Michael, The Making of Fivelements Hong Kong

Michael, Wellness Curator:
“Bali invites you to be healthy; Hong Kong dares you to be healthy”

What is your role?

Wellness Curator is quite a varied role, which makes it interesting. Like an art curator I’m helping to decide some of themes for our offering, as well as setting up the Sacred Arts program and selecting the artists with the co-founders, Lahra and Chicco. And most importantly perhaps, I’m helping to set the right intention and create the whole spirit of the place.

One of the ways we do this is by teaching yoga in the morning and meditation in the afternoon to the staff. It’s important as it ensures they are feeling healthy and fresh, and there’s an alignment and harmony between them, which translates into how we work together and how we work with guests. If the staff are thriving, the business will thrive.

Fivelements is very principle-based based, in fact part of my mission here is to help maintain values like Satya (truth), Prema (love), Ahimsa (non-violence), and Dharma (right conduct). We all must consider and call each other on these to create an environment where we can ask, ‘Was that really truthful?’ and ‘Was that the right thing to do?’, and what is the “right action” in this situation given our principles.

Tell us more about finding the Sacred Artists.

They all bring very special qualities and my job is to make sure they complement each other while embodying the spirit of Fivelements. What excited me the most was the Sacred Artists’ enthusiasm about working with us. That makes me feel they are the right people to be here!

For example, Anne Cousin, who uses singing bowls, is an outstanding therapist, so deep into her work, studied and practiced. She will travel from Lantau because she is so excited about the vision and working and sharing the Fivelements atmosphere.

For me, and for many of us, this isn’t just a job, it’s an evolutionary process, part of a spiritual journey.

And how will the Sacred Artists interact?

I already have ideas for collaborations between them, and ways I can combine my work with theirs too. For example I intend to be singing with Sudevi, who will be teaching movement meditation among other things, and also with May Nogoy, one of our yoga practitioners. They are both into sound healing and kirtan. Anne, our somatic therapist, will get into the pool with me for water healing, and she’s so skilled she may develop her own unique way of combining somatic therapy within the hydrotherapy environment. In this way Fivelements becomes a playground for them, giving them the opportunity to develop creatively in their healing arts.

What will your guests think?

People will be expecting a spa, but Fivelements Hong Kong is its own mini universe. It’s a healing centre, and beyond that it’s a unique healing centre. We’re designed as an ancillary service of the academy, but we’ll be offering up to 70 therapies spanning beauty, wellness and healing, as well as “healing cuisine” of the Sakti gourmet vegan restaurant.

Who is it for?

It is a destination retreat that will be serving patrons of the Hong Kong Golf and Tennis academy, as well as their guests and families. We are serving three generations – parents, children and grandparents. We’ll also be welcoming mothers-to-be with their pre- and post-natal care. In addition, we have focused therapies and experts for athlete training support for our golf and tennis players at HKGTA.

Does the spa menu reflect a sense of place?

With Gerry Bodeker of Oxford University we did an in-depth study of traditions in medicinal herbs, foods, cultural traditions, an extensive work worthyof a book, to look into the links between China and Bali. Based on cultural influences, and we’ve created treatments around this. For example the Spice Island Tribute is a body ritual that references the spice trade connection. Our Boreh body scrub and mask is based on spices that come from Bali and traded with China.

The cultural and historic ties between China and Bali are represented in the art and architecture as well. When you walk in you’ll see a Chinese coin symbolising the trade relations between Bali and China. This type of coin is still used in ritual in Bali, with one side embossed with Chinese characters and the other side with Balinese script. These are still used in Bali in spiritual offerings. Some of our art depicts royal Balinese headdresses, which are almost identical to those used in Chinese ceremonies. And in our tea sets you’ll see we’re using ceramics that evoke antique pottery referencing the Chinese way of glazing and the ceramic trade from China to Bali.

So we are looking to highlight the historical and existing connections between China and Bali.

What are the advantages of working at Fivelements Bali?

Being at the Agni Hotra (Vedic fire) ceremonies in Bali renew my dedication and focus on my life path. These extraordinary ceremonies of the Vedic tradition are being revived in Bali, in part through the success of the fire ceremonies at Fivelements. I experienced agni hotra while living in India, so being part of a ceremony feels like “coming home” in a certain kind of a way.

Here in Hong Kong, we have powerful sound healing events monthly with the Gong Meditation and Tibetan Singing Bowls, and later on we intend to have kirtan, which like the Agni Hotra in Bali, will be a community service with dinners to follow. And I hope they will be an empowering way for Hong Kongers to be nourished and bring the insights and inspirations they glean into their lives.

And the advantage of being in Hong Kong?

In Bali we might have guests returning every six months to annually, whereas here we’ll have people coming back monthly, weekly, even several times a week. We’ll get to know them, get to develop a story with them and see them grow. They’ll get to know us, our therapists and therapies. While in Bali we may never know the long-term effects of a retreat on a guest, in Hong Kong we’ll share their journey.

In Bali we’ll have the advantage of a deeper immersion, in the sacred spirituality of the land and the people. In Hong Kong we have the advantage of the continuity.

Highs of being in Hong Kong?

Winning the AsiaSpa Destination Retreat of the Year for 2016 award was awesome. But in terms of making Fivelements, one of the highs for me was bringing all the Sacred Artists together for the first time. It made my work more tangible. There was a lot of work building up to it, but finally we have this group of Sacred Artists who feel they belong here, who are highly skilled, who get along well with each other, and who are excited to be here.

What are some of the challenges of being here?

Construction has been challenging, partly as we were so eager to just begin. The project was quite delayed. And the toughest thing was getting visas for the seven therapists we wanted to bring over. We were only allowed two as trainers. I and the original seven trainers and therapists had put three month’s work in before we got the news they weren’t coming with us. It was a heartbreak as everyone had become friends, family even, as well as colleagues, and we were all excited at the anticipation of working together.

What will guests remember?

There will be many “wow” moments. The therapies will unavoidably be memorable. The food; if I have a meal at Fivelements I’m feeling high with that meal. Anyone, whatever their background will notice there’s something special during their class, their treatment or their meal.

The food especially. Chef Arnaud is a perfectionist and whatever comes out of his kitchen is going to reach a high level, even if it’s just for the staff canteen.

When you look forward to Fivelements Hong Kong’s future, what would you like it to evolve into?

I would like it to be understood as a healing experience in its own right. The patrons and guests will expect a spa but there will be a cultural learning curve to understand what we are. Fivelements is very much about a feeling, a felt experience, rather than something you can quantify or describe. The experience they will have through the sacred arts, the food and the treatments will speak for itself, and people will understand what a special place it is. I hope the intentionality will translate and people will appreciate and benefit from the extraordinary place that it is.

I would like it to be award-winning and I expect that even in the short term we will see that happening.

How do you think Fivelements will interact with Hong Kong?

I’d like it to be a resource for Hong Kong; a place that helps people to reconnect with nature, with each other, with a sense of spirituality. We hope that people will feel that at Fivelements there is an act of service and love in what we are doing. The chef is here because his loves his work. The sacred artists, the therapists, they are all here because they love this work. This is Love in action, and we offer space for life transformation; this is the vision and the purpose behind Fivelements. We hope people experience and receive that love, that care, that they resonate with us.

Fivelements is a pioneer. We are shaping the spa industry elsewhere. We are doing something unique. Who includes a fire ceremony and priest blessing? The environmental concerns, the architecture, the wellness, the food; Fivelements is a leader in all these.

It is arriving in Hong Kong with its own wave of momentum. It is going to make a big impression, influence people’s consciousness, raise their consciousness, and change how people treat themselves and each other.

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