We were laying on soft mats spread in front of an assortment of white Himalayan singing bowls and a large brass gong. Our therapist, Jodie Webber, draped us in soft blankets and asked us to close our eyes. In moments, we heard the soft ping of bell cymbals, followed by the deep, reverberating timbre of the gong and the melodic hum of the singing bowls. For 30 minutes or so, Webber played the ancient instruments, sending sound waves echoing and vibrating throughout the room. The deeply calming sounds were like waves washing over us, like a sound bath, or music massage. Our minds wandered. We relaxed.
The session ended with a soft tinkle of bells, and Webber’s gentle voice asking us to open our eyes whenever we were ready.
We were participating in the Sacred Sound Journey at Shou Sugi Ban House, an intimate wellness resort in the hamlet of Water Mill on Long Island, N.Y.
Shou Sugi Ban House is the brainchild — and passion — of Amy Cherry-Abitbol, a former corporate attorney, with a profound interest in health and wellness. In 2014, Cherry-Abitbol attended Harvard Business School’s “New Paths” Executive Education program for women seeking to change careers and explore new opportunities. In 2015, she and her business partner, Kathleen Kapnick, purchased the Water Mill property and then spent four years developing it, including renovation of a barn, installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system, solar panels, and gardens.
Behind the gated entrance, guests are greeted by a large statue of Buddha that sits in front of the spa building. Beyond the spa studio is the resort’s Main Barn, an open space for gathering, filled with cushy lounge chairs, tables for dining, and a demonstration kitchen, and the private area for guests.
The resort is tucked into three landscaped acres, buffered by tall evergreens. “We want the retreat to feel like a healing container, a haven,” Webber said as we toured the grounds. Asian-inspired gardens surround and weave through the cluster of low-slung, cedar-clad buildings, housing 13 stand-alone guest suites, a healing arts center, the Main Barn, the spa, a light-filled meditation studio, and an exercise studio with floor to ceiling windows that can be swung open for en plein air classes. Pebble pathways wind through the property, circling gardens of swaying grasses. There are pretty views, strategically placed, everywhere: stone fountains, sculptures, ornamental plants and trees. A pebble courtyard houses a gas fire pit, and an outdoor saltwater pool takes center stage among the guest suites — a subtle nod to the natural elements of fire and water.
To your room
Each guest studio is about 400 square feet, with its own entrance, and small outdoor garden and patio areas. The rooms are not overly spacious or opulent, but they are upscale with a minimalistic Asian design ethos. Think: white on white and neutral straw and beach blond accents, modern baths with heated floors, soaking tubs and glass-enclosed showers, lush linens, and gas fireplaces. The rooms are flooded with natural light.
Time to relax (and play)
“People have different interests when it comes to wellness, and everyone has their own pathway,” says Webber. To that end, guests find a wide range of a la carte wellness offerings, including sound journeys, aromatherapy, crystal healing, energy balancing, hypnotherapy for sleep, Shamanic healing, a slew of yoga classes, tea tastings, and nutrition workshops. There’s also a variety of fitness classes (a morning exercise class is complimentary, others are available at an additional cost), like pilates, core stability, aquatic fitness, and tennis instruction. In season, there are offsite guided hikes, beach excursions, and boat trips around Peconic Bay.
And, of course, there’s the spa, which has the same minimalistic, elemental atmosphere. There are five treatment rooms, infrared and dry saunas, a steam room, plunge pools, an outdoor Watsu pool, roof deck, and a menu with a plethora of body treatments.
Time to eat
Renowned chef Mads Refslund, one of the co-founders of the Danish restaurant Noma, repeatedly named the greatest restaurant in the world, and co-author of “Scraps, Wilt & Weeds: Turning Wasted Food into Plenty,” is the resort’s consulting chef.
Healthy, plant-rich cuisine is the focus of Shou Sugi Ban House’s culinary program, with emphasis on seasonality and sustainability, and heavy use of herbs and spices. For lunch one day, we had grilled shrimp and mussels in a dill and yuzu broth (there were vegetarian options, too), served alongside a grilled avocado with ponzu, and hazelnut chickpea hummus toast. At dinner, we chose grilled salmon, which was served with a endive salad with walnuts and orange dressing, an endive salad with slices of green strawberries, and a bowl of earthy enoki mushrooms served with crunchy bean sprouts and shoyu sauce. If you’re thinking a nice glass of wine would go well (like we were), forget about it; this is a substance-free resort (though they do serve caffeinated coffee in the morning).
This is a small, Asian-influenced, upscale wellness resort, with topnotch, innovative, and science-based treatments and programming. The staff is encouraging and friendly, and willing to custom-design your stay. But you’ll pay dearly for the experience. Guest suites start at $1,100 per night, including daily breakfast and a morning exercise class. The Sacred Sound Journey costs $225. Private 60-minute access to the hydrotherapy facilities is $200. A 60-minute massage starts at $200.
Apparently, it’s worth it for a lot of people; Shou Sugi Ban House has been popular throughout the pandemic and is gearing up for a busy summer season. “I gave seven sound healing sessions just in the last week or so,” Webber said. “There’s been a lot of trauma in the past year and people are looking for ways to relieve stress. I think we’ve learned that our health is the only true wealth that we have.”
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org