PHUKET: Recently the island hosted the second Rawai-Nai Harn Health and Wellness Festival during which a gathering of highly qualified practitioners led various sessions designed to help us all lead healthier, happier, more well-balanced lives.
Phuket is certainly privileged in having so many of these heath practitioners living and working here, but their presence begs the question: “Why choose Phuket to practice? Is the populace so dreadfully unwell that your business is always going to be thriving?”
The Phuket Health & Fitness Festival was staged at multiple locations around the south of the island,
including Atmanjai Wellness Center, Mangosteen Resort and Spa, and Serenity Resort & Residences,
bringing together practitioners in numerous fields. Video: PGTV / Phuket Today
I set out to talk to many of these practitioners during the wellness-fest to discover whether Phuket was in fact healthier and happier, or conversely, distinctly unhealthy and unhappy, compared to the rest of the planet.
What I learned was encouraging and depressing in equal measure and at the heart of it all there lurks a savage paradox of inequity.
If you Google ‘best detox programs’ you will see that Thailand features heavily on the all-important first Google page, beyond which almost no one has the time to read these days. Clearly Phuket is a hotbed of wellness, or at least it is to a well-heeled international elite who can afford to fly here to detox or get their head together in order to fly back to the rat race and start their lives again.
In addition, Phuket is full of highly regarded wellness practitioners and it turns out the reasons they are practicing here, rather than say Grimsby, are the exact same reasons that bring millions of hedonistic tourists. The answer is simple – sun, sand, sea, a laid-back tropical isle, friendly natives, great food and a relatively inexpensive cost structure compared to most of the alternatives.
Michael Massey is the Director of Atmanjai Wellness Center and a major driving force behind the Wellness Festival itself. He summed up the reasons people seeking wellness tend to gravitate to our warm sunny climes most eloquently, saying: “Let’s face it, if you are having to do daily coffee enemas to cleanse your system, you’re more likely to buckle down to it overlooking beautiful Friendship Beach, rather than on a cold, grey winter’s morning in London.”
Sharon Cassius, the Wellness Director at Atmanjai, agrees:
“Getting out of the everyday groove is an important part of doing a successful detox and getting your life back on to a positive track. Here at Friendship Beach, we find clients become relaxed and comfortable, and are more able to do the often difficult emotional work that they need. In addition, Phuket offers many interesting complementary activities that our clients can enjoy while they are here.”
Geti Pici is the vivacious Zumba teacher who led both adult and kids’ classes at the Festival. Originally from Venice, she says:
“Italy is all stress and chasing money these days and no-one has any time for themselves any more. I came to Phuket to escape all that and now I am living my dream, sharing the music and energy of Zumba, which I love, and living on this delightful island.”
Tobi Warzinek originally came to Phuket as a backpacker after spending seven years at the Center of Higher Tibetan Studies in Switzerland. Fascinated by Theravada Buddhism, he gravitated towards Thailand and in 2009 founded Phuket Meditation, where he teaches Buddhist Dharma and mindfulness. Tobi says:
“There’s a global trend of increasing health and nutritional consciousness in response to the increased levels of stress caused by living in overcrowded cities chasing money and materialism.”
Tobi agrees with Michael Massey, saying:
“The main stressors are money, time pressure, relationship problems and substance abuse, and increasingly, young people are questioning their way of life and looking for more balance. In Phuket they can find that, at least while they are here, but it is what they take back home with them that really counts.”
Clearly Phuket is something of a Mecca for health and wellness practitioners and their usually young, international, up-market clients who fly here to cope with the travails of modern life back home.
But this is where the paradox in all this arises. Phuket recently achieved the decidedly grumpy score of just 24.2 per cent on the 2013 Thailand Happiness Index, making it the third most unhappy place in the country, with only Bangkok (20.8 per cent) and Samut Prakan (22 per cent) rated as even more dour!
The Academic Network for Community Happiness Observation and Research (ANCHOR) at Assumption University surveyed opinions of 12,429 people nationwide. The resultant index scores the local Thai populace’s self evaluation of how happy they are on 17 specific criteria. These include family relationships, current occupation, physical and mental health, culture and tradition, community relationships, housing and infrastructure, access to medical services, financial security, education, safety in life and property, natural resources and environment, and social justice.
Specifically, Phuketians rated themselves as less than happy because of increasing urbanization and materialism; high crime rates; relationships in family and community in crisis; drug problems and alcoholism; disunity and bias in society; anger; public antipathy to government and local authorities. Tellingly, there was almost total distrust in the government’s sincerity or ability to do anything about the problems that make Phuketians so unhappy.
It is both sad and ironic that Phuket attracts wellness professionals and their clients from around the world to come and re-balance themselves amidst the pleasures of a tropical isle, but also increasingly disbars local residents from feeling good about themselves and their lives.
Surely a good place to start to redress this paradox is to encourage local people to get outdoors onto our glorious beaches and parks and move their bodies.
So don’t just sit there, move it Phuket! Get out and enjoy some of the fantastic amenities and beautiful nature our great island has to offer and start on the path to your own health and wellness goals.
— Baz Daniel
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