I’m no stranger to spas; I’m more than happy to don a set of paper underwear and prostrate myself in front of a complete stranger for an hour or 90 minutes, and I’ve even subjected myself to a facial and manicure in the past (all in the name of journalism of course). But nothing was to prepare me for the unique ‘Sensory Exploration’ group treatment at the Spa Village at The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur.
A little pocket of green and calm in the heart of the busy Malaysian capital, it’s easy to become disorientated if you spend too much time in the Spa Village. The tranquil water gardens provide a wonderful escape from the city streets, even when its raining. Inside, the atmosphere insists on calm. In the darkened relaxation area, an LCD TV shows high-definition videos of the lush greenery of the Malaysian rainforest, accompanied by the sounds of the jungle.
It was all good preparation for what lay ahead. The group Sensory Exploration treatment is designed to help guests reconnect with all the senses. The treatment is divided into different sections focusing on sight and hearing, then taste and smell, then touch.
When the members of the group entered the room and lined up beside two rows of mats in our loose-fitting Ritz-Carlton-branded pyjamas, it felt like a cross between a karate dojo and a slumber party.
Before the treatment began, we were asked to write down any negative thoughts on a small scrap of paper. We were now told to place the paper in a bowl of water beside the mat and put it to one side.
As we settled down – backs to the floor and feet elevated on a cushion – the lights were dimmed and our therapist talked us through the journey on which we were about to embark. A low rumble emerged from somewhere beneath the wooden floor boards; the sound of ancient rumblings below the earth, deep monastic chanting and thunderous drumming emanating upwards from the speakers below. As you lie back and enjoy the otherworldly sounds, twinkling lights dance across the ceiling above, while the floor vibrates below.
Our therapist soon had us performing deep breathing exercises then sitting upright to move on to the next part of the sensory journey.
Next to the mat was a small tray containing a bowl of water, a glass of drinking water, a small bowl of oil, and four small dishes containing four different morsels of food. We tasted each dish one by one, chewing slowly to release and savour the flavours; bitter gourd (bitter), lemon (sour), salt flakes (salty) and date (sweet).
Another small bowl contained a drizzle of aromatherapy oil, which we were instructed to rub on our hands before performing some more deep breathing exercises.
The final part of the journey was a 30-minute foot, neck and head massage, for which a small army of masseuses marched into the dark room and took up positions at the end of the mats. Half an hour later they left as silently as they had arrived, only this time accompanied by a chorus of snoring. At the end of the treatment the therapist asked us to sit in contemplative silence for a while before slowly opening our eyes and allowing our brains to wake up.
The anxieties we wrote down on the piece of paper at the beginning would have washed away in the water, we were told, leaving the paper, and our minds, free from worry.
Unfortunately the words were still entirely visible on my scrap of paper, and any sense of well being I had gained during the treatment was dashed when I saw the smudged black letters staring back from the bowl. Fortunately the rest of the group had better luck, and left the group treatment feeling thoroughly invigorated.
I decided to persevere with my quest for wellbeing later that evening with a selection from the in-room bath menu. My ‘Gentleman’s Bath’ was spiced up with ylang ylang and sandalwood aromatherapy oil and accompanied by a Cuban cigar and a glass of cognac. Now that’s my idea of group therapy.
THE IMPORTANT BIT
Location: Spa Village, The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur
Cost: Sensory Exploration from US$72; Gentleman’s Bath costs US$32