Journey like no other: Soneva Soul

Brummell speaks to Soneva founder Sonu Shivdasani about the launch of the brand’s new wellness concept, Soneva Soul and what he’s learned from the past two years in the travel business

Travel and Wellbeing 29 Dec 2021

Soneva Jani

Soneva Jani

Soneva has just launched Soneva Soul, a new wellness concept. What was the inspiration behind it?

Wellness permeates all that we do at Soneva: our sustainable, barefoot philosophy that reconnects our guests to the earth; our life-affirming natural locations; our delicious yet health-focused cuisine; and our life-changing guest experiences. Soneva Soul is the culmination of everything we have learned since we launched our spa at Soneva Fushi in 1995, the very first resort spa in the Maldives. Much like Soneva, at Soneva Soul we are pioneering an approach that combines apparent opposites to offer our guests a transformative and personalised wellbeing experience.

This unique, transformative wellness concept builds upon Soneva’s experience at the forefront of the luxury hospitality and wellbeing industry over the past 26 years. The result of the knowledge and expertise gathered along Soneva’s journey, it will offer unique wellbeing services in the ultimate healing environment, providing balance, innovative healing and health optimisation.

Sonu Shivdasani and Soneva Jani, home to the new Soneva Soul Island Spa
Sonu Shivdasani and Soneva Jani, home to the new Soneva Soul Island Spa

What will a Soneva Soul wellness journey look like?

No Soneva Soul journey will look the same, because it offers each guest a truly personalised pathway to health, happiness and fulfilment. Working in partnership with each guest, Soneva Soul’s wellness experts curate a wellness journey that supports every aspect of their life. This includes rest, recovery and regeneration as well as detoxification, movement and optimisation, following principles such as balance, mindful living and self-care.

Based upon outcomes that target guests’ specific needs, the treatment menu at each Soneva Soul unites traditional wellness philosophies, such as Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, herbalism and medicinal mushrooms, with cutting-edge treatment methodologies and therapeutic biomodulation, which will include heart rate variability testing, platelet-rich plasma (PRP therapy), nutrient IV therapy, cryotherapy, ozone therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Each Soneva Soul wellness journey can start at any point – whether an individual is looking to kick-start a healthier lifestyle, heal following an illness or injury, improve their physical or mental performance, or simply relax and indulge.

Led by master fitness trainers and bodywork experts, the Soneva Soul Movement Programme balances functional gym-based fitness with natural free movement techniques and experiential fitness, surrounded by nature – such as jungle gyms and deep-water aquatic fitness sessions. Yoga, Pranayama breathing and meditation programmes reinforce the link between mind, body and soul, with one-on-one and group sessions with resident yoga masters and renowned visiting experts. And an expert-led sleep programme creates a personalised programme for healthier long-term sleeping habits.

Soneva Jani
Soneva Jani

What makes Soneva Soul unique in its approach to wellness?

Our approach unites thousands of years of ancient healing with modern science and medicine to reconnect mind, body and soul. Our expert resident therapists and global network of wellness specialists guide our guests on a completely personalised journey to better health and wellbeing.

Alongside our outcome-based therapies and rituals, our experienced in-house therapists each draw upon their own healing heritage to offer a special menu of intuitive treatments that are completely unique to them. These include rituals such as Ibu Secret, a full body energy massage from our therapist Canca, which is inspired by her mother’s healing hands to nurture and rebalance the body and eliminate toxins, or a Tok Sen massage by Piyada, which is an energising, traditional northern Thai massage that uses wooden mallets and pegs to hammer tension away. The rhythmic tapping of the tools uses vibration to work deeply into muscle and fascia beneath the surface, while providing a hypnotic relaxation effect. This massage stimulates the circulation, soft tissue and tendons, as well as acupressure points.

Throughout the year, our resident wellness team at Soneva Soul is also complemented by a calendar of visiting wellness specialists as part of our Soneva Stars programme. Each of them has been chosen for their eminence across a full spectrum of wellness disciplines, fitness, healing and spirituality.

In December 2021 and January 2022, we are welcoming a host of wellness specialists to Soneva Soul at Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani. Yoga master Pawan Kumar, a much-loved favourite among Soneva’s guests, has returned to host a long-term yoga and meditation residency at Soneva Fushi until May 31. Osteopathic specialist Hortensia Corredoira, another returning Soneva star, will be at Soneva Fushi from December 18 to May 6. From December 12 to January 8 at Soneva Fushi, then January 9 to February 28 at Soneva Jani, both mindfulness expert Claude Simarde and healer Jill Banwell will be hosting deeply healing sessions at Soneva Soul. Bio energy healer Yash Shekhar will be at Soneva Fushi from December 9 to 25, followed by the return of Roger Moore, hailed as one of the world’s top therapists, who will be at Soneva Jani from January 2 to 9, then Soneva Fushi from January 10 to February 15.

