The words, "too busy", has got to be the most used excuse whenever people try to explain why they're not taking better care of themselves. In a world that never seems to switch off, and where stress, anxiety and burnout are all too commonplace, taking time out to learn some useful tools to live better could be just the decision we all need to make. This isn't the same as taking a whirlwind holiday — where the planning, to-do lists, sightseeing and socialising will leave you more tired than before you left. Plus, there's now a mountain of work on your desk to catch up on. On the other hand, a retreat is when you become the focus with zero distractions, and better still, are reaping the rewards well after you've returned to everyday life.
Not all retreats are created equal Wellness retreats are not new in Asia. In fact, many properties in the region specialise in all kinds of personalised treatments from detoxes, to yoga, to massages and meditation. Where E:scape aims to set itself apart is its focus on a group dynamic when it comes to fitness as well as brain retraining methods, all led by leading experts in the areas of executive coaching, food, health, psychology, and emotional resilience. Luxurious locations and accommodation are all part of the package, setting a conducive environment for participants to work on themselves — the belief is that personal growth never comes at the expense of creature comforts.
The E:scape founders The energetic duo behind E:scape and wellness brand, Hasiko, are Davina Ho and Zien Wong, two ex-finance professionals who changed their own lives using the same tools they're now advocating for. Says Ho: "Wellness is no longer a niche pastime focusing on your physical health, but it permeates your entire life and the daily decisions you make for yourself. Our focus is on integrating wellness into your life, not about going on detoxes and fitting in as many spa treatments as you can in seven days — although those are great too. It's about learning and taking tools with you so you don't enter a cycle of burning out every six months and then needing another retreat at a health resort. What matters most to us is how our clients feel and how they change their habits back in the real world."
Wong adds: "Personal growth is key to thriving and is the foundation of well-being. When we grow on a personal level, we become more conscious and passionate about life in general."
The Ultimate E:scape in Koh Samui I had the opportunity to attend E:scape's week-long stress management retreat in Koh Samui in July, dubbed "The Ultimate E:scape." Located at the gorgeous Koh Koon Villa in Koh Samui, perched high up in the hills, the sprawling grounds gave us attendees plenty of space to gather communally or break out into quiet pockets for self-reflection. Styled after a chateau in Provence, Koh Koon even came with a gym, pool table and bocce set for lawn games, but it was the epic view that had us most captivated. Stretching the breadth of the living and dining area of the main house, across the front of all the bedroom villas is an unblocked panoramic view of the infinity pool blending in with the ocean and the horizon — made even more surreal when the sun rises every morning.
I felt well-taken care of from the moment I agreed to attend the retreat. The total sum of prepping I needed to do for the trip? Answering an introductory phone call, followed by a couple of email questionnaires. That was it. Once I arrived at the villa, both Ho and Wong were onsite to manage every single detail.
Every evening was greeted with a different positive message and an itinerary for the coming day. The daily programme included different fitness classes, sometimes twice a day, alternating between yoga, pilates, Hasiko and strength training. Other activities comprised solo and group coaching on stress management and a mix of curated local experiences — such as a deluxe spa treatment at Tamarind Springs, a bike tour through rubber plantations and beaches, a Thai cooking class by Island Organics, and a mid-week cocktail fuelled dinner at popular private dining concept, "The Thai Experience". After the seven days, we were given homework to tackle our own real-life challenges to keep the learning dynamic and personalised.
Executive coach, Karen Kwong, who flew in from London to run the stress management coaching sessions summed up the week best. "Retreats are without a shadow of a doubt beneficial. In a world where the message of constant movement and pushing forward — all at great speed — is the only apparent option, it only seems appropriate that one retreats to rest and reflect, in order to restore, regenerate and reinvigorate. Time is a very scarce commodity and quality time, even more so. I do feel that retreats like E:scape are an absolute necessity, especially in a world where burnout in its many guises is prevalent. I cannot as an executive coach and wellbeing practitioner, more strongly encourage more active self-care to all my clients. It is only with this that we can truly be in flow and therefore flourish," says Kwong.
Hasiko One of the exercises we learnt about during the retreat was the E:scape founders' other wellness business, Hasiko. Meaning "new beginnings" in Basque, an hour-long Hasiko class is specifically designed to build physical, mental and emotional strength. You start with 20 minutes of strength training using your own body weight, similar to a HIIT class. It's then followed by 20 minutes of deep stretching to relax tired muscles and slow your heart rate down for the final mental relaxation part of the class — a 20-minute guided meditation to slow brain activity. Here, you access the alpha and theta brain waves which you typically only experience in the fleeting moments between being awake and asleep. It's these final 20 minutes that reinvigorate you mentally and physically for the rest of the day. In Singapore, you can book in for a Hasiko class at Guava Labs at the new OUE Downtown.
Redefining wellness in Asia E:scape intends to open a fixed location in Asia by end 2018 to run a variety of retreats with different wellness experts. The focus will still be on establishing the right group dynamics so people will have to join on set dates rather than check-in any time. "This makes us different from the usual health resorts in Asia where you can go when you want; we want our retreats to have a private and bespoke feel to them and also the ability to get to know your fellow guests and also hosts," shares Ho. "We want people to almost feel like they're at a friend's villa and everything has been organised for them."