In Japan since 1982, people suffering from different sickness, on top of their regular medicines are asked to bath in forest. This public health programme which would eventually be implemented all over the country led to the country’s forestry ministry to coin the phrase shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ which includes just being near trees, not hiking or walking, but just enjoying and appreciating, even sitting underneath plants.
To some who have negative reaction to holistic healing and wellness, this seemed to not make sense at all. But a scientific study proved that this truly works. For eight years starting in 2004, over $4 million dollars were spent by Japanese officials to study the physiological and psychological effects of shinrin-yoku. One if the eventual result is the discovery that exposure to woods results to the rapid activity of human natural killer (NK) cells in the immune system. This activity leads to cancer prevention and more exposure to the forest have positive effect on the human body.
In 2016, Vikram Loomba, Director of Hospitality, Real Estate and Leisure Advisory Practice at PwC Middle East shared with Oman Observer that the Sultanate is well-suited to emerge as the ‘wellness tourism’ capital of the Middle East.
Loomba was quoted saying, “Across the region, you will find this is one sector (Wellness tourism) that has not been tapped. Given its natural topography and the beauty of its landscapes, wellness tourism is something Oman can definitely capitalise on.”
He also added, “And if I may go so far as to add, Oman could position itself as the wellness capital of the Middle East.”
The 2013 figures during which the report was written had experts ‘valued the spa and wellness segments of the global tourism economy at an astounding $3.4 trillion with wellness tourism accounting for around 15 per cent of this total.”
When it comes to wellness and holistic healing, Dr Mary Ann is the country’s foremost expert. She has many skills but two which she employed all the time are her power of observation and deduction and her ability to recall a wealth of wellness information she has stored in her brain learned in over five decades.
She has several degrees and certifications on wellness under her belt and with years of training, she is currently acting as Director of Communication and Development for one of the country’s esteemed luxury resorts.
“Everything in nature has a positive effect on the body. The seasons we experience all lead to detoxification. Green is associated with the heart. We absorb it through our eyes and it calms the heart, mind and senses,” she said.
“Al Nahda is the first organisation to bring holistic healing and wellness to the Middle East. When we brought it here in 2005, we were so popular that we have to send some of our therapists to other countries and they come back in the evening,” she said.
Like the therapy offered by the lush greenery of Japan, the Sultanate offers a very different, yet equally healing natural retreat that is known through the world for its wellness and health benefits.
Dr Mary Ann shared, “Oman has everything — it has the mountains, the oceans, the sandy beaches and desert and the temperature that all contributes to wellness if tapped properly. It’s the only country in the Middle East that has this unique quality to it.”
She added, “The Dhofar region of Salalah has something that can’t be found anywhere else in the Middle East. The gentle mist it creates is not only refreshing but good for the body. You have this fruits and rains and the lush greenery that you can use.”
“Every element, plant, seed, fruit and flower has properties that benefit its users when used correctly. They hold secrets that have disappeared through the ages but are now making their way back as more and more people turn back to nature to heal their mind, body and soul,” she said.
For example, commonly found across the region, the neem tree is known across Asia for its cleansing properties. Dr Mary Ann pointed out, “I brought some trees with me and planted them at the property of the hotel. This tree at night, when all the other plants are releasing carbon dioxide, absorbs them and other toxic elements in the air. They clean up the space from all pollutants including bacteria and organic toxins.
But she said other than the plants, it’s the Middle Eastern desert of Oman that holds the key to wellness.
“Oman’s golden sand is the biggest wellness healer in the world that I know off. It is the reason why we include bathing you in sand in our spa and wellness programme in Dunes by Al Nahda,” she said.
“It can cure broken joints, can help you lose weight, beautify your skin and help get rid of eczema, alleviate pain caused by arthritis. Burying yourself in the sand is a wellness programme practised by the Egyptians in Cleopatra’s time but lost to mankind,” she said.
“In Uru, which was named after the most advance civilisation to man but disappeared, we are taking back all the lost knowledge and rely on nature for wellness and good health,” she said.
“Sitting on the sand takes away all toxins from your body,” she said.
For those of us in Oman, the idea of sitting under a tree in the peak of summer doesn’t sound appealing nor relaxing, but the country has an alternative.
“Plants and vegetation contributes to overall wellness. But let’s not forget the real treasure of the country — sand — and use it to our advantage,” she said.
YERU EBUEN & TITASH CHAKRABORTY -