Here’s What You Need to Know to Decode Every Spa Menu

What’s the difference between Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine? Should you seek a naturopath or hydrotherapist? We explain 8 of the most interesting wellness traditions out there.

Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort

By Camilla Coburn Davis and David Ngo

Jun 11, 2021

WELLNESS-SPEAK CAN sometimes feel esoteric and airy-fairy. Many traditions are rooted in thousands of years of research or, indeed, quite modern science… but they’re often backed by surprisingly simple principles.

So, in case you find yourself scratching your head at the next fancy spa menu you read (or, perhaps wellness article we write — guilty), we’ve asked experts around the globe to distill eight types of healing to their essences. Read this primer, and then go forth and prosthelytize on all the wonderful ways to achieve mind-body-soul alignment.


What is it?

Ayurveda translates to “medicine for longevity” and focuses on the main cause of an ailment rather than its symptoms. It is often considered a way of life rather than just cures for specific problems as treatments and regimens are tailored to each person’s individual constitution with the aim of balancing the body’s three doshas, or principle energies, known as vata, pitta and dosha. 

Indigenous to Sri Lanka and India, Ayurveda is a natural, holistic medical system that has adapted and been perfected for thousands of years. The treatments require patience, from the making of slow-simmered herbal oils and concoctions, to reaching the final cure of an ailment.

“Ayurvedic medication and wellness treatments are all natural and full of antioxidants, valuable for body, mind and soul — if it’s used with the proper knowledge and practice,” says Dr. Shanika De Silva, of Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort in Sri Lanka. “I deep dive into clients’ lifestyles and use panchakarma, yoga and acupuncture to achieve harmony of mind, body and spirit. Nowadays, I blend the ancient Ayurveda healing system with the latest medical innovations for the best results.”

Sample treatment

Inner Harmony Ayurveda Programme: A five-day retreat that combines Ayurvedic and spa therapies, life coaching, mindful practices, nutrition advice and inspirational local experiences to create emotional and spiritual balance under the guidance of Dr. Shanika. 

Dr. Shanika holds a Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS). Her Ayurvedic practices personalize mind-body wellness experiences with a focus on compassion, competence and care to sustain greater mental, spiritual and physical well-being.


What is it?

“Traditional Chinese medicine is the concentrated embodiment of the Oriental wisdom of the Chinese civilization for 5,000 years,” says Dr. David Wei, of Sangha Retreat by Octave Institute in Suzhou, China. It is rooted in being in harmony and achieving unity with nature with hopes of living a long life. Ailments are caused by imbalances in our Qi, vital life force.  

TCM believes in the interconnectedness of the universe, hence the tradition’s five elements — tree, fire, earth, metal and water — that correspond to our internal organs and the external world. “The theory of Yin and Yang [the complementary forces that make up your Qi], the theory of essence, the theory of five elements and the concept of human Taoism in ancient Chinese philosophy provide a rich ideological and theoretical basis for TCM, while TCM provides rich practical experience for ancient Chinese philosophy,” says Dr. Wei.

Common treatments include acupuncture, cupping (using warmed jars to create suction on the body), moxibustion (burning of herbal leaves on or near the body), massage, herbal remedies, meditation and movement.

Sample treatments

Among the most popular TCM options at Sangha Retreat are tai chi, acupuncture, massage, moxibustion, and meridian diagnosis.

Dr. Wei is a practicing Chinese medicine physician, who combines integrated therapies to treat common and chronic problems, such as headaches, muscular pain, anxiety and obesity. He is also a martial arts expert — a champion of many traditional tai chi competitions, and holding the Wushu 3rd Duan certificate from the Chinese Wushu Association.


What is it? 

Naturopathy is the practice of supporting the body’s self-healing processes, with an aim to restore health and one’s body to its “natural state.”  Rooted in ancient medicines with forerunners including Hyppocrates, today’s principles were influenced over the last century in response to the emerging health issues borne out of the industrial revolution under Rudolf Stiener. 

