In Search of Sanctuary

The Farm at San Benito in The Philippines is so much more than juice fasts and colonics.

The farm at San Benito is said to be just an hour or so away from the dense, urban jungle that is Manila. However, I started to worry when the second page of my directions stopped mentioning street names, instead telling me to turn right after two kilometers, left after another half kilometer and so on. Streets got narrower as we passed through each crowded barangay (village or district). If it wasn’t for the occasional sign that popped up every few kilometers telling us we were on the right path, I would have never guessed that a sort of Eden would be waiting at the end of the road.

But I did find my way. After the twists and turns, concrete buildings and store-fronts disappeared and gave way to acres of fruit trees, coffee plants and open fields. The palm tree-lined driveway took me front and center to The Farm’s reception area and almost at once, the only sense of place I felt, was one of peace and solitude.

When I first heard of “The Farm,” I was under the impression that it was like rehab … for those who perceived themselves to be overweight; a magical place where one could hole up for weeks or so and come out with a clearer mind, and perhaps more importantly, a svelte physique. I was mistaken. Yes, they have a detox program—a popular package consisting of various cleanses, a juice fast, yoga sessions and detoxifying skin scrubs and wraps—but that’s only scratching the surface. People choose to come here for many reasons, whether it’s for health, to get some well-deserved R & R or figure out an actual game plan to turn wellness into a way of life.


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The 25-acre resort is nestled within 123 acres of lush property. Tony lodgings are loosely peppered throughout—the property never feels crowded—and range from one-bedroom suites to multi-room bungalows that can accommodate larger families. I stayed in one of their Narra Pool Villas—a well-appointed, one-bedroom escape complete with its own heated pool and private garden (rooms also have cable, flatscreen TVs and Wi-Fi). Within The Farm, you’ll also find meditation areas, clinics and treatment rooms, lagoons, walking trails, an amphitheater, and of course, the highly lauded Healing Sanctuary Spa. Each building and structure blends in with its natural surroundings seamlessly, which only enhances the “other worldly” effect that The Farm seems to have on its visitors, who hail from all over the world. “The philosophy is to heal you through nature,” says GM Rouel Guanzon. “The whole resort is an oasis of natural healing.”

There’s one restaurant onsite called ALIVE!, which serves purely vegan fare. Most of the produce used is grown right there in the organic garden nearby, and everything on the menu has been just picked, plucked or freshly made. Breakfast granola, homemade nut butters, salad dressings and baked goods, veggie burgers, quinoa spaghetti … the list goes on. While I’m a proud carnivore, admittedly, ALIVE! does an excellent job creating unique vegan options that won’t turn off meat eaters—at least for a good while. With the added benefits of feeling lighter and more energized from eating such nutrient-dense offerings, it was relatively easy to covert to a meat-free existence, albeit temporarily. Still, I do try to eat healthier these days because of that experience.

As for my actual program—initially, I was set on trying the aforementioned detox plan. A quick glance at my itinerary told me I was scheduled for a 2-hour medical clinic consultation. Two hours seemed a little much. But after meeting with Dr. Marian Alonzo, an Integrative Medicine specialist, those two hours whizzed by. While vital signs were checked and BMIs were calculated, it was concluded that my mind needed the detox more than my body. Per Dr. Alonzo’s observations, I worry too much and apparently didn’t know how to deflect stress effectively. Signs of mental strain were showing up in the oddest of places, like my constantly peeling hands—just one subtle sign that I needed to cut down on stress, not calories. So she tweaked my itinerary to incorporate a session of stress-release exercises, in addition to corresponding spa treatments to go with it at The Healing Sanctuary Spa. That colonic I had scheduled? Canceled to make room for Neurogenic Release therapy instead.

After my one-on-one Neurogenic Release session with Dr. Sigfried Galang (who specializes in the technique among other traditional healing arts), I made my way to the spa for the Tres Banyos Lunas—a 2-hour treatment based on a ceremony still practiced by Filipino herbalists. In a private pavilion, I stepped into a warm bath filled with fragrant herbs. Next, I prepared for my warm glass bottle massage (somewhat similar to a hot stone massage, but more intense) and Tapal-Tapal Balot—and herbal wrap which aids in releasing “excess heat” from the body. The whole treatment helps flush toxins and boosts the immune system. As for immediate results, that evening was the first night of restful sleep I’d had in a while.

The Healing Sanctuary Spa is a sub-oasis within The Farm. Again, it’s designed to blend in with the resort’s natural environs. Its infinity pool facing Mount Malarayat invites guests to linger post-treatment to soak in the tranquil setting. Spa services run the gamut from scrubs to massages to facials and is comprised of Filipino, Asian and European treatments. Products used are freshly made per treatment and 100-percent natural and organic, down to the coconut milk and oils, which are made on-property. So while there is a clinical aspect to The Farm, the indulgent part is equally “therapeutic.”

“It’s a combination of the need and the want,” shares Guanzon. “The need is the medical/clinical side of what we have to offer. The want is the spa, the luxury, the pampering … If you’re able to merge it successfully, then you have it—a medispa like no other.”

Between trips to The Healing Sanctuary Spa, medical clinics and other moments of downtime, walking around the property was equally healing. The entire area feels almost sacred, a place where you can truly be alone with your thoughts. No, they aren’t militant about bringing cellphones or iPads with you, but they don’t need to be. During those times that I actually did see other guests, there wasn’t any incessant chatting on the phone or Zombie-esque texting while walking—they looked just like me, meandering along one of the many pathways to some hidden enclave, nearby lagoon or flower-filled garden. When my time at The Farm came to an end, I didn’t just lose a few bad eating and lifestyle habits, I was able to find a little bit more of myself there as well.

All photos courtesy The Farm at San Benito

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