Travel: Maui: Hawaii’s haven of fitness, wellness and mindfulness

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What I love most about Hawaii (other than the freedom to wear shorts and sandals day and night) is the abundant opportunity for self-improvement. A Hawaii escape always makes me feel healthier, more relaxed and self-connected, and mindful of the islands’ natural power to heal and rejuvenate. The native Hawaiians call it “nanea” — relaxation of the mind, body and spirit — and it keeps me coming back to the islands again and again.

On a recent sojourn on the idyllic island of Maui, I was hoping to hit the reset button after so many months of pandemic shutdown. I’m happy to say I returned feeling recharged and refreshed — and even a few pounds lighter. Mahalo, Maui!

Maui’s top resorts are leaning in on the wellness trend, offering everything from spa treatments and sunrise yoga on the beach to guided fitness runs on a beachfront path and outrigger canoe and stand-up paddling (SUP) sessions with Maui watermen. Of course, you don’t need resort pampering to reach nirvana. Maui offers plenty of opportunities for on-your-own mindfulness and wellness activities, each guaranteed to restore your inner glow. Here are just some of those offerings.

Sunrise yoga in Ka’anapali

There’s no better way to achieve Maui mindfulness than with a sunrise yoga session on the oceanfront lawn at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Ka’anapali, which serves up serene views of Molokai, Lanai and the Au’au and Pailolo channels along with the asanas.

“In yoga, they say, ‘Wake up, greet the morning and say, yes, it’s going to be a beautiful day,’” says Lysha Kamisato, one of the resort’s five yoga instructors.

Start your day with a sunrise yoga session on the oceanfront lawn at the Westin Maui Resort in Ka’anapali. (Ben Davidson Photography)

Her hour-long session prompts you to breathe, meditate and practice classic yoga poses such as adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog) and vrksasana (tree pose). It’s free for guests, but you’ll need to reserve a spot.

“Tell yourself, this is the best day of your life,” Kamisato tells us. And it is.

The resort’s new Waterman program offers three levels of engagement aimed at enthusiastic novices and more advanced adventurers, and activities that range from a two-hour beach clean-up and conversation to paddleboarding and outrigger canoes.

You can join the on-site Ka’anapali Surf Club’s new SUP course and paddle just over a mile from North Ka’anapali Beach to the beachfront of the Westin Maui. Or take an easy-going outrigger canoeing session with local watermen to Pu’u Keka’a (or Black Rock). You’ll get a floating introduction to this ancient Polynesian mode of transportation, while learning about the Lahaina region and its importance to the native Hawaiian people and royalty.

An outrigger canoeing session with local watermen to Pu'u Keka'a offers a floating introduction to the Lahaina region and its importance to the native Hawaiian people and royalty. (Photo: Westin Maui Resort)
An outrigger canoeing session to Pu’u Keka’a offers a floating introduction to Polynesian culture and native Hawaiian history. (Photo: Westin Maui Resort)

And then there’s the Ka’anapali resort’s Heavenly Spa, where treatments start at $190. It was just the wellness ticket for my wife, who enjoyed an aptly-named Heavenly massage, complete with warm back compress and fragrant Hualani blend of pineapple and passionfruit for a combination of touch and aromatherapy.

If you’ve taken “hang loose” a little too literally during the pandemic era, Westin offers 250 “run concierges” at its hotels worldwide to help return you to fitness. I tagged along as run concierge and marathon enthusiast Brad Kukral led an easy-going, three-mile group run along the Ka’anapali beachfront path. The run is free and meets on the resort’s Beach Lawn at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but you’ll need reservations.

Details: Find more information about the Westin Maui Resort & Spa at Ka’anapali, which is located at 2365 Ka’anapali Parkway in Lahaina, at westinmaui.com.

Moana asanas

Set atop Pu’u Keka’a (Black Rock), the Moana oceanfront guest rooms of the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa offer some of most awe-inspiring seascapes in all of Ka’anapali. These luxurious rooms make you feel like you’re floating above the ocean. And Yoga at Moana lets you start your day with a self-guided yoga experience on the oceanfront lawn with complimentary yoga mats and those panoramic views. The resort also offers three guided yoga sessions: sunrise yoga, slow flow, and stretch and release.