A naturopath will diagnose, prevent and treat acute chronic illness by finding the root cause or obstacles that lead to disease rather than its symptoms. 

“Combining nutrition with the studies of naturopathy, we can examine the correlation of diet and sleep with immunity, stress levels and all important sleep quality,” says Kelly Manning, of Anantara Veli Maldives Resort. “A primary step for most patients would be to eliminate disturbances such as poor nutrition or chronic stress to restore the body’s natural balance and harmony. A balanced diet of necessary vitamins, minerals and herbs can boost immunity, energy levels and reduce stress.”

Sample Treatment

A nutrition and lifestyle consultation includes anthropometric testing to assess body composition, particularly looking at body fat, cellular hydration, muscle mass and metabolic age. Based on these factors, guests receive a tailored diet, lifestyle and supplement plan.

Kelly trained at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London, having run luxury wellness retreats across Thailand and the Maldives. Her main career highlight is seeing guests achieving their desired wellness goals when they’re immersed in a relaxing and healing environment and are provided the tools for healing


What is it?

“Balinese healers draw on spiritual powers from sacred scriptures and their ancestors, working with divine energy to heal physical and mental illnesses,” explains Ibu Jero, High Priestess of Balinese Healing from Anantara Uluwau Bali Resort.

Using ancient practices including holistic therapies and deep meditation practices, healers such as Ibu Jero act as a channel for healing energies to flow through and enable guests to receive their inner voice, restore balance and set intentions that improve one’s life and wellbeing. 

“Eastern and Western modalities are complementary; where the East is spiritually aware, the West is physically advanced. The human being is a complex system of mind, emotions, spirit, body and soul. When we want true healing and liberation to occur, we need to go deeply into each level and connect our physical and spiritual selves, this can be achieved through herbal remedies and chakra cleansing.”

Sample Treatment

The Melukat Purification Ceremony: On a visit to the extremely sacred Tirta Sudamala Temple, Ibu Jero guides guests through mantra chanting at this holy spring, amid incense and flowers. Receive temple blessings and a seven-stage Reiki chakra cleansing to clear negative energy.

One of the last remaining High Priestess in Bali, and fifth in a long lineage, Ibu Jero brings the extensive knowledge and experience of her ancestors to bear on her enlightening work. To maintain this title she lives in devotion to Bali’s spiritual traditions, visiting all major temples, and making up to 50 offerings every day. 


What is it?

“The history of Tibetan singing bowls is shrouded in mystery but they are understood to date back at least 6,000 years,” says Dr. Vinod Narayanan, of Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas. “Sound healing uses vibrations from Tibetan singing bowls to relax your mind and body by tapping into your doshas, the energy patterns that flow around our bodies to encourage spiritual and physical healing.

“The body accumulates toxins and free radicals from the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat, which can cause stress and bring on aging. In combination with yoga and Pranayama breathing I help guests to reconnect to their inner self and unblock the meridian lines of the body to increase positive energy flow and relieve the liver to protect our immune systems and alleviate hormonal conditions.”

In the Himalayas, sound is used as a powerful tool for healing, meditation and self-transformation.

Sample Treatments

Sound Healing with Shirodhara: As Tibetan singing bowls calm, warm medicated oil is poured on the forehead, or Third Eye, to eliminate stress and insomnia by balancing the pineal gland

Himalayan Sound Healing Massage: Unwind to the vibrations of the Tibetan singing bowl as an oil massage brings deep levels of relaxation and release

Dr. Vinod has more than a decade’s experience practicing traditional Ayurveda, yoga, pranayama, shiatsu and Himalayan sound healing around the world. Hailing from Kerala, Vinod is also personal physician to the president of Guinea and mentor to Ayurvedic specialists throughout Europe.


What is it?

“In practice since the Ancient Greeks and their fabled baths, hydrotherapy uses water as an element in pain relief and treatment, and has been adopted by countless cultures from Turkey to Finland,” says Dana Koprivñanska, of Anantara Villa Padierna Palace Resort in Spain. The options run the gamut “from alleviating joint pain with hot and cold water, to stimulating muscles through exercise, to relieving tension in flotariums.”

