Soneva CEO and Co-Founder Sonu Shivdasani explains how his own wellness journey inspired Soneva Soul’s personalised, integrative approach to wellness
The end of 2021 saw the launch of Soneva Soul, our new wellness concept, and an exciting new step in Soneva’s journey. Soneva Soul has been more than 25 years in the making — from the opening of the Maldives’ first luxury spa in Soneva Fushi in 1995, through the development and sale of Six Senses, and to the improvements in wellness across all our resorts. Along the way, we gathered knowledge and experience from many countries, learning from traditional therapies and remedies, and harnessing innovation and the latest advancements in treatments and diagnostics.
But the genesis of Soneva Soul comes from my own, personal wellness journey. In 2017, I became unwell with what felt like a recurrent virus – I didn’t feel on top form but, as a firm believer in the power of natural cures, I found temporary respite by consuming copious amounts of garlic tea and ginger infusions with honey and turmeric.
Subsequent checks and bloodwork revealed no clues, even after I noticed a slight swelling on the left lymph node of my neck and continued to lose a considerable amount of weight. In September the following year, after spending a long weekend with Eva in Venice and struggling to even climb the stairs, she persuaded me to stop off in London for further tests. This time, they revealed a more serious condition than I had been expecting, and I was diagnosed with Stage IV Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In the weeks and months following my diagnosis, I spent much time trying to better understand the disease, speaking to experts and cancer survivors, and reading articles and books on the subject – from conventional medicine to natural therapies and alternative healing. I was fortunate to get advice from Boston’s Dana-Farber Institute, one of the world’s leading centres for cancer research and treatment. In fact, it was the experts there who discovered that my initial diagnosis was incorrect, and my cancer was a primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
I underwent treatment at the Chemothermia Institute in Istanbul – this pioneering clinic takes an integrative approach, combining standard chemotherapy with supplementary protocols, such as a modified diet and complementary therapies to support the immune system, build up the body’s natural defences and make the chemotherapy more effective. I strongly believe these complementary therapies played an important role in my healing – my first PET scan in early 2019 revealed that the cancer had completely disappeared, and I am thankful that my bi-annual scans have since remained clear.
It was during my treatment in Istanbul that we developed the plans for the expansion of Soneva Jani, to include a ‘Chapter Two’. At the time, I was reading Dr Kelly Turner’s book, Radical Remission – the book looks at particular actions one needs to take in order to achieve radical remission, focusing on mental wellbeing. Eva and I have always been inspired by the power and majesty of nature, and there is a growing body of research that reveals its profound influence on one’s mental and physical wellbeing – from reducing blood pressure and damaging stress hormone levels, to improving mood, immune system function and the rate of healing.
We decided then that Soneva Jani Chapter Two’s new wellness centre (which would become our first Soneva Soul) should impart our guests with a true sense of inner calm, peace and quiet, and the feeling of being at one with nature. I chose a setting on the exceptionally beautiful, eastern side of the island, high above the mangroves. Linked by raised walkways that wind their way through the treetops, the soothing sound of the waves crashing far below can be heard from the open-air treatment pavilions, while the yoga and meditation platforms offer breath-taking 360-degree views over our island and the ocean. Since then, we’ve also opened our new Soneva Soul at Soneva Fushi – an island sanctuary amidst the jungle that is built around a tranquil central water feature.
My own experience with illness and subsequent recovery showed me that being ‘well’ or healthy is never one-dimensional – rather it is finding that delicate balance between the wellbeing of one’s mind, body and soul. This has inspired the integrative, multi-disciplinary approach that we offer at Soneva Soul. Personalised to each individual guest, it supports their wellness across every part of their life: rest and recovery; self care; exercise and movement; eating well; mindful living; reconnecting with nature; relationships and community; work-life balance; posture and ergonomics.
Soneva Soul’s spectrum of treatments builds upon the knowledge we have gathered over the years, marrying ancient wellness practices and healing philosophies with the latest medical science and wellbeing innovation to offer a profound level of healing and rejuvenation. Alongside traditional therapies and rituals, including Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, yoga, naturopathy and herbalism, our guests can also experience the latest integrative treatment methodologies, such as high dose vitamin therapy, platelet-rich plasma treatments, hyperbaric oxygen, cryotherapy and hyperthermia. In addition to our team of resident experts, our global network of renowned wellness specialists join us throughout the year for extended residencies – from osteopaths and fitness gurus to yoga and meditation masters.
Wellness has always been an essential element in Soneva’s Slow Life ethos, and the launch of Soneva Soul has underlined how this runs through everything we do: the way we have built our resorts, where guests find space to breathe and reconnect as they immerse themselves in nature’s beauty; our rare, life-affirming experiences that create unforgettable memories; or our food – which, at Soneva Fushi, for example, has been described by top chefs and critics as among the best of any hotel in the world. As well as being delicious and attractive to foodies, our food is also extremely healthy: many of our ingredients, especially in salads, are grown on the island, and at least 70 percent of the animal protein consumed is sustainably sourced from our nearby sea. Dairy, white processed flour, refined sugar and beef are on the edge of extinction across our menus – we have achieved a more than 85 percent reduction in these ingredients, the avoidance of which were the basis of the dietary aspect of my own, integrative cure.
When we first began developing the concept of Soneva Soul, little could we have known back then how different today’s world would turn out to be. And yet, even with the most challenging times comes an opportunity to evolve and grow. As the impacts of the pandemic cast a shadow into a third consecutive year, it comes as no surprise that self-care is now playing an ever-more important role in people’s daily lives. In such times of lingering stress and uncertainty, reclaiming ownership of one’s physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing can feel empowering – a mindful recalibration of one’s goals and purpose, and a step towards a healthier, happier future.
About the writer: Sonu Shivdasani is the CEO and Founder of luxury resort chain Soneva.