Last updated: 01:06 PM ET, Thu January 21 2016

Spa Montage Kapalua Bay: Preserving and Perpetuating the Native Hawaiian Culture

Hotel & Resort | Montage Kapalua Bay | Stacey Barbara Martin | January 21, 2016

Spa Montage Kapalua Bay: Preserving and Perpetuating the Native Hawaiian Culture

PHOTO: Bamboo is an essential and revered part of Hawaiian culture. (via ThinkStock)

With the arrival of the New Year, it’s common to see health and wellness resolutions making the top of many lists. Whether a commitment to cram exercise into our already busy schedules or a renewed commitment to eating healthier, the New Year is often embraced as a “new beginning.”

As a Hawaii resident, my lifestyle is shaped by the values and traditions of the Native Hawaiian culture. What I’ve grown to appreciate the most living in Hawaii is what the Hawaiian culture has taught me about wellness.

Wellness is not necessarily something you do; it is something you are.

Living a life of wellness, “Ola" in the Hawaiian language, is a way of living; Ola is to be alive. To conquer illness is to first live in the values of ola. To understand Hawaii’s perspective on wellness is to understand Hawaii’s people, their way of living, traditions and history.

Yet, for many of Hawaii’s visitors, they often associate a spa treatment as their way of incorporating wellness to their vacation itinerary.  This leaves Hawaii’s spa industry with a significant cultural responsibility to bridge the gap between today’s contemporary definition of “wellness” and the cultural wellness values and traditions of an indigenous culture. Hawaii’s spa's carry the cultural responsibility (kuleana) to anchor their guest experience in a way that is honorable to Hawaii’s host Native Hawaiian culture and not just a focus on the state of being healthy or feeling pampered as is the case in visiting a spa in perhaps a big city like Paris, New York or San Francisco.

So what do Hawaii’s spas do differently to bridge this gap? On the island of Maui at the culturally rich and scenically breathtaking Montage Kapalua Bay Resort, the Spa Montage is a great example of how a resort’s approach to wellness honors and perpetuates its host Native Hawaiian culture, adding a much deeper meaning to the guest experience. With a closer look at the timeless meaning of ola as shared at the Spa Montage, you’ll find a renewed cultural relevancy we all can learn from.

In the Hawaiian culture, the purest and most essential medicines are water, air and food. With each respected as givers of life, the Hawaiian culture places great value on maintaining an intimate connection with its environment. Native Hawaiians often feel so connected to nature that they call winds and rains by name. This intimate connection is one reason why the Native Hawaiian culture places significant value on sustaining and perpetuating an authentic “sense of place.”

From Hawaii’s towering lush and tropical volcanic mountains (referred to as ‘mauka’ or towards the mountains) to its graceful, temperate and healing Pacific Ocean waters (referred to as ‘makai’ or towards the sea), the people of Hawaii receive all they need to survive: fresh air, fresh water and food. At the Montage Kapalua Bay, the resort’s beachfront setting within the 22,000-acre Kapalua Resort speaks to a powerful sense of place.

SEE MORE: Video: Montage Kapalua Bay, An Intimate Resort

Surrounded by the west Maui rainforest, two protected marine sanctuaries and Pacific Ocean views, its sense of place is inherently rich and rooted in a culture and heritage that has been preserved at its location for generations. No matter where you are at the resort, the healing colors of blue and green (mauka to makai), create the sense of place that is essential to understanding the foundational elements of wellness.

Keeping in line with Hawaii’s landscape, in the Hawaiian culture, we are each made up of two energies: ku (male) and hina (female). Similarly, Hawaii’s mountains are gatekeepers of ku energy while the ocean’s energy is hina. The ocean surrounding the islands is respected as the womb of Hawaii, where new islands are given birth. While the minerals that make up ocean water and land are different, they are both essential to our well-being. This is an example of relationship Hawaiians have with the land known as aloha ‘aina (love of the land). This respect and connection is essential to well-being.

To experience Hawaii and genuine aloha, is to have this mauka to makai experience, such as the one that is a focal point of Montage Kapalua Bay's legacy. This Hawaiian value was also the inspiration to the Spa Montage’s “Mauka to Makai” experience.

To share the "mauka to makai" experience with its guests, Spa Montage has nine treatment rooms located on the mauka side of the resort (facing the mountains) where they use elements gathered from the mountains in its treatments. Likewise, they have ten makai hales (houses/treatment rooms) that face makai (the ocean) where you can hear the waves, feel the trade winds and enjoy products that are ocean-inspired.

