This holistic programme at Mulu Marriott Resort & Spa harnesses the restorative power of nature.

Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak is a UNESCO World Heritage Park spanning 52,000 hectares of primeval rainforest and a 60-million-year-old cave system.

After two decades of building Mulu into a world-class tourism destination, Dato’ Robert Geneid is well aware of a magical effect the nature here has on people, especially those from the city. Prior to this, this visionary businessman had toiled for decades to transform Mulu’s untamed beauty into a sustainable eco-tourism travel destination, including working with the Sarawak state government to introduce infrastructure such as an airport and roads to make Mulu more accessible.

“I had a park manager who worked with us for many years and told us that he was able to get off his high blood pressure medication during his time with us at Mulu. A short while back, we hosted a group of Taiwanese monks who mentioned that they saw a light coming out of the Clearwater Cave’s body of water. There were many more stories like these that reaffirmed my conviction that there is more we can do with such a powerful place,” said Dato’ Robert.

Now that Mulu has become a popular travel destination, Dato’ Robert was ready to turn his attention an idea he once had; that of a nature-based wellness retreat programme. To achieve this goal, he needed the right business partner.

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Enter The Professor

He met professor Gerry Bodeker, a renowned academic and expert in integrative medicine and wellness. Professor Gerry has researched and taught medical sciences at Oxford University for two decades, and worked with refugees and indigenous peoples. He is currently an adjunct professor of epidemiology at Columbia University and advising the private sector, governments and the UN on culturally-themed wellness strategies.

“Dato’ Robert and I discussed about the pillars that would eventually become the foundation of Ayus Wellness and we bonded deeper because of our similar values,” shares the professor.

Dato’ Robert adds: “He had to be patient with me because he is a world authority on wellness and I am just a regular guy who happened to witness the healing effects of nature."

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Science Meets Nature

After a year of research and development, Ayus Wellness hosted its first retreat last year. Wellness activities unique to Ayus Wellness include guided rainforest walks and yoga sessions that connect participants with the tranquillity of the rainforest to refresh the mind and spirit.  

“Immersing in nature has been shown by researchers in Japan, led by our colleague Dr Qing Li of Nippon Medical University, to boost immune system functioning, reduce stress and  blood pressure, increase ability to focus in children with ADHD, accelerate recovery from surgery or illness, increase energy levels and improve sleep. The Japanese term for this immersive forest experience is Shinrin Yoku, also known as forest bathing,” says Gerry.

Local Therapy

Gerry shares that what intrigued him when he first arrived in Mulu was the depth of knowledge possessed by the locals about the medicinal properties of indigenous plants. “There is a lot of science behind the knowledge they have and I was blown away by how much they know. When we drew up the Ayus Wellness programme, we knew we had to incorporate these elements in the food we serve at the retreat. We worked with the amazing chefs at Mulu Marriott to create a menu that boasts the goodness of nature,” he says.

Although there is a resident indigenous Penan healer who administers massage therapies, Gerry affirms that the real therapist at Ayus Wellness is Mother Nature herself. “As Dr Qing Li’s research on forest bathing has proven, nature brings about substantial biomedical physical and mental transformation. So our entire programme circles around this idea,” he says.

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Back To Basics

Sustainability is another core of the Ayus Wellness programme, which is why the entire retreat is peppered with educational talks and enrichment sessions. “I want the guests who come to Ayus Wellness to leave with the idea that they can change and improve their lives from what they have learnt here. We don’t want them to go home and regress to the lifestyle they had before,” emphasises Dato’ Robert.

This is why the programmes, comprising  3, 5 or 7 days, focuses a lot on education. “We publish the medicinal properties of our food, we do informative medicinal walks in the rainforest, and our fitness facilitators spend time correcting breathing techniques and yoga postures. We want to empower participants with knowledge,” says Gerry.

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