Don’t leave the resort without treating yourself to the Spa at Black Rock’s Hawaiian “lomi lomi” (loving hands) massage, which starts at $150. The massage technique has been passed down by native Hawaiians from generation to generation and aims to engage your mind, body and spirit in deep relaxation through flowing, rhythmic strokes.

Details: Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, 2605 Kaanapali Parkway, Lahaina; sheratonmaui.com.

Polo Beach outriggers

Tucked in Maui’s splendid Wailea resort region on the island’s south shore, the Fairmont Kea Lani offers a outrigger canoe (wa’a) experience guided by a local ho’ekele (navigator). It starts with a traditional Hawaiian sunrise chant on the resort’s Polo Beach to welcome the dawn of a new day. Paddling on calm morning seas, you learn about this ancient tradition and paddling techniques and in all likelihood see honu (sea turtles) near shore. The weekday paddle is free for Kea Lani guests, but reservations are required.

The resort’s state-of-the-art Willow Stream Spa offers a full menu of locally inspired experiences — starting at $130 —  that combine Maui sourced products, oils and herbs with ancient Hawaiian tradition. The goal: to uplift your spirit and restore your mana or life energy.

Details: Fairmont Kea Lani, 4100 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea-Makena; www.fairmont.com/kea-lani-maui

Coconut stretches in Wailea

Marriott’s Wailea Beach Resort offers a wonderfully scenic sunrise yoga program overlooking the ocean, and an innovative “Coco Yoga” class based around the coconut. The fruit is used as a weight, a stretching prop and eventually, nourishment, as participants sip from their coconut at the conclusion of the session.

Water sports, such as outrigger canoe paddling, are among the fitness activities offered by the Wailea Beach Resort (Photo: Wailea Beach Resort)
Water sports, such as outrigger canoe paddling, are among the fitness activities offered by the Wailea Beach Resort (Photo: Wailea Beach Resort)

The resort offers a wide range of spa services, too, but its new “Awaken in Wailea” experience is an especially luxurious affair. It includes a private sunrise “lomi lomi” massage with meditative soundwave therapy produced by Tibetan singing bowls on the oceanfront, followed by a wellness-focused breakfast with locally-sourced ingredients.

Details: Wailea Beach Resort, 3700 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea; www.waileabeachresort.com

Hawaiian malama

It’s no secret that when you do good, you feel good — and the statewide Malama Hawaii program hopes to help you do just that. The program promotes beach-cleanups and other activities that give back to the islands and promote mindfulness and appreciation of Hawaii’s native culture and natural treasures. Several Maui resorts have partnered with the state to offer incentives to participate, such as a free night’s stay (with a five-night minimum booking) at the Grand Wailea, for example, if you volunteer with the Hawaii Land Trust. Find details at www.gohawaii.com/malama.

Maui mindfulness

You don’t need to stay at a lavish resort to enjoy wellness activities though. One of my favorite ways to absorb Maui’s abundant natural beauty is to simply take an early morning or evening ocean swim, a stroll on the sand or on a coastal path, taking in the extraordinary polychromatic displays of the rising and setting sun.

Park yourself by a koi pond — which can be found on the grounds of hotels across Maui, including the Sheraton Maui, Westin Maui and Kea Lani– and watch these colorful Japanese carp swirl and twirl like living paintings, a relaxing, meditative scene.

For a non-resort activity that connects you directly with Maui’s natural world, I recommend a Makena “Turtle Town” kayak tour. Maui Kayak Adventures offers a three-hour kayaking and snorkeling trip to Makena Bay’s Turtle Town, where gentle honu —green sea turtles — thrive in a set of vibrant reefs, complete with “cleaning stations” where the turtles congregate to allow fish to clean the algae off their shells and flippers.

You float above a cave-riddled reef amid a rainbow of tropical fish. We found butterflyfish, parrotfish, wrasses, convict tangs, damselfish, trumpetfish and — my favorites — delicate and colorful Moorish idols and angelfish. It’s an extraordinary immersion in Maui’s underwater world.

Whatever Maui’s elixir is, it’s real, and it’s powerful.

 

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