Professional dancer, Stott Pilates trainer, celebrity fitness coach and founder of the Eastwood Movement Method, Monique Eastwood, will be at Soneva Jani and Soneva Fushi from January 17 to 24. And master fitness trainer Johnny Owen will continue his long-term residence at Soneva Fushi until January 13. A multi-faceted coach, he works with clients from all walks of life to support them in achieving their goals.

Soneva Soul provides a whole new approach to wellness
Soneva Soul provides a whole new approach to wellness

You’ve just launched Soneva Soul Island Spa at Soneva Jani, can you describe what makes the spa special?

 The new Soneva Soul Island Spa at Soneva Jani elevates guests’ wellness experience far beyond the pampering treatments and massages found at a typical wellness centre or resort spa. Linked by raised walkways that wind among the trees, the three-level complex is designed in perfect harmony with its stunning setting on the eastern side of the island. Complementing the existing over-water spa at The Gathering, it includes open-air treatment rooms, consultation suites, therapeutic biomodulation rooms, a state-of-the-art gym and juice bar. A yoga pavilion and meditation platform sit high above the tree line, offering 360-degree views across the turquoise private lagoon.

The spa buildings, reception and meditation room have been deliberately placed at a height where one has panoramic vistas across the beautiful lagoon. We want our guests to connect with nature – because of their setting, there are always refreshing breezes through the open-air treatment rooms. The roofs have a tall apex and generous overhangs to shade the person inside and ensure that any heat disperses naturally above the height of the treatment table.

Conversely, the other air-conditioned treatment rooms that I designed are the exact opposite – in fact, the building looks like some form of reptile, with tiles placed in a way that evokes the scales of a lizard, and shapes that are soft and undulating (I strongly believe that harsh lines undermine wellness). The door that leads to the treatment room has a special hinge, similar to the car door of a Rolls Royce, where the door almost is pulled away from the building and then rotates. The reason we designed it like this is because when the door is closed, one cannot see the opening, creating that element of mystery I mentioned above. The walls are thick, so external sounds are completely blocked out, and the actual treatment space is designed to represent an embryo on the inside of an egg. When one enters the space, it is a sanctuary of complete calm, an escape from the outside world.

Do you believe being surrounded by nature can aid a wellness journey or experience?

Nature is awe-inspiring and its beauty is such an important contributor to one’s overall wellbeing. Much of the design work for the Soneva Soul Island Spa at Soneva Jani took place when Eva and I were staying in Istanbul while I was undergoing chemotherapy for stage IV cancer.  I chose the area on the island’s east coast, high above the mangroves, because it is such an incredible setting. Walking up the ramp, then taking the walkway to the treatment rooms, before reaching the platform above the yoga and meditation pavilion – the 360-degree views are absolutely breath-taking.

We have always been inspired by nature at Soneva – its majesty, magnitude and mystery – and the development of the Soneva Soul Island Spa at Soneva Jani was no different. Eva and I feel so privileged to be guardians of this area of incredible natural beauty (we do not consider ourselves as owners during our lifetime).

The past two years have been difficult for anyone in the travel and wellness industry, what have you learned from this period?

The Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is two characters: ‘Danger’ and ‘opportunity’. According to Chinese writer and philosopher Lao Tzu, ‘good fortune has its roots in disaster’. Certainly, we have no control over the hand we are dealt, but we have total control on how we play it. And, over the years, I have come to understand that crises are opportunities to learn, grow and develop.

This crisis has allowed many people the opportunity to pause and rethink their values, priorities. In a post COVID-19 world, at the most basic level, consumers will be more conscious of the impact they will have on both nature and communities. I suspect travellers will become more aware of nature and the challenges of the planet, treading the world more gently. At Soneva, nature has always been at the heart of everything we do. We use it as an inspiration for innovation. And going forward, it’s more important than ever that everyone works in harmony with nature rather than battle it.

What are your plans for the next stage of Soneva Soul? 

The coming weeks will also see the opening phase of an expanded Soneva Soul resort wellness centre at Soneva Fushi. In the longer term, Soneva will also work with like-minded partners to launch one-of-a-kind wellness destinations across the world. Between now and early 2022, each Soneva Soul will establish a permanent team that includes an Ayurvedic doctor, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and integrative medicine doctor alongside our highly trained therapists and wellness specialists.