Hot stone left you listless? Watsu a washout? Jaded spa goers, fall back in love with bodywork with kahuna massage - for which therapists master a dance based on the frigate sea bird before taking on leverage, posture and focus - at Gaia Retreat. The heart of kahuna healing is caring. Your practitioner remains completely focused on you, conjuring connection and compassion, rather than viewing the body as an object to be fixed. Kahuna specialist Tamara Green takes a holistic approach to my jetlag by balancing the mind-body connection in its physical and emotional dimensions. After anointing pressure points with warm herbal oils, she expertly engages her hands and forearms, moving with flowing, hula-inspired movement. Green eventually throws the whole expanse of her body into it, sweeping from the latitude of my shoulders down the longitude of my calves in mystifyingly long, fluid strokes. Rhythmic and repetitive, it's inexplicable where one stroke ends and another begins. Shatteringly good stuff.
Originally performed by high priests in ancient temples of the South Pacific, kahuna massage was often reserved for Polynesian royalty taking special ceremonial rites. Stimulating the lymphatic, immune, digestive, circulatory and respiratory systems, this therapy may aid in ailments from irritable bowel syndrome to headaches and asthma.
The hushed hills of Byron Bay fan out like a lotus of relaxation - an idyllic antidote to caffeine and carbon monoxide. A touchstone for the Australian wellness movement, I can't mention my visit to Gaia without an Aussie affectionately chiming, "Oh, Olivia Newton-John's place" - as if the spa were a casual extension of her living room. Stirred by her recovery from breast cancer, she founded Gaia in 2005 with best friend Gregg Cave. This subtropical retreat boasts the highest vantage point in the area, showing off achingly spectacular views.
Gaia Retreat and Spa at 933 Fernleigh Rd., Byron Bay, Australia; 61-2-6687-1216; www.gaiaretreat.com.au; $218 for 120 minutes.
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