Perpetually creaky shoulders, tight lower backs and not to mention jumbled minds from an office drone lifestyle have Hongkongers constantly seeking for new methods of total relaxation. With spas in Hong Kong typically following the long-respected Chinese, Thai or Balinese treatment methods (with the odd Swedish massage often thrown into the mix), we were thrilled to find that a five-star spa has begun to offer traditional ayurvedic healing. Despite the principles being based on the 5,000-year-old Indian school of thought, it’s still rather novel in Hong Kong.
The Four Seasons Hong Kong has recently taken on Australian ayurvedic aromatherapy skincare brand Subtle Energies, which pairs the original medicinal and heavily herbaceous remedies of ayurveda with sweeter smelling properties of the aromatherapy essential oils most people are used to these days. “You don’t want to walk out smelling like a curry,” founder Farida Irani likes to joke.
The idea of ayurvedic healing is easy to understand, especially when you are familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine. People belong to different doshas, or body types that correspond to the elements. A natural deficiency in a certain element in your body, such as fire or water, will require you to take on more warmth or moisture to balance this out.
Aside from offering the products for retail at the Four Seasons’ Spa, Subtle Energies has also worked with spa director Shoshana Weinberg to create two treatments using the product line, based on ayurvedic principles to take away all forms of tiredness, whether emotional, mental or physical. One is the Mindful Release Facial (HK$1,750–3,780), where they target marma (likened to acupuncture) points to help your skin look more radiant from its deepest inner layers. The other is Shirodhara (HK$3,450–3,730), an ancient oil-dripping therapy, considered to be one of the most effective ways to treat sleep-related issues or stressed minds, involving a full body marma massage as well as the traditional oil ritual.
We were fortunate enough to trial a 90-minute Shirodhara session, though these days only 120-minute sessions are advertised at The Spa.
We’ve been to the Four Seasons Hong Kong Spa before, so we’re no strangers to the pleasant light golden hue of the facilities, bathed in the warmth of the elegant wood and marble motif of the hotel from the moment you step into the locker room to the spa suite itself. Once again, the room faced the harbour and was bathed in sunlight, but I had the blinds lowered for privacy during the treatment. I sat down and had my feet rinsed in warm water and lightly massaged, while my therapist Shyju let me pick my massage oil (I chose by the rejuvenating scent of the Rasayana Detox Blend) and talked me through the Shirodhara process. Targeting those with a compromised nervous system, Shirodhara helps relieve symptoms of anxiety, stress, fatigue and hypertension, helping to regulate mood and feelings of bliss, all centering around a ritual where warm oil is continuously poured onto your forehead.
Both Subtle Energies and the Four Seasons Spa agree on mindfulness being a core part of modern wellness, and so meditation and intent are crucial parts of the new treatments. Directing my attention to my breath and focusing on the utterly relaxing outcome of the session, I then laid face down on the advanced spa table, which had specific contours that could be adjusted to fit the bends of my legs and back.
I was told that Shyju was the most experienced in the new ayurvedic treatments at The Spa, but having never gone for a full body treatment done by a male therapist, I was a little apprehensive about potential moments of awkwardness. However, the five-star service turned out to be really no different to if a female specialist was performing the treatment, with perfect, professional attention to detail, clear explanations, and perhaps even better strength.
The first part of the session entailed the marma massage. In Sanskrit, marma means ‘hidden,’ and a marma point is a juncture between two or more types of tissues. Similar to acupuncture points, they are thought to be points of the vital life force, and applying pressure to them is thought to help heal neurological problems, stomach aches and more.
Shyju quietly spoke to me, performing a mini chakra healing meditation as hot oil was spread onto my back, shoulders and arms. I was told to imagine a golden orb floating around my body, expanding at the problem areas, and I was told to breathe deeply to focus on these spots — my lower back and crickety shoulders and shoulder blades. Incredibly, the combination of hot oil and inner meditation seemed to help in a symbiotic way to release the tension in my spine and joints from inside and out. Shyju could somehow tell where all my aches and pains were to a truly detailed degree, finding these little points and digging into each strained muscle with a firm press. He continued to push and stretch along these marma points at a medium pressure, until I felt like I was a puppet with loosening screws, my joints yielding and the tiredness melting like butter.
I normally prefer firmer pressure when it comes to massages (deep tissue treatments are my favourite), and this was a little lighter than I was used to, but I felt the massage reach the middle layers to gently release tension. When it came to a stomach massage, I did get slightly squirmish, but Shyju’s method strangely felt like my core muscles were being massaged, increasing awareness in them and giving me noticeably better posture for the rest of the day.
Then came the main show: Shiro (head) dhara (flow). With my hair brushed out behind me, and my eyes covered with an eye pillow, warm oil cascaded down from my forehead in a continuous stream, trickling down my scalp and through my hair. Using a traditional metallic apparatus, Shyju kept any clinking noise to a minimum, and it was easy to fall in and out of sleep with the almost hypnotic, lightly ticklish sensation. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I enjoyed the novelty.
What felt and sounded like a warm waterfall on your head in Shirodhara is said to create healing vibrations that emanate through your nervous system. In more spiritual ways, Shirodhara and its associated massage therapies cover the areas at the top of the head. This starts from your ‘third eye,’ or your anju chakra between the eyebrows, believed to be the part of the body associated with intuition. It’s also connected with your pineal gland, which produces melatonin to help regulate your sleep-wake cycles, and is probably the explanation for why so many say Shirodhara is beneficial to insomniacs. I attribute the sensation to how you can gently lull a puppy to sleep when you place your fingers just above its eyes. Above the third eye, the pouring of the oil stimulates the crown chakra at the top of your head, thought to be the where spiritual connection to your highest self occurs, hence explaining how you emerge from the session with purpose and intent.
I rose from the Shirodhara session feeling pleasantly relaxed, but not lethargic. My face was glowing and skin smoothened and dewy, and my pores smaller. My hair felt super smooth and looked shiny even after a shower. Best of all, I felt composed, as if I was able to clear out all the clutter in my mind.
The 90-minute treatment costs HK$2,570–2,850; 120-minute treatment, HK$3,450–3,730 depending on Mon–Thu or Fri–Sun bookings.