Being sick in the Hawaiian culture is more than having aches and pains. It involves the whole body, mind and spirit. Often, anything burdening your mind, like stress, needs to be lifted from your mind before your body is ready to receive medical treatment. To ease the mind and refresh the spirit, Spa Montage's ambiance lends to a beautiful and harmonious setting where both mountain and ocean views become the visual fragrance that gifts a calming and peaceful effect on its guests.

READ MORE: David Viviano Is The New Executive Chef at Montage

To infuse this cultural sensory journey to its guest experience, on arrival for their massage, guests are invited to select an island scent for their experience with selections from coconut, maile, pikake, tuberose, or passion fruit.

Before land development transformed Hawaii’s landscape, almost all native plants were used for medicinal purposes and were harvested in both the mountains and ocean by Native Hawaiian healers. To honor Native Hawaiian healing practices, Spa Montage has incorporated various medicinal herbs and plants into its treatments including:

* ‘Awa (or known as kava in parts of the Pacific), is the oldest drink native to Hawaii. A member of the pepper family and often used as a ceremonial drink, it’s known as a relaxant that can relieve anxiety, stress, kidney disorders, the chills, headaches and insomnia and cures thrush (a fungal disease most common in children). It was common for Native Hawaiians to offer visitors a cup of ‘awa to arriving visitors as a sign of ho’okipa (hospitality). To perpetuate this tradition, Spa Montage has infused their spa experience with an ‘awa ritual where they offer a cup of ‘awa mixed with pineapple juice. That addition of pineapple is a way to pay respect to Kapalua’s pineapple plantation history.

* Aloe: Its most common household use is for scars, burns and chapped lips yet its more significant medicinal uses are to help high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, diabetes and cancer.

* Bamboo: When eaten in the form of bamboo shoots, they are good source of dietary fiber which helps to prevent diabetes and heart disease, relieve constipation. Its nutrient values come from contains potassium, protein, riboflavin, manganese, copper, zinc, and vitamin B6. Potassium is an important mineral of our body and great for general health and robust muscle function. Copper helps with red blood cell formation, and manganese is important for a healthy bone structure. Vitamin B6 helps in maintaining a healthy brain and nerve function. Bamboo shoots are low in fat and cholesterol, making it a healthy herb. Bamboo’s medicinal uses include keeping the balance of free radicals that can cause heart disease and cancer and is used to treat wounds and ulcers thanks to its antibacterial properties. Bamboo is also use in aromatherapy and a natural exfoliant.

* Cacao: In its raw and organic form, chocolate is not only a food, but also a medicine known to heal the nervous system, improve digestion and relieve emotional stress. It’s well known medicinal properties also alleviate fever, tuberculosis, gout and kidney stones.

* Ginger: In addition to helping common illness and its awesome anti-inflammatory properties that help with arthritis, muscular discomfort, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease, ginger can destroy ovarian cancer cells and hinder progression of colon cancer cells in ancient Hawaiian times, productive days farming and fishing made daily exercise a regular part of the Hawaiian Islands lifestyle. While exercise continues to be essential for wellness, it needs to consciously be added into our lives as discipline since we are no longer necessarily busy laboring on land and at sea. Spa Montage brings this value of “malama ke kino” (translated from Hawaiian as ‘taking care of the body') by offering an extensive menu of both fitness and nutritional programs.

Spa Montage also offers lomi lomi, a traditional and indigenous Hawaiian massage, recognized as a means of prevention and intervention for diseases of the mind, body ad spirit. The Spa Montage’s Hawaiian-style massage uses rhythmic strokes and flowing forearm movements that emulate waves of the Pacific Ocean. Hot pohaku (stones) are used for a deeper relaxation of the entire body.

There are many more traditional Hawaiian concepts of health and healing woven into the Spa Montage’s guest experience making this Maui luxury resort a fine example of the important leadership role Hawaii’s visitor industry has in preserving, perpetuating and sharing one of the world’s most unique indigenous cultures with visitors.

Having just celebrated its first year in Hawaii, Montage Kapalua Bay is a welcome addition to the Hawaiian Islands’ visitor industry. With a deeper look into the timeless meaning of ola, you’ll find renewed relevancy we all can learn from. If you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into an indigenous perspective on wellness, you’re certain to also enjoy Montage Kapalua Bay’s upcoming blog that will feature wellness stories and testimonials from their Fitness Director, Ben Auerbach and Leila Storey, their Executive Spa Director.

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