While guests at Thailandâ€™s Banyan Tree Phuket lounge by their villasâ€™ private plunge pools, watch the sunset at Bang Tao Beach, and bliss out at the spa, some serious schooling goes down a few hundred feet away at the Banyan Tree Spa Academy. Spa therapists at Banyan Treeâ€™s 42 resorts worldwide must complete 350 hours of Spa Academy training: anatomy, theory, and customer service classes; how-to lessons on making body scrubs and herbal sachets; and hands-on workshops to learn how to masterfully perform every single treatment on the Banyan Tree Spa menu.
On a recent trip to Thailand, I traded vacation for vocation for a few hours and spent a morning as a Banyan Tree therapist in training. I shadowed therapists as they prepped the spaâ€™s treatment rooms â€“ 20 pavilions cocooned in lush tropical gardens â€“ for the dayâ€™s services. (The spa opens at 10am, but therapists are already at work by eight.) In a small lab room, a few women mashed a green apple body scrub in a mortar, while others worked to set up each room, using a 44-point checklist as their guide.
Afterward, I headed over to the Spa Academy (housed in a nondescript building adjacent to the resort), where I donned the spaâ€™s signature purple linens for a lesson in Thai massage. The art is one of the first practices therapists learn at the Spa Academy, and anyone whoâ€™s received this ancient, centuries-old treatment can attest to the skill and pressure required by those who administer it. Strength training for the hands and fingers is no joke, I learned, as I winced while counting to ten and squeezing my hand-gripper tool together as tightly as possible. Students perform these exercises daily, and work with their classmates for months in a workshop-style setting, perfecting their massage techniques.
The experience left me way more appreciative of the 90-minute treatment I received the day before. I laid on the massage table, my face tucked into the cradle, looking down at a bowl of lotus flowers on the ground. I know now that those were strategically placed there just to make me feel more relaxed. And while my therapist soothed my long-haul weary muscles with warm herbal sachets, I hadnâ€™t thought about the hours of classroom time that went into learning exactly where to place those compresses on my bodyâ€™s meridians and energy lines for optimal relief. Banyan Tree spas have earned their share of accolades over the years. Therapists create five-star experiences for guests who likely donâ€™t realize the hours that go into their relaxation â€“ but thatâ€™s exactly the point.
Images courtesy of Banyan Tree Phuket.Â
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