After submerging myself in an outdoor bath full of ice cubes and water, I immediately forgot the Wim Hof breathing exercises I learned just minutes before that were to prepare me for this moment. But I quickly recovered by focusing on the fronds of surrounding palm trees and the scent of a mint sprig nearby as my instructor at Cayo Levantado Resort helped me regulate my rapid-fire breaths. I felt like a human swizzle stick in a giant mojito given the mint-leaf-strewn ice bath, but I was grateful for the olfactory distraction from the bone-chilling temperatures.
My goal was to hit the 20-second soaking mark, the previous record among the students in my ice bathing class. I stayed in for three minutes.
Ice bathing isn’t a new concept, with its history going as far back as ancient Greece, according to the European Journal of Applied Physiology. Today, professional athletes use it as a recovery tool and, the Cayo instructor said, others take the plunge to reap benefits such as boosting the immune system, reducing stress, alleviating headaches and improving sleep.
Debuting in June as the Dominican Republic’s first luxury wellness resort and the first of its kind from the family-owned Grupo Piñero (whose properties include Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts), the all-inclusive Cayo Levantado stands out with these complimentary classes. The hotel curates a rotating roster of daily wellness offerings on everything from meditation to juice therapy to aerial yoga (and if you don’t see a class you want, a private one can be arranged for a fee).
Most classes happen at Yubarta, which takes its name from the indigenous Taino word for “humpback whale” (there are regular sightings of the sacred animal along the hotel’s shores from January to March). The wellness center is a tropical oasis in the middle of the private island resort amid trees and greenery. Walk through an arbor with a whale sculpture made of branches at its crest into the vast open-air lobby palapa loosely shaped like a whale, where you can sit down with watermelon-mint water or tea and watch the koi dart around the pond or the sun shine on the bright-blue cenote.
Yubarta’s grounds have other large palapas that host classes, rituals and more. One of the best and most popular classes is sound healing. The scent of copal filled the air as I sat down on a padded floor recliner close to the seven-metal gong and quartz singing bowls. I kept my eyes closed while the instructor led us through a nonstop series of melodic sounds. While I’ve done sound healing before, I’ve never emerged as relaxed and energized as I did from this session. Some people in my group even had visions.
The early-morning shamanic healing class offered a similar mental escape. A self-described shaman, priestess and witch (“the good kind,” she said) burned sage, rosemary, copal and cinnamon around each participant to cleanse us as she chanted. She also set up altars for each of the four elements: air, water, fire and earth. I left feeling at peace and ready to start the day.
Not all classes target your spirits. Healthy Back, for example, is a smart addition to the lineup. According to the World Health Organization, lower back pain affected 619 million people globally in 2020, and that number is expected to rise to 843 million by 2050. Lower back pain is also the leading cause of disability worldwide, the WHO also reported. In Healthy Back, the National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified instructor led us through stretches and exercises to help loosen and strengthen our back muscles.
Even though I took a relaxed approach to the wellness offerings, those who want a more immersive experience can choose one of four paths — refresh, restore, relax or renew — and the resort’s team of nutritionists, spiritual and holistic practitioners and trainers will craft a three-, five- or seven-day itinerary. Each wellness path comes with its own meals at Santa Yuca, a cheerful slow-food restaurant that uses ingredients from its garden, as well as treatments and hydrotherapy circuits in the tranquil spa, a separate facility from Yubarta.
Between classes, partake in the many other activities and amenities at the secluded resort, which sits three miles from Samaná off the Dominican Republic’s northeast coast. Soak up the sun from three white-sand beaches (two of which are private) and two pools (one facing the ocean and the other dotted with hammocks). Visit the six restaurants (while not part of the all-inclusive plan, Senda, the upscale Dominican option, and Manaya, an atmospheric steakhouse, are worth the additional fees) and seven bars and cafés (pop into La Molienda for Dominican coffee and a slice of cake).
And at night, you’ll retreat to a suite or villa that gives off an elegant Caribbean air with sage-colored palm wallpaper and wicker furniture. Take a bath in the spacious standalone tub (and be sure to use the fragrant locally made Kokos coconut-tangerine-sugar scrub) and then enjoy the ultimate recharge: sleep.