Every year, close to my birthday I give myself a gift and travel to Thailand on a “me-time” holiday to recalibrate, find my center, connect with my spirituality and reboot my gut health through a high-fiber green diet, colonics, a caffeine detox, sleep retraining, lymphatic drainage — the works.
Needless to say, I return home feeling energized, recharged, mentally empowered and quite a few pounds lighter. It’s a yearly pilgrimage with myself that I never miss.
Over 10 years ago, I discovered Kamalaya, a wellness heaven on the Southern coastline of Koh Samui, Thailand, with a unique setting of pristine nature, spectacular ocean views and a private white sand beachfront.
I fell in love with this place on my very first visit. My room was gorgeous. I was surrounded by lush beautiful tropical gardens against a dense rainforest backdrop and a balcony with a sea view. I’m very fastidious with space energies, cleanliness and visual aesthetics but here, everything was in the right place: cozy, soothing and tastefully decorated.
Unknowingly, the evening I arrived there was a concert in the music hall with Deva Premal and her partner Miten. Deva is a classical-trained musician known for her meditative, spiritually charged themes and for introducing ancient Tibetan and Sanskrit mantras into the mainstream.
I could not believe my luck: I had been meditating to her mantra chants for years! This was spot-on with the spiritual alignment I came in search of and already, at this point, I was feeling very in sync with the universe.
I walked into a quiet room full of strangers sitting cross-legged on the floor, not knowing what to expect, but the moment her voice broke through the silence, we were all spellbound and transported by her music and the emotions it triggered deep within.
This mystical setting paved the way for what turned out to be the most introspective, deep, and healing retreat I have ever experienced.
Once you have chosen your program, you are given an initial consultation to discuss your goals, activities, treatments, and recommended diet, then off you go into a paradisiacal world of massages, scrubs, colonics, yoga, mediation, and tai chi, with lots of time in between to read, contemplate and surrender to being pampered. And just like that, the indulging and gratifying honeymoon — with yourself — begins.
My mornings started with a fresh shot of wheatgrass to jump-start the day, an early walk on the beach, a guided meditation in nature and a mouth-watering breakfast buffet with a wide array of fresh and healthy whole food choices all in line with my specific program. You can opt to sit alone or join the common table where guests meet each other and interact during meals, share their life stories, health goals and challenges.
I met amazing people from around the world that I’m still in touch with today; regular and long-staying guests who spend the cold European winters in this side of the world; people like me who do a regular yearly detox; and first-timers who are exploring the concept and benefits of gut health and lifestyle changes. Good vibes.
Meals are very well thought out, with a wide variety of cuisines to satisfy every palate and based on the understanding that a healthy diet must also be a pleasurable one. Green shakes are available throughout the day to ensure hydration and your daily intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
The staff is kind, professional, attentive, and sensitive to people’s emotional requirements, as guests visit for a variety of reasons: recovery from a medical ailment, burn-outs due to stress, loss, emotional issues or simply seeking peace, rest and silence.
During my stay I was able to meet up with Karina Stewart, one of the founders of Kamalaya. She and her husband John brought this dream concept to life back in 2005. I was happily surprised to discover that we share Latin American roots and bonded instantly, both because of the familiarity of our mother tongue and the health-oriented and holistic mind-set similarities.
Karina is passionate about health and wellness, highly knowledgeable in Functional Nutrition and detoxification. She graduated from Princeton University with a BA in Cultural Anthropology and Asian Religions and eventually got a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
She met her husband in a meditation retreat in the Himalayas and they both embarked on this dream of creating a space of wellness for people to heal and re-connect with themselves. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
THE PHILIPPINE STAR: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your calling in the field of wellness and what inspired you to bring Kamalaya to life?
KARINA STEWART:I was born in Mexico, and raised there by my Mexican mom and my American father. I grew up in very close contact with nature until I was eight years old. My mother had a health crisis that needed radical change in diet and lifestyle and she became a vegetarian. She also discovered meditation and yoga during this time and was able to eventually cure herself from cancer by pursuing a holistic lifestyle approach and changing her habits.
This had a huge impact on her life and consequently on me as a child, and eventually as an adult. After I graduated from university, I met a Taoist Master who inspired me to delve deeper into the field of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and so I did. I can truly say that my mother, my teachers, and my husband, John, were the true inspirations to bring Kamalaya to life.
What would you say is the main philosophy behind the Kamalaya concept?
Kamalaya is rooted in the ancient wisdom of the Asian traditions, from the Himalayas to the Taoist traditions of China, the healing traditions of India and Thailand, and the philosophies of India.
John and I have been deeply influenced by these traditions and philosophies. We have drawn much inspiration from them and I would say one of the principal pillars at Kamalaya is the belief that there is a true healing power in nature.
Most people come to stay with you mainly for what purpose? Weight loss, stress, detox?
The people that come to Kamalaya come with the idea to improve their vitality, their physical energy levels and their emotional balance.
Who in your opinion would benefit the most from staying at Kamalaya?
Anyone wanting to become a better version of themselves and looking to nurture their deepest healing within.
What programs are you offering presently, and which are the most popular?
Through the years, our Detox programs have proved extremely popular as they are a great way to clean up, reset and restart new healthy eating habits.
Another category that has been popular for many years is the Stress & Burnout program where we address the health impact of stress and help people channel and manage it in healthy ways.
Embracing Change is suitable for anyone seeking support with change or challenging situations of any kind; this program can also benefit anyone navigating loss, anxiety and grief, whether pandemic-related or due to regular life events.
Resilience & Immunity for mental resilience and physical immunity and our Gut Enrichment programs are both gaining in popularity.
Do most people come alone or in couples?
We have close to a 50-50 split of people who travel alone, both men and women traveling alone, and a little less than 50 percent come as couples.
Through the years, have you witnessed more awareness on health, stress, sleep, spirituality and nutrition than when you started 17 years ago?
Without a doubt. When we opened Kamalaya 17 years ago there was already much awareness in health, the importance of sleep, stress management, nutrition and the need for spirituality.
In the last two years, the interest has grown exponentially. More people are looking for support and tools to increase their health and healing on all levels, especially after two years of lockdowns and the uncertainty that COVID brought.
You work with local chefs? What type of cuisine do you offer?
We have two main cuisines: Kamalaya’s Healthy Cuisine and the Detox Cuisine. We work closely with our own chefs to develop our signature dishes, mostly whole plant-based, with organic ingredients that are locally grown and inspired by Asian and international cuisines. Our menu is focused on healthy results and satisfaction.
When is the best time of the year to visit Kamalaya?
Fortunately, we can welcome guests any time of the year, so the best time to visit is when you feel you most need it. Some of our guests love coming in the rainy season of November and others prefer to come when the sun is shining, which is pretty much all of the rest of the year.
I invite you to listen to Karina’s podcast titled “Kamalaya.” In it she shares her knowledge on issues of health, nutrition, spirituality and so much more. For more information and inquiries go to https://kamalaya.com/.
No matter what time of the year you decide to visit, rest assured it will be a unique wellness experience. You will leave feeling like a million bucks: physically strong, mentally energized and ready to face the world again.