Nowadays, every spa worth its sea-salt scrub gives a nod to Asia and its millennia-old wellness traditions. And from massages grounded in Eastern philosophies to body treatments using lotions and potions made from ingredients that are indigenous to the continent, Asia has proven to be one of the world’s best marketers of sybaritic pleasures.
But in their truest form, the continent’s healing modalities do more than just put spa-goers into a decidedly relaxed state (though, there’s nothing wrong with that). Research has shown that traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Thai healing, and Japanese onsen, among others, are beneficial in both the prevention and treatment of cancer, heart disease, obesity, stress, diabetes, and a host of other ailments. And thanks to a number of forces inside Asia that are making the continent’s indigenous medicines more accessible, Orient-bound travelers can tap into such healing modalities like never before. Catering to those who want a tune-up — be it physical or mental — along with their 500-thread-count sheets, bottles of Dom Pérignon, and elaborate multicourse meals (should the doctor allow them), an increasingly prevalent breed of hotels is giving their guests access to doctors and bonafide healers in addition to their highly skilled spa therapists.
Which means for holistically minded travelers it’s easier than ever to fit a wellness-oriented pilgrimage in with your next Asian odyssey — whether you’re in need of a quick fix or in it for the healthful long haul. Here, from the mountains of Japan to the beaches of Thailand, our picks for where to go for a little Eastern enlightenment.
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
The Tradition: While China is known as a nation that is hurtling headfirst into the future, its wellness aims are wonderfully rooted in the past. Traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, has been the health-care standard in China for more than 2,200 years. Rooted in principles of energy flow and balance, the holistic medicine teaches that in order to be well, our qi — pronounced “chee” and loosely translated to mean energy — must flow smoothly between meridian points throughout our bodies. Another fundamental of TCM is the concept of yin and yang. These two contrasting energetic states, which some think of as darkness and light, exist in perfect balance in our bodies when we are healthy; disease is the physical manifestation of the breakdown between yin and yang, which leads to imbalance inside the body. TCM doctors help fix such conditions with a course of herbs, diet, exercise (tai chi, for example), and therapies such as acupuncture, tui na massage (a deep form of bodywork that involves manipulations like pushing, pulling, and rolling in order to restore the healthy flow of qi), and reflexology, a massage that focuses solely on the feet, hands, and ears, which are regarded as microcosms of the larger body.