a health and wellness holiday

Michelle Liu
February 27, 2024

Hawaii is one of the top vacation destinations in the U.S. and for good reason, with our stunning beaches, ono food, sunny skies, and cultural sites. While you’ll find visitors driving along the coastline or immersing themselves in history at Pearl Harbor, some people come solely to improve or maintain their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Outdoor pools are part of the wellness experience at Kukuiula. Photo courtesy Kukuila

It’s part of a growing trend known as wellness tourism. While there are world-class spas, unique yoga experiences, and luxurious wellness retreats around the world, Hawaii offers travelers opportunities to relax, rejuvenate, and recenter by experiencing Hawaiian culture and connecting with the land and sea.

What is a wellness vacation?
While it’s up to each person to decide their idea of a wellness vacation, it’s generally a trip that allows you to rest and recover, mentally and physically. For some, soaking in hot springs or getting a massage may be the perfect reprieve from the stress and chaos of daily life. For others, exploring the great outdoors may help them unwind and recharge. At Kukuiula on Kauai, guests get a little bit of both.

“There’s a sense of adventure and a connection to nature,” says Sienna Creasy, the spa and wellness director at Kukuiula. “Whether you’re surfing or taking a yoga class, it can help regulate your nervous system. We get overwhelmed by society’s expectations and what we place on ourselves, but these activities can help bring us back to balance.”

Enjoy time in the sauna room or go paddleboarding. Photo courtesy Kukuiula

Kukuiula emphasizes local in its wellness experience. Spa scrubs, masks, and skin care treatments are all made with ingredients grown on property at The Farm, which is 10 acres filled with organically grown vegetables, tropical fruits, and fresh flowers. While guests are free to harvest their own herbs and greens, the produce is also used in the property’s farm-to-fork restaurants

“What we eat should come from the land we’re sleeping and living on,” says Creasy. “It nourishes us. It aligns us with the aina.”

Malama aina and wellness
There’s a similar vibe at Kalani Big Island Wellness Center, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainability and wellness by fostering a connection with the land.

The wellness center is in the heart of the coastal rainforest. Guests are invited to participate in a variety of community-based projects that malama aina.

Guests making poi with some guidance. Photo courtesy Kalani

“When you connect with the land, you connect with yourself,” says Angel Lemaster, executive assistant at Kalani. “Being out in this environment – the smell of the ocean, hearing coqui frogs at night, even the pouring rain – tickles the senses. It’s a good detox for the nervous system to be surrounded by nature, which helps bring an overall sense of peace and well-being.”

Connecting with self and sea
The outdoors plays a significant role in another unique wellness experience in Hawaii. Standup paddleboard yoga combines the deep sense of peace from yoga with the uplifting feeling of being on the ocean.

Taking time to slow down and connect with nature. Photo courtesy Yoga Floats

“We’re appreciating the outdoors and the beauty of Hawaii,” says Kelsey Moore, founder of Yoga Floats. “We start with simple poses in terms of balance and build up to the tree pose. That part’s a lot of fun – people really connect with water then because they let themselves fall into the ocean. And then we’ll slow it back down into a savasana at the end of class.”

That’s when you lie on the paddleboard, relaxing one body part at a time as you float among the gentle waves.

“You’re feeling the ocean,” says Moore. “It helps ground you and be present. And it’s a way to appreciate your surroundings and tune into all elements of nature with our senses.”

The challenging tree pose comes towards the end of class. Photo courtesy Yoga Floats

Respecting the land
Being inspired by Hawaii’s beauty also means understanding the importance of Hawaiian culture. Kukuiula hosts sunrise ceremonies, Olelo Hawaii and ukulele classes, and lei-making lessons.

“We’re guests on this land, so understanding the cultural respect is integral to staying here,” says Creasy. “For people to feel well, there needs to be respect for the space and land you’re on.”

That lesson also comes through in the hands-on experiences at Kalani, whether that’s gardening or removing invasive species to restore the ecological system.

Connecting with the land and each other. Photo courtesy Kalani

“By getting in touch with the land, we hope people walk away with an appreciation for Hawaiian land and culture,” says Lemaster. “And when you leave here, spread that love and knowledge.”

Lucky we live Hawaii
Seeking wellness doesn’t have to be limited to an annual vacation. “Lucky we live Hawaii” is a popular saying across the Islands to show gratitude for Hawaii’s natural beauty and all the experiences we can only find here. Whether that’s hiking, laying out on the beach, or simply taking in the view, you can implement wellness living, however that’s defined to you.

Yoga (on water or land) can be beneficial to your health and wellness. Photo courtesy Yoga Floats

“Turning wellness into your lifestyle can help you take better care of yourself,” says Creasy. “Making it part of our ritual would mean a healthier culture and improved mental health. Take a walk after work; make a salad instead of frozen pizza for dinner; read a book instead of binge watch TV. Just choose one thing that starts the cycle.”

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