Wellness Retreats

The First-Ever Island Well-Being Retreat in the Maldives Is as Soothing and Serene as Floating

Photo: Courtesy of Joali Being and Well+Good Creative
Few things are as utterly stress-dissolving to me as spending time at a beach, or really anywhere with an ocean view. And I had every expectation that the mere sight of the Maldives—a thread of islands in a turquoise expanse of the Indian Ocean—would provide exactly that sense of tranquility when I was offered the chance to visit Joali Being, the first well-being retreat in the island nation, earlier this year. What I couldn’t have predicted? The extent to which the numerous wellness offerings at the retreat would magnify just that feeling of calm, much like floating on air.

Opened in November 2021, Joali Being is the second project of Turkish entrepreneur Esin Güral Argat, who created the Joali brand with the launch of art-immersive resort Joali Maldives in 2018, also on its own Maldivian island just a 15-minute speedboat ride away. Though both properties showcase the sky-high level of luxury that’s become a signature of the Maldives (think: spacious overwater bungalows and beachside villas with private plunge pools), Joali Being taps its setting as inspiration for a unique wellness program. The idea: Engage in practices and treatments—from sound healing and reflexology to craniosacral therapy—that help you release whatever isn’t serving you and experience the buoyant, freeing feeling that follows.

Exactly what that looks like is different for everyone, a reality that the folks at Joali Being have wholly embraced. “Much of wellness has become dictated by norms that say, ‘It should be like this,’ or ‘It needs to be experienced like that,’” says Being’s well-being manager Susanne Fisch. “A lot of our work is breaking that down and allowing people simply to be where they are.”

To be clear, “where they are” at Being is a breathtaking tropical oasis, lush with native coconut palms and pandanus trees (bearing the sweet fruit of the resort’s signature scent). Also visible from every villa and both of the Earth-to-table restaurants, Flow and Mojo, is the glimmering ocean itself, the ethos of which trickles into the resort’s wellness programming.

A breakdown of the wellness experiences at Joali Being, a well-being retreat in the Maldives

Getting to Joali Being involves an hour-long seaplane ride from Malé, the Maldives’ capital, and a splash-down landing beside the arrival jetty. Called the Gate of Zero, the abstract jetty structure was designed to look like the flowing skirt of a “whirling dervish,” which is a practitioner of the ancient Sufi technique of whirling—a form of spinning meditation that “brings your head into your heart,” says Fisch. The intention is for this entry point to serve as an instant visual cue to “let go of your ego and of all the overthinking that we’re prone to do,” and to just be, says Fisch.

You can either choose to sample different wellness services à la carte or pick from one of four immersion paths to guide your experience: mind, energy, skin, or microbiome.

That freeing image guides the loose approach of the resort's wellness programming, too. There are no rules (beyond the required three-night stay, that is), and you can either choose to sample different wellness services à la carte or pick from one of four paths, or "immersions," as Being calls them, to guide your experience: mind, energy, skin, or microbiome. But even those tracks are flexible and interconnected, as I found out after initially choosing microbiome and then shifting my experience to focus more on the mind immersion. “We leave some wiggle room for guests to respond to emotional changes they might undergo while they’re here,” says Fisch.

During an initial 30-minute consultation with one of the on-site well-being consultants—typically, a nutritionist, Ayurvedic practitioner, or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor—you’ll receive a basic lifestyle evaluation, talk through wellness goals, and align on the particular immersion track or services that'll define your stay. It was in this conversation that my consultant quickly pinpointed my high-stress habits and steered me toward activities focused on mindfulness, breathwork, and returning to my natural energetic flow.

How my wellness immersion at Joali Being unfolded

As you might imagine, any attempt to quiet the stressful chatter in your brain (even in a place as mind-numbingly beautiful as the Maldives) tends to work more like sliding down a dimmer than flipping off a switch. And my mind-focused immersion happened just as gradually.

Up first was the Four Pillars Signature Massage, which starts every immersion program at the resort and is somehow both invigorating and relaxing, drawing in the long strokes typical of a Swedish massage. Almost from the very beginning, I noticed how long my therapist was spending on each section of my body—which, I’d later learn, was by design. Many of Being’s treatments are intentionally 90 minutes long (instead of the typical 60) to facilitate that un-rushed feel. “Your body needs time to respond to a therapeutic treatment,” says Fisch, referencing the way that the mind tends to race or wander for the first few minutes of any wellness service.

Once I felt myself finally give in to the moment, almost hypnotized by the repetitive motion of the therapist’s hand movements and the aroma of the massage oil, things didn’t end abruptly, either. In fact, I was able to rest and recover on the table for up to 30 minutes afterward. “This is so that you don’t feel as though you have to rush out, and so that there’s time for after-care and integration,” says Fisch. “Maybe you feel like processing what came up during an energy treatment, or maybe you feel like not saying anything at all and simply enjoying the therapist’s company and presence. We don’t know that in advance, but we allow time for it because we understand that a lot of the magic that happens during the treatment can only happen if you provide that environment.”

Even once that time was up, I was invited to linger in relaxation mode with a personalized herbal tea prepared for me at Aktar, the herbology center where all of the resort’s treatment oils, scented skin-care products, and even cleaning supplies are also hand-prepared.

Though my immersion was both briefer than a typical one (by nature of the length of my trip) and punctuated by activities designed to showcase the resort’s full scope of offerings—including a guided snorkeling excursion and a one-on-one training session in the gym—it still managed to uphold that leisurely pace, start to finish. Between programs, I found myself playing around with the wooden mind games in my villa (an intentional swap for a television), sipping freshly brewed tea at the tea bar (which replaces a bar with alcoholic beverages), and wandering the sound discovery path complete with wind chimes that seem to harmonize with the crashing waves nearby.

But it wasn’t until my time in the hydrotherapy hall that I really came close to the tranquil state my immersion promised. Called Kaashi, which means "coconut" in the local language of Dhivehi, this space symbolizes the formation of nutrient-rich water inside a young coconut—a metaphor for the similarly transformative experience possible for guests who partake in its water-focused services. Among its offerings are a Turkish hammam; Aufguss sauna; and Watsu, a form of Japanese Shiatsu massage done in a chest-deep pool, and also the last treatment of my mindfulness-based immersion.

With my head and limbs loosely supported by floaties and the water itself, I felt as if I could surrender the rest of my body weight to the hands of my Watsu practitioner, who pulled and stretched my arms and legs against the water’s gentle resistance. I could sense the physical release and the way my muscles seemed to flex further in the warm water than they normally do on solid ground, but it was really the rhythmic flow of the session that made it so transformative. The movement lulled me into a mindset that I can only describe as still and slow, with my usual ticker-tape of racing thoughts notably absent.

In that decelerated state, I was able to reconnect to myself and to the moment—which is the deceivingly simple goal of the whole retreat. “Wellness isn’t about what you can provide so much as it is showing people a way of being,” says Fisch. And, of course, that way comes all the easier when you’re in a place so awe-inspiring, it’s tough to be anything but present.

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