by Dina Khadr
  • 11 minute read
  • July 14, 2021
Island Mentality

A trend that emerged recently in the Middle East – and peaked throughout the pandemic – is the discussion concerning the importance of mental and emotional health. As shown by a number of studies and research, an evident link has been made between mental health and physical health. And perhaps as a result, a rise in alternative therapies can be witnessed across the region – with younger generations opting to try treatments their parents would never have considered. Holistic wellness, which takes a person as a whole – body, mind and soul – encompasses the gamut of these alternative therapies, and it has seen a steady rise within the region. Viewing ourselves through this multidimensional lens is an acknowledgment of the complex beings that we actually are, and it takes into account that when one extension of our intricate being is ailing, it inevitably affects the rest of ‘machine’. Enter Beyond Wellness – “the UAE’s first transformational wellness platform”; one where body, soul and spirit come together to birth a happy, healthy human being.

Offering therapy, group and corporate classes, workshops, luxury retreats, sound healing, energy modalities, life coaching, hypnotherapy and a plethora of other treatments, Beyond Wellness was founded by two incredible women, who are a testament to the success of holistic wellness: Rachel Dowes, and Sophia Bakkal. Beyond Wellness has already organized several luxury retreats, with the most recent one taking place in the Maldives. The next five-day retreat will be taking place from 23 to 27 August and will be located at the Vilamendhoo Island Retreat and Spa.

As well as daily life coaching, hypnotherapy workshops, an individual life coaching and energy healing session, daily group yoga and meditation, two group sound healing sessions, a nutrition workshop, crystal chakra alignment, a 60 minute massage at the spa, and extra-curricular activities such as a sunset cruise, snorkelling, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking, participants are welcome to reconnect with themselves amidst stretches of crystal blue water neighboring towering palm trees that attest to a world whose healing powers we often forget: nature.

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Understanding Holistic Wellness

Holistic Wellness is the acceptance that, first and foremost, our body, mind and soul work in conjunction with each other. It is the understanding that our body, mind and soul are all interconnected; it is the recognition that the interactions between our body, mind and soul inevitably affect the whole. Holistic wellness includes therapies such as energy work, yoga, hypnotherapy, meditation and Reiki, among many other practices.

When we talk about hypnotherapy however, the first thing that comes to mind is what we’ve been fed by the entertainment industry and pop culture’s version of what this actually is. The reality of it is far simpler, and turns out we’ve all practised some form or version of being in a state of hypnosis, throughout our lifetime. According to certified hypnotherapist and co-founder of Beyond Wellness, Rachel Dowes, most of us go through trance-like states throughout our days when driving the car on autopilot, or meditating, or even getting lost in the pages of our favorite novel. “Hypnotherapy is a trance-like state of focus and concentrations achieved with the help of a clinical hypnotherapist,” explains Rachel. “In this state, we can access the subconscious mind, which is 3,000 times more powerful than the conscious mind we operate from every day.”

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“During a hypnotherapy session, by going deep into a trance-like state, we’re able to bypass the protective filter of the conscious mind so that we can work directly in the subconscious, where the problem is,” Rachel tells Villa 88.

Hypnotherapy workshops are one of the activities that are tailored into Beyond Wellness’s escape to the Maldives. And the benefits are endless. Rachel explains that “using relaxation techniques, imagery and the power of suggestion, hypnotherapy is a fantastic tool to ‘reprogram our software’ in order to change unhealthy or unwanted thoughts, behaviors or habits.”

Rachel’s journey with hypnotherapy started after years of trying to fall pregnant. “A friend recommended hypnotherapy,” recounts Rachel. “I figured I had nothing to lose. During my hypnotherapy sessions, we discovered that I’d sub-consciously been holding onto a lot of fear around having a child, due to my own childhood trauma. Releasing these fears around motherhood still to this day is one of the most profound moments of my life.”

