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Shui Spa, The Beach House at Manafaru, Maldives

(Update 2019: The former Beach House Maldives is now Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi)

The Beach House at Manafaru Island, Maldives is a head-turner and one of the Maldives' northernmost resorts. Just 11 percent of its 35 lush acres were developed, with 68 designer villas including stunning over-water accommodations.

The Shui Spa is located in the middle of the island, accessible through a vestibule containing waterfalls and flower arrangements. To reach reception, you traverse a paved walkway over a winding stream is lined by foliage and orchids leads.

Our first visit was to set up what treatments we would have. Signature choices included Veli Modun, a traditional Maldivian Sand Message (the sand is used for exfoliation, not in the massage), Chocolate Extravagance involving four “courses” using chocolate-based ingredients, Jamu Traditional Bali involves using a pouch of steamed herbs that are pressed against the body’s meridians, and Fusion Indulgence for tense muscles combining Swedish, Balinese, Japanese Shiatsu, Thai and aroma therapy along with Hawaiian Lomi-Lomi, which is said to mean the loving touch by some, and simply massage by others. To Kathy, it meant what it’s usually associated with in spas – a treament performed by two people, thus four hands.

Fletcher’s choice was a bit more involved, because his personality goes against anyone walking all over him. Nevertheless, in the line of duty, he selected the Marma massage where the masseuse uses his feet to achieve a deep tissue treatment like no other. Still, Fletcher was a bit apprehensive about his visit.

Unlike for most other massages, for the Marma, there is no table. Says Fletcher, “The room Alex led me to had a massage table, but it also had a large mattress on the floor and two ropes, knotted at their ends, hanging from the ceiling. Alex asked me to lie face down, arms spread out from my side.

“The first thing I felt was a splattering of warm oil on my back, soon followed by pressure from Alex. Honestly, I could not tell if it was his foot or hands, but the I could tell that I was going to like the next hour. I could not see what was happening, mostly because my eyes were closed, so I was glad Kathy was able to record some of it on tape. Watching it amazed me, but not more than the results: it was the best treatment I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot.

“Alex used the ropes to balance himself and not ‘step’ on me, as it were. He used all parts of his foot – bottom, sides, ball and toes – to work my muscles in a variety of techniques: long flowing from butt to shoulders; swirling pressure from the front of his feet; short, intense movements with his toes all accompanied by what seemed like gallons of oil.

“I did turn over, and on my front Alex used his feet and hands, but I didn’t even watch: my eyes were covered for a time with a cloth, but even when he took that off, I still kept my lids shut.

“His work on my chest and abdominal area was also nearly perfect, and how he used his feet on my thighs, calves and ankles made me wonder where I could find Marma massage in America.

“As a finale, he had me sit up, legs out straight, and worked on my shoulders and neck. This was all done with his hands, locating pressue points and muscle groups that obviously needed work after our 36 hours of travel that put us at The Beach House the day before.

“Alex instructed me to put my hands behind my head, and slipping his hands under my forearms and grabbing my wrists, he pulled back, cracking my back better than any chiropractor has even done to me.”

Sitting down with Spa Manager Kristina Peter, we were told a little more about Marma and Alex. Marma means energy point and is a form of reflexology. The use of feet allows for greater pressure to be exerted over a greater area. Alex, it turns out is not only a senior therapist but also a martial arts expert and used those skills to deliver the treatment. Watching him position his weight and use the ropes to balance almost looked like he was doing a katta in karate or a dance routine.

Marma, it turns out, does not have to be administered only with the feet, and is a part of Ayurveda medicine, the ancient healing system of India. It is also referred to as marma shakti, and the therapy addresses energy points to open channels in the body called strotas. Shakti means energy, and those energy points have to be triggered to release it.

Spa Manager Peter considers the spa as healing center. She tells us the spa’s name, Shui, means flowing water, and the spa’s philosophy takes into account that water is a universal agent for life, our bodies being comprised mostly of water and water being where we come from as life starts.

Marma is a Sanskrit word meaning “hidden,” or “secret,” as in knowing where the energy points are is the key.

Fletcher adds, “This is one secret I’m happy to share. If you are ever able to visit The Beach House at Manafaru, get a massage from Alex."

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