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How I Learned To Slow Aging and Live Better on a Wellness Retreat

A serene escape to Lāna'i taught me some of the most coveted anti-aging secrets.

A serene, adults-only escape tucked away in the Cook pine tree-lined mountains and surrounded by lush, unspoiled gardens lies Sensei Lāna'i, A Four Seasons Resort. To say this exclusive wellness retreat in Lāna'i, Hawaii is the crème de la crème would be a complete and utter understatement. I spent four days in Ko'ele's spiritual uplands on an all-expenses-paid-for trip experiencing the resort's Optimal Wellbeing Program, private plunge pools and dreamy onsen garden, thermal body mapping massage, private spa hales, Tai Chi/fitness classes, sunrise breakfasts and dinners at Sensei by Nobu, and much more, all while working with a Sensei Guide to set personalized goals for my stay. Every little detail is catered to the guest's senses, comfort, and well-being. Unsurprisingly, I wish I was still relaxing poolside with a Lillikoi Margarita in hand. Alas, I took home the best-kept secrets Sensei taught me on how to slow aging and live better. Read on, because I'm here to share these coveted wellness habits with you.

The retreat remains true to the Sensei Way: "move, nourish, and rest"

Sensei rain shower and garden pond, wellness retreat to slow aging and live better
Alexa Mellardo

Sensei Lāna'i was established by Larry Ellison, who purchased 98% of the island back in 2012, and Dr. David Agus, with the main goal of helping individuals lead longer, healthier existences. The retreat stays true to its core, the Sensei Way, which infuses preventive health science, research, and data into three pathways of everyday life: "move, nourish, and rest."

In a 2020 interview, Dr. Agus explains on his website, "When guests arrive, we have them sit down with guides. They develop a program that is based on data. When you go for your massage, we first do thermography on your body. We see where there's inflammation. We look at how you respond to the food. We measure your sleep so, in the morning, we can tell you about your night's sleep. You can note when you exercise, here's what it does to your sleep, and when you have three glasses of wine, here's what it does to your sleep. A big goal of Sensei is to have these across the globe and in cities so this could be a new lifestyle." Dr. Agus also notes that they spent two years working with Chef Nobu (Matsuhisa) reviewing menu options so that every single ingredient used "is thought through on a holistic basis."

Thermal body mapping pinpointed what parts of my body needed the most TLC during my custom massage—and beyond

private spa hale at Sensei Lanai, treatments to slow aging and live better
Alexa Mellardo

My first day at Sensei consisted of thermal body mapping and a 150-minute massage in a private spa hale. "Hale" means "house" in Hawaiian, so expect to enjoy treatments in your very own, intimate spa oasis, complete with luxe treatment tables, private plunge pools, an infrared sauna, a steam room, an outdoor rain shower, and more. The floor-to-ceiling doors were cracked open so I enjoyed the sound of a small waterfall in the back of my hale during the treatment.

The thermal body mapping was unlike anything I've experienced before, and it was 100% tailored to my body's needs. My technician used thermographic technology developed exclusively by Sensei to curate a visual body map. This pinpointed where I had muscle tightness, tension, and/or pain. From there, I was able to enjoy an extremely personalized massage that focused on the areas that needed the most TLC—my lower back and shoulders. There were different massage oils to choose from, and I sampled each one before selecting "Wake," a blend of grapefruit, crisp neroli, ambrette musk, and seaweed. (Grapefruit essential oil is associated with lower blood pressure and decreased stress levels, while seaweed promotes more youthful-looking skin.)

Sensei Lanai massage oils and snack tray
Alexa Mellardo

Post-massage completed the ultimate pampering session for my mind and body. I savored a tray of fresh fruit, edamame, and tea with lemon in an extremely plush bathrobe, then took a dip in the two plunge pools and Japanese ofuro soaking tub. Showering off in the outdoor rain shower was the cherry topping to my hale time.

Related: Fight Signs of Aging With This Simple Lymphatic Massage, Expert Says

Fitness 1:1 sessions curated the best morning stretch routine

fitness class at Sensei to slow aging and live better
Alexa Mellardo

I came out of my fitness 1:1 sessions with one of the main keys to slow aging and live better: a solid stretch routine to start each day—one that will ultimately help correct my pelvic tilt (which can lead to lower back pain, poor posture, and other health issues down the road).

We kicked off the routine with 10 full-capacity, 3-dimensional breaths, going from my belly, to my chest, to my throat—holding, then exhaling long. We then worked on a soft tissue release practice with a trigger-point ball to really hone in on the tighter spots of my body—my chest, lats, around my shoulder blades, and around my hips. Stability work on my Scapula and shoulders came next, with exercises like a singe-arm scapula pushup on a yoga block. And lastly, we went through a series to help build strength and stability in my abs with bridge work.

Related: The Best Restorative Yoga Poses To Do On A Stressful Day, Says Certified Yoga Teacher

My cozy room helped me kick back, relax, and sleep so much better

Sensei Lanai wellness retreat accommodations split-image
Alexa Mellardo

Another aspect of Sensei that made me feel ultra-rejuvenated was my room. It was equipped with all the amenities to make it a comforting, relaxing oasis during the day and at night: blackout floor-to-ceiling blinds, a lavish king-size bed with fluffy pillows, nighttime lighting, a soft bathrobe and slippers, 'Aina plumeria + 'awapuhi bath products, an iPad for ordering room service and getting in touch with the front desk, an espresso machine, and a balcony which overlooked the exquisite gardens—I sipped my morning coffee here! (Oh—and did I mention the resort's heated toilet seats with nighttime lighting are out-of-this-world luxurious?)

The aesthetic of your room can greatly impact how you sleep, and in turn, help you slow aging and live better all-around. Little things like the temperature to the lighting to the mattress firmness can make a huge difference when you're trying to snooze away to Dreamland. And of course, the amount of good quality sleep you get has a major effect on your daily performance and mood. I got solid rest and relaxation at Sensei, and now have some useful tools for turning my own bedroom into a calming space at the end of a long day's work. Paired with the fitness classes I took and the hike I went on at the retreat, it's safe to say my recovery to sleep ratio was pretty much on point.

I ate really well and clean

Sensei by Nobu clean eating meals to slow aging and live better
Alexa Mellardo

I had the privilege of dining at Sensei by Nobu each night and truly wish I could eat that way all the time. The Tasting Menu outlines the restaurant's clean food philosophy, which is "not only about the enjoyment of the meal, but about how an individual feels after the meal. Consuming food the way nature delivered it, with optimal nutritional benefit and flavor, is core to this menu." Sensei strives to collaborate with growers who share their same passion for local, seasonal, and organic items. They also spotlight produce from Sensei Farms Lāna'i, "where we measure the distance from farm to table in footsteps."

In addition to the Tasting Menu, diners are able to select mouthwatering options from the Sensei Nourish and Sensei by Nobu menus. I enjoyed the Tasting Menu the first evening, complete with A-5 Wagyu Tobanyaki and mixed seafood Shabu Shabu, which is a hotpot dish of scallops, shrimp, oysters, and Inaniwa noodles that I cooked right at my seat in a simmering broth. I also fell in love with the Sensei Farms Tomato Taste (fresh tomatoes with smoked tomato vinaigrette), the Hearts of Palm (jalapeño dressing, EVOO), and Whitefish Tempura (jalapeño, cilantro, Calamansi sauce).

Suffice to say, Sensei really does not skimp on "move, nourish, and rest." Are you ready to slow aging and live better? If so, I hope I convinced you to hop on a plane to Lāna'i to experience the wonders of this wellness retreat for yourself.

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more
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