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Reconnecting With Yourself

The retreat organized by Beyond Wellness aims to help its participants reconnect with themselves, and the world around them. In allowing yourself to reconnect with the body in an environment that encourages you to find the stillness and serenity that might otherwise be lost to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Beyond Wellness’s holistic activities are a starting point for rejuvenating the soul, the mind and thus the body. “For us, there’s nothing quite like seeing dolphins swimming by during a yoga session or meditating at night on the beach and witnessing bioluminescent plankton lighting up an entire ocean into a field of glowing stars,” says Sophia Bakka, other half of Beyond Wellness’s founding team, who started her journey into holistic wellness after winning a battle against cancer; not once, but twice.

While Sophia’s journey with life coaching started for different reasons, it is not dissimilar in spirit to what drove Rachel to seek refuge in hypnotherapy and holistic wellness. Discovering that she had cancer in 2013, while pregnant, with an eight-months-old baby at home and a corporate life to lead, it was the first time Sophia truly understood wellness. Heading to France for treatment, she was forced to pause and reflect on her life. Sophia describes going to a wellness retreat for the first time. “It was in South of France in a thermal water region Gréoux-Les-Bains where I discovered holistic wellness. It was an answer and reassurance to all my reflections during the treatment.”

This epiphany would change the course of her career, and she went on to get her life-coaching qualifications and has even trained with Tony Robbins. Omnaking a switch from corporate life to holistic wellness, Sophia explains “it was evident and natural. At the beginning I was afraid in terms of the financial security, but my will to transmit everything I know won over.”

Life coaching is a relatively new practice in the region; one that has been having its moment in the sun – and long may it continue. According to Sophia “the relationship between the life coach and the coachee is naturally resourceful, creative and whole. Life coaching focuses on the present.”

On the enlightenment that led her on her journey and subsequently to where she is today, Sophia says that she “discovered the holistic approach with my cancers. Instead of focusing on my cancers, I adopted an integrative approach where I was focusing on me as a whole: not only on my tumors but on my whole body, my mind and my soul.”

At the retreat, guests are invited to rediscover themselves through a series of holistic practices that put them at the center of the experience. Through sound therapy, crystal healing, yoga, massages and an amalgamation of various therapies for the soul, mind and body, common conditions that come with the burden of modern life, are tackled – and perhaps, forgotten for a little while, as participants are submerged in the ethereal natural landscapes of the Maldives. “Rachel and myself are challenging the participants to reclaim and revitalize their lives. Unlike other retreats, we cater to the body, mind and spirit and aim to address the holistic whole. Helping them rejuvenate and realign the senses, helping them to reconnect with themself, others and the world around them,” elaborates Sophia. “Simultaneously restoring the body’s natural vitality with a delicious detox program designed by our wellness chef, which is packed with nutrient-rich vegetarian meals and fruit juices, to cleanse your body of toxins, restore vital nutrients, reclaim your energy and enhance mental processing.”

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Unleash Your Power

Healing is a personal journey that is specific to each individual person. With a wide array of therapies and healing practices available, these alternative therapies have become more accessible than ever. All that’s missing is our will and drive to step out of our comfort zone, and perhaps, on some level, a sense of adventure, for us to begin our quest to heal and ultimately, unleash our full potential. Rachel emphasizes that “healing happens on many levels and for most people, it can be a life-long process. It is a deeply personal path that is completely different for everyone.”

The Reiki master goes on to share her own personal journey saying that she “explored naturopathy, Chinese medicine, nutrition and kinesiology to work on my health issues. I used Reiki, Pranic healing and acupuncture to work on my energy and subtle body. Each modality I tried, led to another – all helping in their own way. My advice would be to take your time, research and see what you feel drawn to…Try a few and see what resonates. The rest will happen organically.”

A concern that became increasingly evident during the pandemic, as the world was put on pause, was that we were, in fact, overworked and constantly on drive mode. Today, in the corporate world specifically, employees are suffering from burn out, working longer hours, with little to no time for themselves and their families – which is usually to the detriment of their mental health. And this has been an endemic that has been underway for decades. Rachel tells Villa 88 that many of their clients “will come to our retreats suffering with issues such as stress and burnout, grief or chronic health conditions.”

