tables uninvited and just start talking). I didn’t hang out by the pool, which was a possible place to start chatting with fellow guests. I was busy rushing from class to class or hiding from the boiling heat in my cool air conditioned room, so I only managed to exchange “hello” and smile to people walking past me or sitting on the next yoga mat. I worried that I’d be eating three meals a day in silent solitude for the entire week here.
A breakthrough finally came on the third day after Pilates class when a leaving guest corralled a group dinner for her last night, and invited me to join because I (luckily) happened to be standing next to her while she was inviting other people. Once that barrier was broken, I finally met some fun and interesting fellow guests who I became friends with, though half of them were leaving the next day.
The various classes and spa sessions in my program kept me busy and I was constantly checking my schedule to make sure I was at the right place at the right time and also re-arranging the schedule so I could join certain classes that I liked. My fitness program included personal training every day and my trainer was the lively Nok, a cheerful Thai lady who radiated positive energy. I enjoyed her upbeat personality, and joking and chatting with her during our sessions added some fun to our workouts.
The calibre of teachers that I met at Absolute Sanctuary was outstanding. Aside from my trainer Nok, I had classes with vivacious Carly the Scottish yoga teacher and lovely Darlene the cheerful Filipina Pilates teacher. They all impressed me with their natural high energy, positive vibes, and enthusiasm.
My private yoga class with Carly was a revelation. I’d had a private yoga session before at another resort where the teacher demonstrated poses in front of me while I copied them, which wasn’t any different a normal group yoga class, and spent most of the time talking about herself. Carly had a very intensive knowledge of yoga anatomy and she actually looked at my body and saw that I was double jointed and naturally flexible, which meant my elbows turned outward during plank poses (which they shouldn’t do). She trained me to correct the outward rotation and keep my body in the correct posture, therefore getting the most benefit out of the poses. She also looked at the curvature of my spine and taught me how to stand properly with my hips in the right position to correct the curvature.
I learned so much from my session with Carly and I realized that the private classes I’d had before had not been very personalized. I also realized that some yoga teachers love to teach while others may love yoga but were not that good at teaching. Carly was one who loves yoga and loves to teach. For another guest’s private class, she taught him how to do yoga breathing to help alleviate thyroid problems, so that he could go home and teach his wife who had a thyroid issue. She was naturally outgoing, and was always ready to start a lively conversation any time I ran into her in the dining room or in the yoga studio lobby.
Despite the daily yoga and workouts, I still felt heavy and sluggish the first few days. I’d been constipated the week before arriving at Absolute Sanctuary and was still constipated at the resort despite all the fresh salad I was eating. My stomach felt bloated and blocked. Then I heard some other detox program guests talk about their colonics. Mary from France said she’d lost 4 kg after 3 colonics. Sarina from London said she lost 4 kg in one week as well.
What!! My eyeballs popped out on stalks! That was just what I needed! My stomach felt bulging and tight, and here was the solution to get rid of the horrible blocked feeling! I was so excited I couldn’t wait! First thing in the morning I scurried to the wellness center and booked myself into a colonic session the same day. If you’ve never done a colonic before, it’s not a pleasant or even comfortable experience. I’d done colonics before, so I knew what to expect, but my last one had been several years ago, and this experience was just as painful as the previous ones.
I was recommended to do a series of three colonics, since the first one usually doesn’t show much results and that I’d see a big difference after the second and third ones. The therapist was right. The first session left me exhausted and nauseous with a mild headache, which was the result of toxins being released. After the second session, I felt dramatically different – my whole body felt lighter, more energized, and less bloated.
It turned out that I was dehydrated and had some gas blocking my gut system, and the colonics helped unblock the gas. That explained the uncomfortable tight feeling after meals, and why my tummy had been swollen and bloated. After the third session, I was all clean. My belly bulge was gone, the sluggishness was gone, and my whole body felt light and energized. My mood was lighter too.
The colonics weren’t part of my Ultimate Fitness program, but guests are free to add any classes and spa sessions they want to their program at additional cost. Luckily there was even a promotion price going on offering the package of three colonics at a discount. I was so happy that I was in a place where it was available and so easy to access, since I probably wouldn’t have done it that readily or easily if I’d been at home in Bangkok. I didn’t have the dramatic weight loss of 4 kgs like the other detox guests, but compared to them, I was also much smaller to begin with, whereas they were much bigger and had much more weight to lose than I did.
A variety of massages were included in my program and I had some really excellent massages at the Absolute Spa. Under the hands of a couple of talented and very experienced therapists who recognized and worked on my problem areas, my chronic stiff shoulder and neck were greatly improved by the end of my stay.
By the end of my week at Absolute Sanctuary, I’d lost half a kg, gained more muscle tone, and as a result of the colonics had a flatter tummy and felt lighter and fresher, with more energy. The dark circles under my eyes were gone! I’d also gotten plenty of undisturbed sleep and quiet time to myself. The best part was that after a healthy week of eating only fresh nutritious salads, fish, and juices, and no bread, pasta, rice and meat, I was completely off my junk food habit and didn’t crave it at all when I got home. I also managed to stick to fresh salads and avoid fried foods, packaged snacks, baked goodies and bread when I got home. I’d gained new healthy eating habits!
Ten days after returning from Samui, I met my friend L whom I hadn’t seen in two months.
“You’ve lost weight!” he exclaimed as soon as he saw me. Last time I’d seen him we had gorged ourselves on a huge Chinese meal including dim sum, roast squab, oily pork ribs, fried beef brisket, and fried rice, and that was just for the two of us. (I’m not a vegetarian, can you tell), and I had been at my gluttonous worst, with a bloated face and bloated tummy. L is naturally tall and thin and never gets fat.
“Yes!” I said. “Can you see it in my face? Do I look better?”
He stared at my face, visibly impressed. “Yeahhhh…I can see it,” he nodded. “Your face is slimmer and your whole body looks slimmer! You did that in one week? What’s the name of this place you went to?!”
Oh good! I was getting my old self back! I happily gushed to him about my Absolute Sanctuary experiences and how the other guests had lost much more weight than I did. But L wasn’t even listening to me anymore. He was already on his phone on the Absolute Sanctuary website, looking over the room rates and programs. His partner was in the middle of trying to lose 6 kg and L was wondering if he should give a weekend detox retreat to his partner as an upcoming birthday present.
I was delighted with my rejuvenated self. The physical results were visible, plus I felt mentally and emotionally refreshed. It was just the boost that I needed to get me out of my junk food rut. It’s so much easier to kick start your new body (or get back to your former, slimmer self) by going to an all-inclusive health retreat in a dedicated environment with the right food. I could not have gotten these results this fast if I’d tried to do it at home on my own. I only wish I could go back again and stay longer next time.
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Have you been in a fitness retreat? How was your experience?