If anyone needed a wellness retreat, it was me. I moved to Dubai a year ago, and I've been living the past 12 months as if it were my freshman year of college all over again.
I gained the Dubai Stone-- the expat equivalent of the Freshman 15-- and I stopped applying sunscreen to my face, even though I'd been religiously doing so for years. I never smoked in the US, but between the secondhand smoke in every Dubai bar and even picking up a few myself on a late night out, my lungs are in shock.
Falafel is the closest thing I've eaten to a vegetable in months; and my occasional smoking has also put the half-marathons I was frequently running at home on the back burner.
I realized that I needed to get things back on track, so when the opportunity to try out the wellness program at Six Senses Zighy Bay Oman came up, it seemed to be exactly what I needed.
Knowing that I was about to leave all my newfound bad habits behind, I happily hopped in the SUV that picked me up at my apartment, and made the easy trip from Dubai to Zighy Bay.
Here's what I learned:
1. Get Ready
Of course it's important to go into any situation with some level of preparedness, but for a wellness retreat— especially one as short-term as the one I did— showing up ready to really benefit from your program is imperative.
I knew that I'd be evaluated on different bodily functions using the hotel's state of the art whole-body evaluation software. And even though I didn't understand exactly how the technology worked, I stopped drinking and starting eating a bit healthier a few days before my trip just as a precaution.
Basically, I was hoping that a few days of broccoli and no alcohol might mitigate months of completely neglecting my body, and that I might somehow trick the system into thinking I had the health of an Olympian. Turns out it doesn't exactly work this way.
2. Arrive in Style
After a two-hour drive from Dubai, you can enter the resort via car, but one of Six Senses Zighy Bay's signature offerings is a paraglide ride over the stunning mountains and water that surround the hotel. Though I'm not typically an adrenaline-junkie, I figured that part of this whole "new-me" thing was to try something out of my comfort zone, so I agreed to the ride. The good news? It wasn't as terrifying as I thought it would be.
As part of my new healthy-life routine, I was wearing a fitness tracker, and I monitored my through-the-roof heart rate as I soared over the mountain range and onto the beach in front of the hotel. A high-heart rate isn't probably the best way to go into a retreat…but the views were pretty incredible. I walked into the lobby flushed, sweaty, and still a little shaky-- probably looking worse than when I left Dubai--but more ready than ever to embrace a new lifestyle.
3. What's Included in Zighy Bay's Two-Day Program?
Zighy Bay offers wellness programs that are as short or as long as you want, so this fit with my time frame, and didn't require me to miss too many days of work. Though guests have stayed up to 15 days, that type of program was more intensive than what I was looking for. The program is individually tailored to every guests needs, and with my short timeframe, Rosalin Lau, the Director of Spa and Wellness, made sure that I would get the most out of my time there.
What mattered to me was getting a comprehensive review of my health, and speaking to someone about how to best move forward once my evaluation at Zighy Bay was complete.
My itinerary was sent to me a few days before my arrival, and it appeared to be a perfect mix of relaxation and detox. For two days, I would be enjoying healthy, locally sourced meals (including a traditional Arabic grill), a de-stress massage at the Award Winning spa, time to enjoy the pools and beach, and a wellness screening which would evaluate my overall health. After my screening, I had a meeting scheduled with Daniel, one of Zighy Bay's health advisors, who would explain my results to me, and help me work towards longterm wellness goals.
4. Zighy Bay's Wellness Screening
I spent the first day of my visit relaxing at my villa, reading, and walking along the beach. In the afternoon, I went to the spa where I was treated to a de-stressing massage in tranquil surroundings by attentive and well-trained staff. Dinner was a traditional Arabic grill, which gave me a taste of the local culture. Fresh fish was deboned in front of me, and I knew I was getting the best ingredients around.
The next morning, I headed back to the spa for my wellness screening, which was certainly the focal point of my stay.
When I sat down, Daniel, who was conducting my screening, explained to me that I'd be attached to cables (two to my head) and my bare feet were placed on another platform that looked like a scale, which would then send information about my body to a computer. He also weighed me and took my blood pressure, which was surprisingly high, mostly (I assume) because I was so nervous that the results would reveal something disastrous, like that I was going to die. I actually did ask "am I dying?" more than once. Luckily, he just laughed, and I took that as a good sign.
Once I was all hooked up, my screening began. For two minutes, I sat completely still and wasn't allowed to talk. This was the hardest part of the entire procedure, and just being conscious of the fact that I wasn't allowed to move made me anxious. Some minutes are much longer than others-- like when you're running on the treadmill, or waiting for something to finish in the microwave. The two minute wellness screening fell somewhere along those lines, and I let out a big breath when Daniel finally looked up from his computer and peeled the sensors off my head.
5. Trying to Understand my Results
A lot of information was thrown at me once my evaluation was complete, and though I understand terms like "you are very dehydrated," there were other things, like "GABA" that made no sense to me.
Attention to detail is not one of my strong suits, and I had trouble taking in the chart above. But Daniel simplified it for me: the number in the middle column is my score in each category, and the higher the number, the better your score. So, for example, my heart work (6) is as high as it can be, as is my heart rate variability, oxidative stress, and cholesterol levels. I was thrilled to see that my metabolism is still pretty good (5 on a scale of 1-6), despite the fact that I'm very dehydrated (1 on a scale of 1-2), and that my GABA levels are not good, either. (GABA, I learned, is an amino acid which calms nervous activity. When your GABA levels are low, your stress and/or anxiety increases. Supplements can be taken to increase GABA levels, but it's best to do it naturally).
Daniel patiently walked me through the ways in which my environment and my lifestyle were affecting my overall health; what exactly a GABA response is, and why I scored so high in that category (a combination of just having a generally busy life and being an innately anxious person).
Highlighted in yellow is what I need to change-- and highlighted in blue is what will be fixed once I make the change. Basically, I need to be drinking way, way more water, which will help my stress levels go down, and increase other bodily functions. Since I've returned from Zighy Bay, I've tried to drink 2 liters a day, as Daniel recommended.
I was shocked to learn how much dehydration effects your overall health, and I felt a bit better about scoring low in categories once I knew that a few more bottles a water a day was all I needed.
6. Figure Out How to Follow Through
While a trip to Zighy Bay is worth it no matter what the circumstance, for my purposes, I wanted to make sure to keep up my results in mind in order to live as a healthier and better me.
A major focus at Zighy Bay is on sustainability-- meaning that ingredients are sourced locally, and an emphasis is put on reducing waste--and coming away from the experience, I wanted to make sure that my time spent there was sustainable, too. Daniel sent me a thorough summary of my results, which helped pack up the evaluation in an easy-to-digest way.
Am I healthier after my 48 hours at Zighy Bay? Maybe...but whether or not I am is on me, not them. I'm certainly more aware of my habits, both good and bad, and how those play into my overall health, but it's up to me to take what I learned there and apply it to my daily life.
I think the key to any wellness retreat is taking information away from it and applying it to your real life, once you've left the lush surroundings of the resort. It's easier said than done, of course: when you head back to your real life and work and things like...happy hour...begin to get in the way, but if you are going to do a program in the region, Six Senses Zighy Bay certainly offers the most comprehensive and luxurious around. Even if you don't go for the full evaluation, Zighy Bay is the perfect weekend escape from the city.
For now, I've taken the information I gathered from my stay, and I'm working on it... one day (and one bottle of water) at a time.