Want to grab lunch after Pilates? Do a little shopping after yoga? Book a reiki treatment post-meditation? A growing trend in the UAE is Los Angeles-style wellness centres, which are holistic destinations that go beyond offering classes, and focus on personal growth, nutrition, rehabilitation, healing and mental health.
Asma Lootah was running a small Pilates studio – “two teachers, no reception” – in 2011, when she envisioned something much more expansive. It was 2014 by the time she opened The Hundred Wellness Centre in Jumeirah, a large villa that today offers physiotherapy and homoeopathy, therapies and services such as DNA testing, and an infrared sauna. There are also regular yoga, sculpting and circuit classes, healthy food and juices at The Hundred Cafe – and even a weekly farmer’s market for organic produce.
Nadia Sehweil and her mother, Sharifa, launched Bodytree Studio in Abu Dhabi in 2007. The popular studio has grown over the years, branching out from its focus on yoga and Pilates. It now offers a wide range of classes, including its own brand of intense Bodytree Body workouts; clean snacks at cafe Nectar juice bar; a retail space; a nutritionist; life coach and reiki healer; a visiting massage therapist; and a regular schedule of workshops and wellness events.
The studio has become more than a place to go to for exercise, with women regularly hanging out here after class and new expats congregating soon after they arrive in the city. "That's amazing and that's what we want," says Sehweil. "We want to reach out to people who have just moved here. I think it's hard to find everything under one roof; I really think Bodytree is unique in that way."
When Soniyaa Kiran Punjabi returned to Dubai in 2006 after studying in London and India, she says: "There wasn't a single place where you could even run a meditation class." Punjabi thought she'd only draw friends and family to her first event at a hotel, but 45 people turned up. That set her on a journey that has resulted in two Illuminations well-being centres – the first opened in Jumeirah Lakes Towers in 2011, and the second in Mirdif last year.
Illuminations offers a large variety of therapies, including chakra healing, past-life regression and crystal-bowl meditation, as well as classes in everything from biomagnetic healing to the laws of attraction. A retail shop stocks healing products such as salt lamps and crystals.
Punjabi, a clinical hypno-therapist, said she changed her life after losing a friend in a car accident years ago, and wanted to share that journey with others. “That got me really searching for answers,” she says. “What we’re doing here; what life is all about.”
Eda Grungor, meanwhile, opened Life’n One Centre in Jumeirah in 2014, after finding herself drawn to healing therapies. She admits that people still don’t completely understand what she is doing, but once they visit, they realise it’s more than a place to do yoga.
In addition to yoga, Pilates and in-demand meditation classes, there are in-house coaches specialising in reiki and theta healing; visiting practitioners; a cafe serving plant-based foods; and a retail space selling sustainable, ecological and man-made items – think sage bundles and cork wallets – with most of the proceeds returned back to indigenous communities. There is also a rooftop space and garden. The main goal is to help Dubai’s stressed-out city dwellers to relax, says Grungor. “I think this side of the world needs a higher vibration.”