PLACED BETWEEN THESE THREE ELEMENTS, THE CITY, THE MOUNTAINS AND SEA, SHA IS A WELLNESS DESTINATION FULLY GROUNDED IN THE WORLD: NOT A MYSTERIOUS ASHRAM PERCHED ATOP A REMOTE MOUNTAIN PEAK, BUT A QUIET ENCLAVE IN THE MIDST OF A SPANISH CITY.
mooth white terraces, day beds, and loungers surround a wide pool, overlooking the city lights of L’Alfàs del Pi, a bed of glimmering stars stretching to the dark cliffs of the Serra Gelada. To the other side, the waters of the Mediterranean lap the coast. Placed between these three elements, the city, the mountains and sea, SHA is a wellness destination fully grounded in the world: not a mysterious ashram perched atop a remote mountain peak, but a quiet enclave in the midst of a teeming Spanish city. It seems to suggest to me, as I walk through the clean white rooms accented with grey, past smiling doctors in white lab coats and svelte nurses in grey scrubs who exude health and wellbeing, that one has the potential to access a crucial sense of reinvigoration anywhere.
It has been a long journey to get here. This year has been the most challenging in my working life. My first effort to pause and re-evaluate my personal health with a stay at SHA did not succeed, as I cancelled my arranged stay in April 2019 under the pressures of work. As my new date in August of the same year quickly approached, the temptation to postpone yet again emerged as my workload continued to intensify. But I seized the opportunity for a pause, and I am so grateful I did.
I fly into Alicante and meet a driver who takes me along the coastal road to L’Alfàs, and the restful, staggered terraces of SHA. Inside, the seating areas, dining spaces and consultation rooms combine with a range of essential hospital facilities, together forming a modern, luxurious wellness retreat. I find my way to my spacious suite, where a balcony with deck chairs looks out to the sea. There is a menu of seven pillows to choose from, and a selection of SHA’s in-house range of detox teas waits by the kettle. I check my SHA app; my schedule has been uploaded here long in advance. I can see each appointment I have coming up, and the calendar of free events and classes I can take part in with other guests over the next few days. Notes after meetings and a breakdown of my nutritional plan for my stay can also be viewed here.
I have signed up for SHA’s four-day discovery programme, the shortest plan they offer. It aims to help guests learn healthy lifestyle habits within a conducive, relaxing environment, and to enable them to continue this process of discovery at home. My first consultation is with a doctor and nurse in the Occident Room, to evaluate my current state of health, followed immediately by a cellular bioanalysis: a sample of my blood is examined under a microscope and projected onto a large screen. My blood cells look like planetary orbs floating in a void, with shooting stars occasionally zipping between them. The doctor tells me this is because my body is in an intense state of detox (a process which I had indeed begun a few days before my arrival). The doctor continues to observe my white and red blood cells, identifying so many things about my life and body with such accuracy, and without asking me a single question, that I am truly astounded; from recognising my general state of emotional upheaval, to identifying a scar I have near my belly button, which I tell her must be the belly button ring I still wear.
Later that evening, I sit down for dinner. A place has been assigned for me in the corner of the restaurant, by a large window overlooking the city. I soon come to recognise the guests around me, who are seated in the same place each mealtime. Through this comforting routine, I become friendly with my fellow diners, as we exchange stories of our personal journeys. I learn that amongst SHA’s guests I am here for the shortest duration; some are here for a month, and quite a number are recuperating from more serious illnesses or major operations. Others have come, like me, to reset, while others still are on weight loss programmes. An air of light-heartedness unites us in our conversations, perhaps because we have all taken this positive step towards taking care of ourselves.
The diet at SHA is macrobiotic, a pescatarian diet drawn from Zen Buddhist philosophies, which attempts to balance the apparent forces of yin and yang in food. To me, it feels nourishing and healthy, and more delicious than some of my less healthy, go-to comfort foods. SHA offers cooking classes to teach its guests how to make these simple, nutritious meals, in order to sustain this lifestyle at home. There is also a strict ban on caffeine throughout the retreat, which I struggle to adjust to, but I soon develop a love for SHA’s herbal teas, particularly Kukicha – a Japanese tea made from stems, stalks and twigs, which emits a unique roasted aroma laced with the freshness of summer shoots.
On the second morning, after a nutritional consultation, I am taken for Watsu pool therapy. I float in a warm, quiet pool, gazing at lights twinkling in the ceiling above me like stars, as the practitioner gently guides my body in various slow motions through the water. It is the most serene, comforting treatment I have ever experienced. The following day, receiving a massage while lying on a bed of heated quartz crystals, I am exposed to the surreal, dreamlike experience of SHA’s Psammo therapy. I enjoy a slew of other treatments such as facials, massages and personal trainer sessions, but the experience of becoming more grounded and relaxed that the Watsu and Psammo therapies afford me – reconfirming my suspicion that my current life may be out of balance – is what I appreciate the most.
My consultations at SHA with practitioners of both Western and Eastern medicine reveal similar findings: my kidneys and liver have been bearing the brunt of my work stress. I am prescribed an intravenous liver detox during my doctor consultation, and during an examination with an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner, she laughs, saying, “Rosa, I could dance on your kidneys, they are so hard!” When I ask her why this is the case, she says my body’s first defense mechanisms for stress and emotional hardship are my liver and kidneys, and these are the first places to show signs of weakness under pressure.
Having been back at home in Bath, UK for a month, I have introduced a myriad of small changes into my everyday life, to embody the sea change I sensed in my being at SHA. I have started regular workouts, attending to both yin and yang, to make sure my body is in balance, and have been meditating more regularly than I did prior to my stay. I make all three meals of the day as healthily as possible (goodbye Diet Coke and Oreos for lunch) and try to get at least six hours of sleep a night. There is a world of difference between knowing what needs to be done and putting that knowledge into action. This intensive four-day experience has been the tipping point for me in making my health a true priority.
WORDS & PHOTOS: Rosa Park