And don't even think about high protein diets or HIIT. Susannah Taylor checks into the spa that challenged what she thought she knew about wellbeing
While being healthy is a very positive thing, it can get pretty damn monotonous. Over the last few years, I think I’ve eaten my body weight in avocados, consumed a truckload of Green & Blacks dark chocolate, done so many squats I could squat for Team GB and I’ve eaten so many eggs I’m surprised I don’t cluck. Don’t get me started on coconut oil – I can’t bear to cook with the stuff anymore, can’t bear everything tasting vaguely coconut-like. This doesn’t mean I’m troughing down pints of coke and Pickled Onion Monster Munch, but I think it’s really important to switch things up from time to time else it all gets very dreary.
It was with a huge sigh of relief then that I was invited to stay at the decidedly unfaddy Sha Wellness Clinic in Spain. In the few days that I stayed there, many of the things I believed about health and fitness were turned on their head or, at least looked at from a very different point of view.
Set in the stunning hills overlooking Spain’s southern coastline, the Sha Wellness Clinic could be mistaken for a boutique hotel with its white Ibiza-style day beds, infinity pools and white and silver shiny bedrooms. My room was so swish I couldn’t work out where the buttons were to put the blinds up or adjust the volume on the sound system. There are sleek loungers by the pool (and on your balcony), palm trees and a huge pool area full of jet pools, saunas, steam rooms and hot/cold plunge pools.
But this is not a boutique hotel; Sha takes health very seriously. The Sha Wellness philosophy draws upon the wisdom of the ages as well as the latest advances in Western medicine in order to achieve the best results in the shortest time. This means they use ancient medicine as well as a small army of specialist science-based doctors. There’s meditation as well as bio-energy medicine, psychology as well as aqua stretching and aesthetic as well as sports medicine. They see health as ‘an optimal state of physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing'. So whether you have piled on the pounds and need to get you back in shape, have serious health issues (either physically or mentally), suffer from insomnia, stress or anxiety or just want to pamper yourself with relaxing treatments, they will devise the perfect Sha plan for you.
So what did I get up to? When you first arrive at Sha you get a general health and a medical examination by a doctor in a white coat which is taken very seriously (when you're in your dressing gown you need to remember this isn't Champneys). You then plan your agenda; you can cram your days full or just add a few treatments, it depends on you and your budget of course.
I had some fascinating and insightful moments with a nutritionist called Lola whose approach was based upon macrobiotic principles (more of that later). She told me the most important thing I could eat was brown rice to regulate my energy levels, to drink Mu tea daily, (a blend of 12 invigorating oriental herbs) and one to two spoons of sauerkraut a day for healthy digestion. She also had some interesting views on exercise – that when you sweat you are actively detoxing, activating the lymphatic system and getting the blood pumping. She explained you only need to break into a sweat to reap the benefits of exercise - you don’t need to do hours of arduous exercise to get results (marathon runners, she explained are often the most unhealthy people she sees).
Having a tube put up my derriere WASN'T MY IDEA OF HEAVEN BUT AT LEAST I CAN TICK COLONIC IRRIGATION OFF MY LIST
I also had a brilliant functional assessment from a personal trainer. She lay me on a bed put my hands above my head and told me I had an imbalance in my shoulders. She also informed me I had a weakness in my glutes and hips. Putting me through a tough training session (I should never have told her I have done a triathlon) she then prescribed rounds of exercises to correct everything. Having trained with numerous personal trainers over the years, no one ever checked my body for imbalances, they all just asked whether I had any injuries. We all know if we’ve had an injury, but what about the imbalances we know nothing about?
Then there were the treatments – you can go weird and wonderful or stick to what you know at Sha. I had a bit of both. I had my buttocks pummelled with a paddle for an hour in something called Indiba which is said to use radio frequency to tighten the skin (I didn’t see results after an hour but I believe people staying for a week book get addicted and book in for one a day). I also had a brilliant underwater massage where you lie in a giant warm bath in your bikini whilst a man uses a car wash style jet to blast your skin. God, I loved it! Then there was the acupuncturist who was so intuitive she almost made me cry but left me feeling totally zen and a man who gave an incredible deep tissue massage. I also figured I should try colonic irrigation for the first time (when in Sha..). I’ll be honest, having a tube put up my derriere where they repeatedly fill your insides with water before before flushing it out wasn’t my idea of comfortable heaven, but at least I can tick it off my list. When you're waiting for your treatments you can also sit and 'do oxygen' at the Oxygen bar (see below.) I'm not sure it made me feel any different but it was highly amusing.
And no article about Sha would be worth writing without a mention of the food, which really is the backbone of the entire place. Based on a macrobiotic diet, Sha sees food as medicine. Thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow, macrobiotic diets generally have a bit of a reputation for being a bit nutty. However, few people actually know what the word really means. Many people think macrobiotic means ‘raw’ but that’s not the case. The word ‘macro’ actually comes from the Greek root word meaning ‘long’ and ‘great’ and ‘bios’ meaning ‘life’. It means living in harmony, doing no harm and preserving our natural environment (being macrobiotic is actually a lifestyle philosophy not just a diet). The basis of macrobiotics are set in yin and yang – yang being about an outward energy of diffusion, dispersion and expansion and yin being about an inward energy that results in contraction. We need both and advocates believe that all physical and mental imbalances can be explained as being caused by excessive yin or excessive yang. Meals at Sha consisted of a lot of whole cereal grains such as brown rice, millet barley or oats, soups, miso, lots of veggies, fish, fruit seeds and nuts. Sounds confusing? It is a little but I do know that the food was absolutely incredible (even the miso at breakfast). I must admit occasionally I didn't know what the hell I was eating, but it tasted delicious and it was always presented like a work of art. What's more, there were three diets to choose from (depending on whether you’re on a weight loss plan or not) and I was never hungry.
What I found fascinating was that this ancient way of eating goes against the grain of most health professionals in the UK. Most nutrition experts (and personal trainers) I know here promote meat eating, eggs and lots of avocados, but macrobiotic experts believe these are all out of harmony with our bodies. Yes that includes AVOCADOS – the food we all think is the healthiest thing on the planet. But this was what I like the most about Sha, they don’t follow magazine fads. They don’t talk about being gluten-free, they never make avo on toast, they don’t talk about HIIT training and they aren’t interested in protein smoothies. They are all about bringing yourself back into balance which was how I felt when I got back after just three days there. Imagine what you'd feel like after a week!
SHA Wellness Clinic: Healing Holidays (0207 843 3597; www.healingholidays.co.uk ) can arrange a 4 night Sha Discovery programme from £1950 per person sharing and from £2495 per single. This includes flights, transfers, accommodation in a Deluxe Suite Mountain View, macrobiotic full board, wellness consultations and spa treatments in the Sha Discovery programme.
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