Living in a fast-paced city like Dubai can have its ups and downs – from the brain-numbing traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road to the 12-hour days sat behind a desk, sometimes you just need to escape from busy city life and relax and rejuvenate your body in cooler, calmer lands. After a not-so-great start to the year, and an extremely over-indulgent Christmas, I was in desperate need of a major detox and some headspace. Known for not being able to switch off after working hours, or even when on a secluded beach in Mykonos, I was doubtful that SHA Wellness Clinic could put my over-thinking anxious mind at rest. However, I was wrong to have had any doubts about the luxurious wellness resort, as it led me on a journey of conscious discovery, which at times had me in tears, fits of giggles and, to my surprise, a state of utter relaxation, but most importantly – which might sound extremely clichéd – a life-changing health experience that I will never forget.
Over eight years ago, SHA Wellness Clinic was created by Alfredo Bataller Parietti, who believed that adopting a macrobiotic diet helped him to overcome the health problems that had affected his quality of life for years. He looked into the origins of a multitude of natural therapies, leading him to a macrobiotic world, and in time, the SHA Method and eventually the SHA Wellness Clinic. But what is the SHA Method? I was about to find out.
On arrival at SHA, the first thing that hits me are the breath-taking vistas surrounding the resort. Situated in the shadows of the mountains of the lush, green Sierra Helada and overlooking the bay of Altea, which leads out to the Med as far as the eye can see, the smell of the fresh sea air instantly puts me in a blissed-out state of tranquillity. With an all-white minimalist-chic design, from the exterior sun deck, snug corners of the interiors, and bedroom suites with spacious, inviting terraces, I instantly feel at peace. Small nooks and large outdoor spaces are secluded enough to not feel gazed upon while lounging in your bathrobe, allowing SHA’s VIP guests – which have included the likes of Naomi Campbell, Kylie Minogue and as I write this Jourdan Dunn, to name a few – to enjoy their stay completely unnoticed.
Not for the usual spa-goer, the day begins with various consultations with an in-house nurse to check my vitals, an appointment with the doctor to discuss any health concerns, and a rather frightening nutritionist who tailors a diet plan for my time at SHA and beyond. A macrobiotic diet is free of sugar, dairy, gluten and meat, with a focus on fresh, organic, seasonal vegetables, and occasionally fish. There are three menus to choose from: Kushi, the strictest and most restrictive diet for weight-loss patients; Biolight, a slightly less stringent variation of the healthy nutritious diet; and the SHA menu, the gastronomic version that doesn’t compromise on portion size or taste. I get to choose between the Biolight and SHA menu. At the beginning of the trip, I stick mostly to the Biolight, trying to immerse myself in all things healthy; however, towards the end of my four-day stay there’s a rather delicious sounding lasagna – dairy- and meat-free, of course – on the SHA menu that I couldn’t resist.
After being prodded and poked, I’m put on the SHA Discovery Programme, a four-day itinerary that includes everything from a rather embarrassing encounter being hosed down after a relaxing hydroenergetic detox treatment, Chinese acupuncture and moxibustion, a skin-rejuvenating facial, a revitalising, body-sculpting, fat-burning electrotherapy session and a deep tissue massage, to name a few.
SHA prides itself on being at the forefront of the latest medical innovations and employs some of the best practitioners in the world, giving you the tools to adopt a healthier lifestyle and learn to relax and recover from stress – just what I need.
Here, it seems, SHA is all about doing as much or as little as you desire, thanks to a list of treatments and activities to choose from. From a must-do, early morning, brisk walk to a neighbouring lighthouse, to a life-changing stress-management session – a programme I still practise three months after my visit and one that brought me to tears after having to express my work and personal life balance as percentages. It’s encouraged for everyone to take part in as many of the complementary exercise classes as you like – from yoga, meditation, personal training and stretching to the macrobiotic cooking workshops that cover everything from miso soup, vegetable proteins and how to make a healthy apple crumble.
A digital detox is also advised. But with a well-stocked library, a cinema with daily movie screenings (no popcorn or fizzy drinks allowed), a tea lounge to which you report every day to get your prescribed daily fruit teas, an art exhibition hall, an indoor hydrotherapy circuit and outdoor infinity pool, you’re not without stimuli. And if you want to take things further, they also offer cutting-edge dentistry and cosmetic surgery for those wanting a 360˚ transformation.
Shifting not just my surroundings but my actual thought process, SHA is less for the faint-hearted, traditional spa-goer and more for the lasting lifestyle changer. What you learn while you’re there is so powerfully informative, you’ll leave with the tools to make a lasting difference to your life, as it did mine.