Sophia adds that her aim is “that all business-owners, CEOs, and HR understand that wellness or having employees feel well is the key to their businesses. The most important resource in a company is not the system or process, it is the employee, so we need to make sure this employee is feeling well, happy and has the right work-life balance.”

Stress has previously been linked to a weakened immune system, with chronic stress specifically, leading to a suppression of immune cells as well as causing inflammations in the body. During the past year, with stress and anxiety reaching a whole new high, the conversation about mental health, which had previously been less pronounced, has come to fruition. With COVID-19 pushing the world to be captives within their own homes, a true and inevitable reckoning with the state of our mental health has sparked a movement in terms of our wellness.

Maldives Beach

“So much of our focus at the retreat is on the management of stress and anxiety, teaching tools and techniques such as Emotional Freedom (EFT or tapping),” Rachel notes, “which works with pressure points to eliminate stress, breathwork for emotional release, affirmation formation, meditation, mantras and visualisation techniques to address our esteem issues, from self-love, confidence, to trauma release well as teaching them self-hypnosis to deal with their fears and help them achieve their goals.”

It has become evidently clear that a balance between our working lives, and our personal wellbeing is imperative. And it is by having certain systems in place that include both, that we can evolve into healthier, happier individuals. From Sophia’s perspective, “There are there spheres that we should always protect: Self/Wellness, Relationships/Family and Business/Work. And our role is to give tools to participants to apply it in their daily life to protect those three spheres.”

So, what is one of the take aways from the luxury retreat? It’s for people “to believe more in themselves (self-confidence), to love themselves more (self-love), to embrace all parts of themselves (self-acceptance), to understand their fears (fear can work at my advantage and it is not here to block me), to unlock their potential and reconnect with their inner power and greatness.

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Beyond The Retreat

“From the workshops [at the retreat], people assess where they are NOW in their lives. You cannot follow a road map or GPS if you don’t know where you are now,” Sophia declares wisely.

Beyond Wellness, which helps participants not only connect to themselves but to the world around them, doesn’t stop its involvement once the retreat comes to an end. Rather, it is a community that seeks to support its members on a long-term basis.

“Our Beyond Wellness Facebook and Instagram global communities feel like our extended family and are our favorite go to space for advice, support and ideas,” reveals Rachel. “In the current climate, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in stress, anxiety and depression, so we are offering our online community free webinars, podcasts and resources such as downloadable meditation, mindfulness and self-hypnosis, to support them to navigate job losses, family and financial pressures and we are having to offer a greater level of one on one online counselling and coaching support.”

Healing doesn’t happen overnight; the journey requires patience, commitment and courage. “While many retreats felt hugely transformative at the time, the crucial long-term support and community element beyond the retreat was missing and so it became easy to slip back into the old habits,” Rachel tells Villa 88. “With our supportive global community and a team of wellness experts in life coaching, hypnotherapy, meditation, nutrition and more, are on hand to support and celebrate our guests accomplishments ‘beyond the retreat’ through our online one to one follow up sessions and group wellness days.”

In the region, holistic wellness practices, while relatively new, are quickly gaining traction as we start to realize the integral part our mental and emotional wellbeing plays within the framework of our daily lives and overall health. Founder of Villa 88, Asma Al Fahim, describes her experience at one of Beyond Wellness’s retreats as “a life-changing experience.” Asma observes, “People are sometimes reluctant to join such retreats but with Beyond Wellness, the retreat works on the mind, body and soul, which I found to be very effective. I left feeling extremely motivated and ready for change.” Sign us up.

The next Beyond Wellness Retreat takes place from 23 to 27 August at the Vilamendhoo Island Retreat & Spa in Maldives and includes four nights, five days full-board accommodation, pool, beach, spa and fitness access from Dhs5,999. International flights and PCR tests not included. For more information, visit

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