If the term "wellness retreat" evokes images of microscopic breakfast portions, stale yoga classes, or disturbing scenes from The White Lotus, you're not alone. Oftentimes, wellness travel is synonymous with repetitive itineraries and skimpy, carb-free meals that leave you feeling more than shy of satisfied. Because so often, the idea of being "well" is forcibly paralleled with being thin.
But in 2020, a new kind of wellness resort opened its doors: Sensei Lanai. A Four Seasons resort, Sensei Lanai pairs the unmatched luxury of the Four Seasons suite of properties with the expertise of Olympic-level trainers, nutritionists, and meditation experts. And every square inch of the resort is designed with one very intentional tentpole: to leave you feeling full. Be it full of nutrients, wisdom, rest, or joy, every fitness class, meal, and experience is meant to fill your cup.
So, what exactly is it like to travel to the remote island of Lanai for the exclusive Sensei Lanai experience? Read on for the full recount of my experience.
The first thing you'll notice when you arrive at Sensei is that it's hard to distinguish between the resort's architecture and the nature that surrounds it. The property is fully intertwined with the lush landscapes of Lanai, an intentional design choice that helps guests heal through a connection to nature. At the center of the resort is a massive, lagoon-style pool underneath a majestic banyan tree, and as you move outward from the pinnacle of the resort, you'll discover concentric circles of smaller lagoons, unbelievable horticulture, sculpture gardens, and walking trails. You could explore for days on end and still continue to find new corners of color and life.
The Optimal Well-Being Program
Okay, first things first: Sensei Lanai is a wellness-oriented resort. If you're looking to relax, take a few yoga classes, connect with nature, and enjoy delicious, local, nutrient-dense meals (hello, Nobu on site), then you'll be overjoyed with the standard experience—trust me. But for those, like me, who are interested in a full reset with a more guided itinerary, the Optimal Well-Being Program is for you. (And there's really nothing else out there that's quite like it.)
When you book the Optimal Well-Being program, the resort will send you a Whoop strap—a wearable fitness tracker similar to a FitBit—to wear for a few weeks before your visit in order to get a baseline on your well-being. Do you currently get some form of movement each day? How high does your heart rate get during exercise? These are the types of stats your Whoop strap will gather to help inform your visit. Prior to arrival, you'll also complete a (non-boring) survey to give the resort an idea of some of the more qualitative aspects of your well-being—like if you actually enjoy your current workout routine, how you feel about your quality of sleep, and if you're interested in any mental health support.
Then it's off to the races. Through the Optimal Well-Being Program, you'll attend five key (but optional) assessments. You can skip anything that disinterests you, but I really recommend attending all five workshops—they're brief, incredibly insightful, and give you access to some of the top health professionals in the world. That being said, Sensei wants you to have the experience that is most enjoyable to you; if you're satisfied with your current approach to movement and don't have any questions about how to optimize your exercise routine, you can skip it!
Upon arrival, you'll meet your Sensei Guide and discuss your goals for your visit. The Sensei experience is completely customized to you, so don't hesitate to share what you are or aren't interested in. With my guide, I discussed a desire to incorporate more low-impact strength training into my exercise routine, expressing that my goal was to leave the resort feeling like I had a great beginner routine to practice at home, as well as the proper knowledge for fueling and recovering.
At your movement meeting, an exercise physiologist will perform a quick functional movement screening to get a baseline for your current strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and any areas of personal concern. (I complained that working from home—aka from my couch—has really done a number on my posture.) The functional movement screening is absolutely a zero-judgment zone—my guide was incredibly kind, thoughtful, and realistic with me. When I couldn't hold a plank for longer than 30 seconds, he said, "Unless you really want to, there's no reason you need to be able to hold a plank for a long time—but if you are interested, I can give you a few core exercises that could help improve your posture when you're working on your computer." It was clear that my guide was genuinely invested in making my body more comfortable and efficient in the ways that I wanted to improve, instead of just making blind suggestions based on assumptions about my physical fitness. And FYI—since my personal goals for my Sensei Lanai experience were more fitness-focused and because I was genuinely fascinated by my first meeting, I met with my exercise physiologist a second time during my stay. The assessments truly are customizable and the guides will make themselves available to you as often as you'd like.
My approach to movement also included some rest and recovery, which my exercise physiologist recommended (fine, twist my rubber arm). Some spa treatments are included in the Optimal Well-Being program, so I opted for a full-body massage followed by some long, slow stretching at the Sensei Lanai spa—which, btw, is one of the most beautiful spas I have ever seen in my five-year career as a beauty and wellness editor. I had my own private hale complete with a warm and cold plunge pool, shower, and waterfall for soothing sounds during my treatment. It was my favorite part of the entire experience.
Your nutrition workshop is truly whatever you want it to be. If you are interested in a meal plan you can easily follow at home, your nutritionist can help with that. And if you just want a few tips and tricks for adding more nutrients to foods you're already enjoying, your nutritionist can help with that too. I personally wanted to talk about how to properly fuel my body for strength training workouts so I wouldn't feel so depleted after a workout. My nutritionist and I came up with a few protein-packed breakfasts I could easily make myself and actually enjoy. (We also talked about the importance of refueling after a workout to avoid an afternoon energy slump.) Just remember that the nutrition workshop—like everything at Sensei—is truly a choose-your-own adventure.
Okay, honesty moment: I expected to hate the mindset workshop and almost skipped it altogether—but I'm so glad I didn't. Going into the mindset meeting, I explained that I've never had success with meditation or yoga in the past (in fact, it usually has the opposite intended effect because I get so frustrated when it isn't working for me). So my mindset guide met me where I was and suggested we just practice a breathing exercise that I can use to come back to a neutral state when my inbox hits 1000+ or I'm navigating a crowded subway station. He asked me to imagine a balloon inflating and deflating with my inhalation and exhalation for just 30 seconds. And in that time, my heartbeat really did normalize to a steady, consistent rhythm, and I felt a gentle sense of calm. I was in and out within 15 minutes, but left with a skill that I'm still using months later.
Your last workshop is a pre-departure meeting with your Sensei guide to ensure you have everything you need to transfer your learnings from the Sensei Lanai experience to your real life. Becuase the Sensei Lanai experience isn't about just having a relaxing vacation—it's about finding actionable ways to improve your well-being in your everyday life.
During this meeting, I received my finalized workout plan from my exercise physiologist, a list of protein-packed breakfast recipes from my nutritionist, and a breakdown of the breathing exercise that worked best for me, in case I needed to reference the time intervals later on. I was able to ask any final questions, and also received my guide's contact information in case I wanted to follow up on any parts of my exercise or nutrition plan after my departure. (Yes, your guides will continue to be available to you even after you leave the resort.)
Attending the Optimal Well-Being program at Sensei Lanai has changed my perspective on wellness retreats. This experience is truly about improving your well-being at home—arming you with the wisdom to move, eat, live, and feel better in your real life (not just during the week-long fantasy that is staying at the Sensei Lanai property). I genuinely carry this experience with me every single day and recommend it to anyone who wants to reset in a wholesome, fulfilling way ahead of the new year.