Spa originally was just the name of a place where mineral water flowed from the ground. These became healing destinations, meccas for people with all kinds of ailments to take to the waters.

“Inspired by nearby ruins of Roman hot springs the hydrotherapy circuit at Anantara Villa Padierna combines a Hammam, aromatherapy steam rooms and plunge pools at varying temperatures. During treatments guests undergo lymphatic drainage to reduce water retention and fight fatigue from high pressure jets, herbal scrubs and essential oils to encourage the body to release toxins and improve blood circulation.”

Sample treatment

Spa Circuit External Customer: Enjoy four steam baths at different temperatures, with a variety of essential aromas, a hamman with seasalt, a Greek sauna, a Finnish sauna, a dynamic heating swimming pool, a contrast pool, a flotarium and a laconium.

Hydrotherapist expert Dana Koprivñanska, a holistic and mindfulness lover, has a genuine pleasure to share her skills by providing water massages and treatments, customized to suit guests’ personal needs.


What is it?

Conventional medical practices go hand in hand with mindfulness believes, Dr. Athip Nilkaeo of Clinique La Prairie Aesthetics & Medical Spa, at The St. Regis Bangkok. Medical spas offer innovative treatments that harness scientific research in a calming setting. “Inner happiness is so closely linked with a positive and healthy relationship to our physical appearance. During my guest consultations I search for the root of a patient’s concern and find a solution that can boost their self-esteem and happiness.

“In addition, ambience can greatly improve results, for example a relaxing Hammam or Rasul treatment in addition to detox therapy can accelerate the body to rid itself of unwanted toxins. Our facility doesn’t focus purely on aesthetics; my goal is to help guests on the path to leading a happier, healthier and better life once their body and mind are harmonized.”

Guests seeking a calming and restorative environment can enjoy the benefits of a dreamy relaxation zone to calm the body and mind before or after an aesthetic session rather than a traditional hospital environment. 

Sample Treatment

Ultra Femme360: A pain-free solution addressing women’s intimate health concerns by simultaneously applying both radio frequency and ultrasound energy. Results are instant and range from vaginal rejuvenation and tightening by rebuilding collagen and elasticity for improved sexual function. Orgasm is known to create a self-satisfying cycle of feel-good hormones where the endorphins in our bodies can send us into deeply relaxed states, soothing our stresses and anxieties.

 An experienced and trusted resident and former director of the Aesthetic & Skin center at Bumrungrad International Hospital, Dr. Athip leads the medical facility at Clinique La Prairie Bangkok providing discreet and highly effective treatments, including intravenous therapy, mesotherapy, injectables and non-invasive weight loss and anti-aging solutions.


What is it?

Myofascial Release is a unique muscular manipulation technique to resolve acute pain and continuous aches by releasing energy blockages in the connective muscle tissues. Mysofascial pain syndrome relates to chronic pain caused by sensitivity and tightness due to inflammation in the body’s soft tissues. Originating from renowned biochemist Ida Rolf, it dates back to the 1960s. 

“I think of the whole body as a 3-D jigsaw puzzle and rather than focusing on the site of the pain I will follow the body’s network of connecting tissues to locate the actual trigger point and origin of pain, which is often in a completely different location than the patient’s pain-point,” says Dome Srisawat, of Anantara Dhigu Maldives Resort. “It is so rewarding to release pain and suffering from my patients, many of whom have struggled with these conditions for years.”

Sample treatment

Myofascial Release: Recommended if you have stiffness, limited range of motion, numbness or pain anywhere from your neck through your vertebrae to your fingertips.

Dome Srisawat is a certified Physiotherapist whose talent was recognized by a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family when he was working at Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi and commented that he could be a doctor.  He provides diagnoses, interventions, prevention of impairments, and relief for functional limitations and disabilities. His client roster includes A-list celebs and international sports stars.

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