Menopause App

Digital Packs Banner Digital Packs Banner

Spas & Retreats

The retreat that makes a detox easy

Suffering from burnout and feeling mildly toxic? Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary based on the Island of Koh Samui in Thailand might just be the holistic retreat your mind and liver crave. Sharon Walker escaped was cleansed from the inside out (literally).

I arrive at the Kamalaya lush palm-fringed sanctuary, on Thailand’s Koh Samui, fresh (or should I say jaded?) from a rather alcohol-heavy press trip and feeling distinctly liverish.  I have been thinking, for some time now, that I need to clean up my act.

It has been a year of excess: Champagne-popping fortieths, margarita-fuelled festivals, wine-soaked weddings, along with the odd espresso martini (to keep me awake) and glass of red wine (to put me to sleep). Nothing too unusual, if you live in London as I do, but I know it’s too much. It seems like the right moment to give my body a break.

kamalaya beach
Fancy a dip? Or maybe just take a stroll along Kamalaya’s stunning shoreline. Either sounds appealing.

Fortunately, the Kamalaya is just the place to break the cycle, a world-famous retreat for the mildly toxic and thoroughly burnt out, they run specialised programmes in Detox, Stress & Burnout and Embracing Change. ‘People come here when they are at a cross-roads in their life, when they want to make a change or need to recover,’ says Sylvia Marsden, My Wellness Consultant looking over the results of my medical exam with the nurse, all normal, but that’s before the results of the liver function test has come back from the lab. As I deliver a brutally honest account of my lifestyle excess Sylvia doesn’t so much as bat an eyelid, she has heard it all before. Like me, 30 per cent of their guests come to detox. ‘There are two ways to look at this, one is very physical, with diet and liver supplements.   The other is behavioural.  To ask ‘why am I doing this?’ and give people tools so that they don’t repeat the pattern.’

Kamalaya Detox Garden Salad
Luscious and fresh- Kamalaya’s Detox Garden Salad

On the standard detox programme, which ranges from three to 14 nights, I’ll be cutting out wheat, dairy, alcohol and meat, sugar and any foods likely to cause an allergic flare-up.  The idea is that by unburdening the body for a few days at least, it can become better able to cope with daily stresses of modern life and process the toxins we load on it.

Kamalaya’s detox programme is based on medical research and designed to minimise the side-effects, such as headaches and fatigue,

Kamalaya’s detox programme is based on medical research and designed to minimise the side-effects, such as headaches and fatigue, with a nurturing detox cuisine and supplements like probiotics and vitamin C  (the longer the programme the more supplements you get), which are often experienced when we cut out all our usual toxic props.


Kamalaya location
Do you feel relaxed just looking at this?


Founded by a doctor of Chinese Medicine, Karina Stewart and her partner John Stewart, who spent 16 years devoted to a life of spiritual studies in a Himalayan community before setting up Kamalaya. The pair, who met at a monastery in India, have pooled their combined resources to create this now hugely popular retreat with its brilliantly unique blend of East meets West.

the energy, that’s so profoundly peaceful it seems to slow your heartbeat and seep into your bones.


There’s no doubt about it, Kamalaya is a serious health retreat, yet with it’s lush landscaped gardens, efficient service, and architect-designed, multilevel pool, it has all the trappings of a barefoot luxury hotel, but what really sets Kamalaya apart is the energy, that’s so profoundly peaceful it seems to slow your heartbeat and seep into your bones. Perhaps it’s down to the fact that the spa is located on the site of a Buddhist monks’ cave, or the comforting institutional feel as the staff float around smiling in their in their yellow-cotton uniforms, or all the essential oils wafting around, but I’ve rarely felt so at peace.

Monk cave
The Monk’s Cave at Kamalaya- Fulfill your Zen

My day begins with the eat-as-much as you like breakfast buffet, which sounds rather greedy until you discover the green label dishes allowed on the detox consist mainly of salads, seeds and fruit, and vegetable dips, but also a delicious hot vegetable soup, though if you aren’t on the detox or weightloss programme you can feast on the likes of Bircher museli and breakfast muffins.

Kamalya 4For lunch and dinner detox and weight loss guests are advised to have one main course or two starters, no more.  But none of this is strictly policed. Don’t come expecting a militant bootcamp, more a gentle guiding hand, they give you all the tools, but ultimately it’s up to you.   Most guests quickly fall into line, however, even the gentleman on the communual dinner table (lots of people come here alone) who proudly tells me he has no ‘mid-setting’ only full steam ahead or stop, which sounds like a familiar lament. The food is freshly made and delicious without salt, or too many spices and it’s really no hardship to eat a ton of vegetables, when the flavours are this good.

