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MAUI, Hawaii -- Feel like your life is a bit out of whack? The tourism industry in Hawaii says it has the answer -- a ''wellness vacation'' on one of the state's sunny isles.
''Too many people have a perception of Hawaii as sun, surf and sand -- beautiful but a bit frivolous,'' says Laura Crites, who oversees the 7-month-old Hawaii Wellness Tourism Association, formed to promote the concept. ''But there's something much deeper here.''
Long a major spa destination, Hawaii is becoming a magnet for spiritual healers and alternative medicine specialists. That, combined with a lovely climate, natural beauty and the Hawaiian culture, make the islands an ideal place to come for healing the mind, heart, body and spirit, says Crites.
''It goes much deeper than a mud bath,'' says Crites, who also co-authored a guidebook on the topic published earlier this year, The Call to Hawaii: A Wellness Vacation Guidebook (Aloha Wellness Publishers, $15). Hawaii's wellness vacation offerings are ''based on the premise that people recognize their lives are out of balance'' and want to make permanent changes.
While wellness has become a buzzword at destinations worldwide, perhaps nowhere is it getting as much play as in Hawaii, where resorts are racing to unveil packages for travelers that go beyond traditional spa treatments and offer everything from meditation and spiritual retreats to ''lifestyle modification'' programs such as smoking-cessation and nutrition classes. Even volunteer opportunities are in the mix. Examples:
* Wailea Marriott, Maui. The Maui Wellness Institute opened at the resort in July and is teaming with the resort's Mandara Spa to offer guests a wellness experience, with classes in nutrition and weight management, health assessments and Reiki stress relief. Information: 808-891-1131.
* The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. The resort phased out standard massage and wrap treatments at its spa over the past two years in favor of more traditional Hawaiian healing techniques. Highlights include a hot stone therapy, using rocks from Hawaiian riverbeds. Information: 808-669-6200.
* The Four Seasons, Maui. An overhaul of the spa this summer brought a series of ''lifestyle'' classes that cover topics ranging from Taoist longevity breathing to journal writing. ''It's meant to give our guests tools to handle the little bumps in their lives,'' says the spa's Jeremy McCarthy. The resort also offers an experience called Hawaiian Temple Bodywork, using a combination of lomi-lomi massage and traditional hula dancing. Information: 808-874-8000.
In a sign of Hawaii's growing reputation as a healing destination, the island of Maui is hosting the first annual LifeFest wellness convention, which starts Sept. 12. More than 30 health, wellness and fitness authorities, including author Deepak Chopra and macrobiotic guru Michio Kushi, will offer talks and panels on healing. Information: 808-875-8411 or lifefestmaui.com.
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