Finding absolute comfort at Four Seasons Landaa Giravaaru
Rosie Walford reviews this upscale wellbeing resort set on its own white coral atoll in the Maldives and finds her peace for the longterm with serious spa treatments, yoga therapy, delightful wellbeing rituals, an ayurvedic doctor who answers every skeptical question she brings him comprehensively and insanely beautiful surroundings
The Maldives was my first solo trip since separating from my longtime partner. Ill advisedly, I’d let my yoga practice lapse; my spine felt tight and my self confidence low. But this was forgotten as soon as I was in the tiny seaplane, spinning over infinite blues and rings of coral below. Touching down on Landaa Giraavaru, a particularly remote and lovely curving sand bar, I was greeted by name and whisked to a villa bigger than my family home.
Sliding into my personal pool, my troubles seemed remote. Continuing across dazzling sand into translucent sea, the wonder of angel fishes and seahorse snouts rinsed all scripts of victimhood clean away and filled me with awe and gratitude instead.
I pedalled on my monogrammed bike to meet my yoga teacher at the spa, and design my retreat for the next days. Dr Ghiri was easy to relate to, making the swish white space feel like home. His questioning revealed a deep expertise gleaned from a teaching hospital where yoga was used not preventatively, but therapeutically. In partnership with the Sviyasa Yoga University Bangalore, Landaa Giraavaru has whittled the common troubles of its clientele down to eight main issues which could be addressed by yoga. My own woes qualified me best for a privately tailored version of the Womens’ Yoga Therapy. Once the Ayurvedic doctor had defined my doshas in a separate consultation, we agreed upon some extra treatments. A tropical bird whooped, and I felt I was in excellent hands.
The island is so spacious that I first encountered fellow guests at the restaurant. Chinese honeymooners, gilded young European families, and strange pairings of older men with botoxed women gazed langourously, to Balearic rhythms, from the all-white bar across infinity pools into glorious sunset. In this James Bond scene, every bean and beanbag in sight had been imported from afar, the impeccable confection of a hotelier’s imagination. Rather than visiting Maldivian culture, this was an international dream.
My yoga lessons took place on a deck inches above aquamarine waves. Mind and breath melted in the warm, ozone breeze. Dr Ghiri, respectful and encouraging, worked me through poses that would balance my menopausal hormones and loosen my spine. Each day we practiced and then added more to ensure that I was learning for the longterm. My hips opened over four days. My mind surrendered remarkably easily to the patience and positivity of focused regular practice.
Dr Ghiri also encouraged me to experiment with Landaa’s novel yoga variants. First, anti gravity yoga where in a stretchy hammock, I gradually turned inside out. In contrast to more serious asana, reaching unfamiliar flying poses involved much fumbling hilarity. Eventually I enjoyed the decompression, and the shala’s jungley surrounds from upside down.
Aqua yoga in the sleek saltwater pool felt almost too gentle to count as useful yoga : we lifted limbs underwater, practiced pranayama by streaming bubbles, and when we floated it was called sivansana. Perhaps these novelty yogas were meant to free me from my attachment to the disciplines of the mat.
On the Yoga Energy Trail Dr Ghiri transformed into personal trainer. Jogging across the island we did press ups, chin ups and sit ups at stations which renamed fitness moves as yoga poses to encourage men into the yoga fold. I wasn’t sure the advantage of doing my mountain pose with feet and hands on separate beams. All my life I’d managed to avoid PT, and the yogic name had lured me in. Reluctantly I confess I’m glad it did – my world was that bit wider for having pushed through. A lavish dinner of lobster and molten chocolate pave also felt well-earned.
Dr Ghiri answered every sceptical question comprehensively. When I asked how 3 to 7 days could cure addiction, he explained that he focused on strengthening will – he’d get clients into seemingly impossible postures, retaining breath. For chronic thyroid, diabetes and hormonal imbalance, (conditions treated in western medicine with lifelong medication, yet considered reversible with yoga), he would teach postures proven to balance master hormones and stimulate parts of the autonomic nervous system. I understood then that even with a short yoga therapy retreat ,you can feel early shifts in the body, and be empowered to continue at home.
A 20 minute boat trip took us from the bleached corals around Landaa to a neighbouring reef. At this precipice, life surged up – turtles, small sharks and great schools of colourful fishes. The humming blue and its diversity of marine life are the instrinsic treasures of the Maldives; these and lifted my spirits like nothing man-made ever could.
Landaa hosts a research centre of marine biologists. They demonstrated how El Nino and other sea-warming had bleached and then killed so much equatorial coral. They were painstakingly propagating fragments of living coral on squat metal frames below Landaa’s tideline, although regrowth might take a decade. They had projects for mantas and turtles, also under threat.
They couldn’t mention it, but of course every seaplane, and mouthful of champagne in this remoteness, plays its part in hastening ocean warming. I sponsored a coral frame knowing that local regeneration, small scale as it is, is valuable alongside a more systemic response.
Deva Bhavani, a tantra-inspired female massage ritual, soon brought my attention back to a smaller perspective. In an airy compound amidst ayurvedic herb gardens, my feet were scrubbed and 90 minutes of massage began. The mind can’t keep track of four hands, of so much pleasure, fragrance and pressure on the move. It can only surrender and receive. Rose facial, herbal vagina-steam, sandalwood breast poultice and Tibetan singing bowls felt as though they were together rewriting the vibrations of loss that had been written into my bones. Finally, I soaked in a circular bath full of flowers and basil; inescapably reconnected to my femininity, I found I was entertaining thoughts of a future where this body would be loving and cherished again.
The luxurious nature of Four Seasons Landaa Giravaaru had reminded me then, that the world can be magical and that I can, with economic power, nurture my wellbeing exquisitely, even after love is lost.