Kamalaya isn’t what you’d call a fitness camp, though they do offer twice daily yoga and other gentle classes like tai chi and Pilates. I head to  Yin Yoga where Anne instructs us to hold the postures for three minutes: ‘Then your body can relax more and you can get deeper into the posture.’ At the end of the class we all press our hands together and chant OM Shanti. And anyone who wants to take the detox deeper delving into a more emotional realm should sign up for the 5-7 day emotional detox or Embracing Change programme which help guests going through big transitions like career change, grief or divorce. But even if you don’t have  the time or need for that you can book one-off sessions with one of the visiting healers, as I did with the brilliant healer Anna Hughes, who led me through a visualisation, which left me feeling much lighter, focused and calm.

Kamalya 2
Forget the tequila, it’s
all about the wheatgrass

My programme continues with a relaxing Oriental herbal detoxifying body scrub and wrap, followed by a vital essence oil massage with Kamalaya’s signature healing oils and you’re asked to choose between Wood, Fire, Water and Metal. Next up is the wood cabin infrared sauna, this is the King of saunas, a true calorie-blasting inferno. The goal is to stay in for thirty minutes – but within ten minutes I’m already dripping like a tap, the water (and hopefully the toxins) literally flowing out of me. Straight after I’m given a glass of electrolyte drink to replace lost minerals and fluids. In fact the day is peppered with health-inducing brews, most of which taste reassuringly horrible: lime juice first thing (to stimulate the liver), followed by shots of wheatgrass (very alkalising) – taste like chewing a field- and gotu kola brain tonic (good for connective tissue).

Chi Nei Tsang- Also known as traditional Chinese abdominal massage
Chi Nei Tsang- Also known as
traditional Chinese
abdominal massage

There are endless tiny pots of ginger tea (soothing for the stomach) served before and after every treatment. Then mid-morning and afternoon whey protein drinks (to bind to and whisk the toxins out), are the worst, but overall it’s really not that bad.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that a detox at Kamalaya is really rather fun. Even the dreaded colonic, turns out to be quite a laugh and is pre-empted by a deeply relaxing stomach massage, or Chi Nei Tsang,  a traditional Chinese medicine technique following a precise sequence of movements designed to stimulate circulation and lymphatic drainage, but also to shift blocked energy, tension and stress, which often, at least in my case, seems to lodge in my gut. And as my therapist works her way around my intestines, my abdominal muscles unclench and things all start gurgling and shifting around, and it seems like it might just work.

Reassuringly, the colonic is administered by a medical nurse, who sets about inserting the tube and once that tricky little manoeuvre is over, I am repeatedly filled with a litre of water, which I must retain for up to a minute before it’s sucked out. Halfway through the process another therapist enters the room to give me a soothing stomach massage, which helps shift any stubborn remaining debris, clinging to the corners of my colon. And despite the discomfort of feeling like you might be about to explode any minute and have to dash to the loo, there’s quite a jolly atmosphere with a blow-by-blow account from the nurse, as she gives graphic descriptions of  my ‘poo poo’, as she calls it. At first (in case you’re interested) it is darker (old and toxic apparently) and ends up green with undigested bit of food. The final diagnosis being that I need to chew more and drink more water.

 Halfway through the process another therapist enters the room to give me a soothing stomach massage, which helps shift any stubborn remaining debris, clinging to the corners of my colon.

The final treatment of my three-day ‘Intro to Detox’ programme is a lymphatic drainage therapy, which consists of 90 minutes of super light, gentle strokes, encouraging the circulation of lymph around the body, stimulating the immune system, while flushing out toxins, which apparently has the added bonus of boosting weight loss by reducing water retention.

Kamalya 6
The view that Sharon had to leave behind…

When the results of my liver function test come back everything is normal except my bilirubin count is too high – these are the old red blood cells that need to be removed by the liver, mine are too high suggesting my liver is functioning below par, far from George Best territory, but Sylvia advises me to cut out alcohol for two or three months and then do the test again, effectively putting the lid on Espresso Martinis for the time being at least.

I was only at Kamalaya for two-and-a-half days but the effects of that short detox have been far reaching.  I’ll admit it was a shock to discover, that my healthy eating and frequent gym routine were not enough to protect my liver from the party onslaught, but I’m glad I’ve had that wake-up call now, before it’s too late.  And I came home feeling so clean, serene and full of energy I haven’t been tempted to sully my report card since. I’d certainly encourage anyone living the typical London life, drinking four or more nights a week to get their liver tested too and to give their body that much needed break.

5 nights intro detox from £2,410 per person based two sharing or from £2,730 per person based on single occupancy (including programme, accommodation, flights, and local transfers to and from Koh Samui airport) through The Healthy Holiday Company tel: 0845 458 0723.

Left to right: Managing Director
Marc-Antoine Cornaz, Kamalaya
Co-founders Karina and John Stewart.

Need guidance and inspiration for your healthy lifestyle? You can sign up online with Kamalaya here to receive free recipes and video tutorials from Karina Stewart and the rest of the Kamalaya wellness team.



Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

More Healthista Content