thumb image

A month before my trip to JOALI Being, the resort sends me a six-page questionnaire. It inquires about my height and weight; my eating, sleeping and exercise habits; and the frequency of my bowel movements. Um, come again?

Wellness is central to everything at this boutique venture from Turkish entrepreneur Esin Güral Argat. She opened the ultra luxe property on the island of Bodufushi in 2021 with a four-pillar focus: mind, skin, microbiome and energy. Its spa and fitness center are the largest in the Maldives and feature a salt-inhalation room, a cryotherapy chamber and more. The food is equally health-conscious, curated by an integrative medicine specialist to check various low-calorie, gluten-free and sustainable boxes. One of the first things guests do upon arrival is meet with an ayurvedic therapist who uses a bioresonance machine to assess their lifestyle.

Artful Living | Inside JOALI Being, the Maldives' First Dedicated Wellness Retreat

Photography provided by JOALI Being

The daughter of a scientist, I’m a born skeptic, so the idea of using electromagnetic frequencies to detect toxins sounds like hocus pocus to me. Then again, I’m not your typical wellness devotee. I have never eat-pray-loved my way to a higher self, and I bristle at the notion that a stranger can fix whatever ails me.

I get that for some folks, wellness is an identity. But for me, it’s a painful reminder of my personal failings: I weigh too much, I work too hard and I’m a B student at most things I take on, from painting to motherhood. I don’t need a resort to tell me what I already know.

And yet, I’m curious. What if a mind-bending, gut-mending, energy-renewing week in paradise actually works?

Artful Living | Inside JOALI Being, the Maldives' First Dedicated Wellness Retreat

My stay begins at sister resort JOALI on nearby Muravandhoo island. The 73-villa property offers the classic overwater-bungalow experience with a twist: There’s art everywhere, including a manta-shaped treehouse by South African artist Porky Hefer that’s bookable for private meals. The aquatic center rents water toys, but I’m content just snorkeling in the crystalline sea behind my villa. I’m joined by darting reef sharks and clown triggerfish, arguably the most extra marine life in an ocean filled with showoffs. When I’m not underwater, I’m strolling along the white sandy beaches.

These first three days are a joyful blur of deep-tissue massages, sake tastings and indulgent Turkish breakfasts. I eat and drink more than I should because soon I will ship off to JOALI Being boot camp.

Turns out, I had nothing to fear. Nobody confiscates my snacks upon check-in or shakes me awake at dawn for a grueling hike. The thatched roofs of the 68 biophilic villas recall Scottish croft houses, if ye olde cottages had private infinity pools. Guest rooms boast a metallophone for “sonic healing,” a guidebook of mindful breathing exercises and a minibar stocked with sparkling tea (but no alcohol). There’s matcha granola at breakfast and grilled tuna steaks for dinner. If this is deprivation, sign me up.

Artful Living | Inside JOALI Being, the Maldives' First Dedicated Wellness Retreat

And sign up I do — for a soothing “mind-therapy” massage, a guided tour along the island’s Discovery Sound Path, and a sound bath meditation, which begins with a symphony of singing bowls and ends with the clang of a gong. My favorite, however, is the perfume-making workshop at the herbology center. With the help of a Turkish aromatherapist, I concoct an earthy fragrance composed of neroli, patchouli, vetiver and clary sage. (Even skeptics like to smell nice.)

I also go Zen hunting at the resort’s hydrotherapy hall. My Watsu session, a form of underwater shiatsu, takes place in a tiled spa with a domed ceiling and heated pool. It’s like having a Turkish hammam all to myself — except the pool is too warm for my liking and I start to feel nauseated from the 360-degree swishing. Vertigo forces me to make a quick (and messy) exit. The therapist later tells me that Watsu is powerful stuff; everyone reacts differently and some bodies need to purge. (This is probably the nicest thing you can say to someone who has just puked on themselves.)

Artful Living | Inside JOALI Being, the Maldives' First Dedicated Wellness Retreat

I have better luck with cryotherapy, which subjects users to extreme cold to increase blood flow and relieve chronic pain. It is set to a chilly -125°F — that’s nothing for a cold-blooded Minnesotan like me, I think as I strip down. A staffer cranks up Daddy Yankee tunes over the speakers, and I step inside the sub-zero chamber. Within seconds, the hair in my nostrils ices over. I’m breathing more smoke than Snoop Dogg and dancing maniacally to keep warm. I’m sure I look absurd, but the rush is exhilarating. This three-minute polar plunge unleashes a flood of endorphins that makes me feel like I’m on ecstasy (and judging by the swimsuit-and-Crocs-with-socks getup I’m wearing, I wouldn’t look out of place at a nineties rave). Yet the high is all-natural.

Truth be told, I’m floored by how much I’m enjoying myself. Who is this new smoothie-swilling, mantra-chanting, cryo-raving hippie and where did she bury the cranky old me?

Of course, JOALI Being is a rarefied, alternate reality that bears little resemblance to my real life with its work pressures and a buck-wild toddler. But for all its woo-woo, the wellness retreat did its job: It reminded me that it’s OK to think about myself sometimes — I’m worth it.

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This