I Went To A 'Divorce Spa' To Try To Relax My Way Out Of A Breakup. Here's What Happened

Photo by Ivan Gener

As I prepared for my traditional Asian hand massage on Koh Samui, an island off the coast of Thailand, a young man dressed in orange scrubs asked me how I liked the pressure: light, medium, or strong.

"Strong?" I offered. He raised an eyebrow, as if to say, do you know what you're in for? I nodded. I was here to go for it. My two-decade marriage had just collapsed a few months earlier, and I needed maximum healing. I'd been told by my personal wellness consultant here that the hand massage was based on traditional Korean acupuncture. It would help release sadness, grief, and open energy channels to my heart.

When I'd been invited by the Kamalaya wellness sanctuary and holistic spa to give a talk based on my book, The Nature Fix: How Being in Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, I jumped at the chance. Months earlier, a friend of mine who'd also gone through a painful heartbreak had whispered to me, as if passing along a secret amulet, Go to Kamalaya. The spa was known for, among other things, a program called "embracing change." She swore it sped up her recovery and helped her think differently about her future.

Lying on the massage table in one of many open-air treatment rooms looking out onto an explosively green canopy of native trees, I was soon tearing up in a combination of pain and, yes, perhaps some emotional release. Was it my heart chakra opening? Who knew? I'd already experienced the slightly weird but deeply relaxing Chi Nei Tsang—a belly massage—and I was about to head out to an energy work session with a Reiki healer. I was willing to try just about anything, especially if it involved feeling human touch, spending time on a pretty beach, and consuming massaman curries.

Heartbreak is a wily and dangerous demon. It knocks you over the head with grief, sleeplessness, weight loss, and anxiety but then continues to sneak up on you to poke your immune system, your sense of self-confidence, and your mental clarity. I was facing more uncertainty than I ever had: What would become of me now, romantically, financially, and existentially?

My task for the week was both simple and challenging: break out of a fight-or-flight mindset.

Time may help heal all wounds, but the idea is that a dedicated and thoughtful program geared toward acceptance, forgiveness, and health can help speed time up. "Resiliency has to be strengthened and supported," Kamalaya's founder Karina Stewart told me. "These are not just spa treatments. They are supporting the whole treatment plan. This is what Kamalaya is all about."

My task for the week was both simple and challenging: break out of a fight-of-flight mindset. Calm the fuck down. The spa's Embracing Change program is designed to help you do just that: by giving you tools like breathing exercises to deactivate feelings of fear, anxiety, and inspiration for healthful living like eating low-toxicity foods going forward.

By the time I got to see my energy healer/Reiki master, my arms and upper shoulders were aching from the hand massage, but they were presumably "open." In our 90-minute session, a beautiful, willowy expat took me through a powerful guided meditation called "exchanging hearts." In it, I was asked to visualize my ex-husband and then visualize us letting each other go by unspooling our entangled hearts. I cried through most of it. As I envisioned giving him his heart bits back, I felt an uncanny coolness entering my chest cavity, like a wind through my ribs. But then I visualized taking my heart bits back, and I felt the warmth come back.

My personal wellness consultant also recommended a course in acupuncture, massage, classes, and practices, including downtime, reflection, and meditation in a historic Buddhist cave on the property. I don't know if any of it worked to heal my heart, but I did feel lighter, cleansed, and pretty blissed-out by the end of my stay.

I came home newly inspired to continue the breathing exercises I learned and the grounding qigong practice, as well as to make the delicious Thai-inflected fruit and veggie recipes. Self-care is an important component of getting over being dumped, and this was a solid start. I occasionally caught myself feeling moments of joy and gratitude for the beauty all around and the dedicated and friendly staff. It wasn't the end of heartbreak, but it was a glimpse of the far shore of it, a place I now felt for which I could at least set a compass course.

Struggling in your relationship? Here's how this communication tactic could help.

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