After finishing work on the Global Wellness Institute’s mental wellness white paper, Dr Gerry Bodeker had nature on his mind. Research outlined in Mental Wellness: Pathways, Evidence and Horizons (see SB19/1 p60) shows that immersion in nature has powerful effects on both mental and physical wellbeing, and Bodeker saw an opportunity to bring that kind of immersion to more people.
“There are many evidence-based pathways to mental wellness which can be self-managed, are generally low cost, and have been shown by repeated studies to result in significant enhancement of mental wellbeing and, in some cases, even in the growth of grey and white matter in the brain,” says Bodeker.
So when Bodeker was asked to design wellness programmes for the Mulu Marriott Resort & Spa in Borneo – which is set in a UNESCO World Heritage site amid ancient tropical rainforest – he knew it was a place where nature could help to heal. “At a [nearby] freshwater pool, Clearwater Pool, fed by streams from 60-million-year-old limestone caves, the atmosphere was palpably vibrant and transformative, and it became obvious that a forest immersion programme, with Clearwater at its heart, was the way to bring wellness theming to the resort,” says Bodeker.
Mulu’s owner, Robert Geneid, proposed a partnership, as he was keen to take the idea to another property in Japan, and from this, Ayus Wellness – a company to deliver the experiences – was born. “In Ayus Wellness, we’ve crafted programmes that are science-based and effective in enhancing mood and mind, which, in turn, leads to balance and clarity,” says Bodeker. “Foremost among these is the practice of nature immersion or forest bathing – shinrin-yoku as it is known in Japan. With 52,000 hectares of ancient rainforest as our environment, nature is our primary therapist.”
Key to the offering is a bespoke integrative yoga programme designed around connecting with the rainforest, which helps guests build a connection to nature. Yoga and meditative breathing sessions are held in the heart of the forest at the Clearwater Pool and cave, half an hour boat ride from Mulu Marriott up the Melinau River and past the villages of the indigenous communities. Swimming in the bracing, mineralised waters is also a highlight.
“Ayus takes its name from Sanskrit, meaning the sense of life,” says Bodeker. “By aligning easily and immersively with nature in a pristine forest setting, with this dimension of life, a deep experience of wellbeing emerges.”
The inaugural retreat was held from 14-19 June, and led by master yoga practitioner Shilpa Gathalia, who also guided guests through silent forest walks, cave journeys and medicinal plant explorations. Wellness cuisine drew from Borneo food traditions, local Sarawakian ingredients and flavours, and even some wild-crafted foods from the grounds of the resort itself, and guests savoured a full Borneo-themed vegetarian menu including a power shot made from gotu kola, or Asiatic pennywort, which is used to promote mood and memory. “At the Going-Home circle on the last evening, some remarkable experiences were shared, including deep peace, enhanced and restful sleep, a sense of feeling revived and renewed, and of deep connections with nature, and the power of the journeys that the group had experienced,” says Bodeker.
Ayus Wellness is offering programmes at Mulu Marriott throughout the year, with a focus on three areas: clarity & peace of mind, anti-ageing & radiance, and strength & energy. “New research has shown that wellness modalities such as meditation and yoga increase the length of telomeres – our epigenetic material whose length correlates with the length of lifespan,” says Bodeker. “The Ayus Wellness Experience incorporates and builds on these by adding proven rejuvenation foods, beverages and topical applications from Borneo and wider Asian traditions to enhance the experience of youthfulness and the renewal and radiance of our guests’ skin.”
With the tagline ‘Wilderness-Wonder-Wellness’ encapsulating the programme, Bodeker says he hopes to bring the wilderness into wellness, and wellness into the wilderness. He explains: “Our experience in Ayus Wellness is that deep wilderness immersion brings with it a sense of wonder, of transcending everyday boundaries and re-setting our relationship with nature and ourselves. Wonder, in Socrates’ words, brings wisdom.”
The Ayus Wellness Experience package is priced at an all-inclusive US$480 (€428, £387) per night, for six nights.