The night sky dazzles with pinpoints of light as I lean my head back against the rocks that bound onsen number five.
There are 10 secluded hot springs tucked within the broad leaves and running waterfalls of the Japanese-inspired tropical garden but this one, this starlit reflecting pool, is mine—at least, for as long as I can stand the heat.
Sensei Lana’i, the luxury resort by Four Seasons on the private Hawaiian island of the same name, is teeming with these moments of deep relaxation; the estate lush with rainbows of flowers and banyan trees dripping with vines, with meandering paths and secluded nooks for taking it all in. It’s where wellness starts at Sensei, but not where it ends—not even close.
The only thing I knew about Lana’i before traveling here was its Bay Area connection. Larry Ellison, master of all things Oracle, purchased 98 percent of the island in 2012, including its two Four Seasons resorts. The property in the island’s sacred Ko’ele highlands he transformed from lodge to sanctuary, planting it with his priceless sculpture collection and a series of pavilions and retreats for yoga, meditation, fitness, and spa services.
The beauty and luxury of the resort is captivating enough on its own to inspire relaxation and wellbeing. But beneath the surface, Sensei is driven by the mission to transform lives by developing healthy lifestyle practices that are preventative rather than reactive. Their innovative programs here (and at its sister wellness retreat in Rancho Mirage, California) leverage the most up-to-date science and multidisciplinary research to keep you living well all the way to the end.
Treatments take place in one of 10 private hales—bungalows with hot and cold pools, an infrared sauna, steambath, Japanese soaking tub, and more.(Courtesy of Sensei Lana'i)
My Guided Wellness Experience—a three-night program that includes personalized health assessments; two private sessions with highly-trained guides in fitness, nutrition, mindset, yoga, or meditation; two spa treatments; as many complimentary small group classes, guided activities, and lectures as you want; and an actionable take-home wellness plan—begins bright and early on my first full day.
Jim, a Sensei guide with an impressive resume, greets me, serene with a dimpled smile that immediately sets me at ease. We talk—about my current fitness, nutrition and relaxation regimens; about the things holding me back; and about my goals for the future. He measures my biomarkers, assessing my strength, my flexibility, and even my dehydration levels. It’s hard to build a wellness roadmap if you don’t know your point of origin, he explains. He’ll share these details with other members of the team to make sure I’m getting the best individualized care during my stay.
A couple hours later, we meet again in a one-on-one Mindset session. Most of our mental energy is spent dwelling on the past or fretting about the future, he tells me, but studies show that if you can learn to focus in on the present, you’ll be emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthier. He shares cutting-edge scientific evidence and we discuss ways to actually shift the brain patterns that sabotage wellbeing. It’s a big topic but Jim makes the information approachable.
With school done for the day, I head to the pool, a huge wrap-around lagoon with three separate hot tubs and garden coves for lounging. A few hours of swimming, reading, and resting later, it’s time for my massage. My therapist meets me at the door of a private hale, a 1,000-square-foot bungalow primed for relaxation. For an hour after my treatment, I can do as I please: relax in the infrared sauna, steamroom, and wooden Japanese soaking tub inside, and take advantage of the hot and cold plunge pools and rainwater shower in the garden outside.
The fine dining restaurant Sensei by Nobu sits on the edge of a koi pond.(Courtesy of Sensei Lana'i)
Dinner is at the resort’s signature restaurant, Sensei by Nobu, where the Japanese dishes are nutritionally optimized with fresh produce (much of it grown on the resort's hydroponic farm), fish, seafood, and lean meats. In celebration of the first night, I opt for the omakase tasting menu, five courses of delightful, nourishing food including roasted lobster with smoked vinaigrette, seared tuna, and the catch of the day with roasted vegetables and a series of dipping sauces that bring out their flavors. Every dish is impeccable.
Before bedtime, I stroll to the onsen garden for another soak under the stars. A rushing waterfall next to my pool is like a lullaby. By the time I get back to my room, it’s all I can do to peel back the covers and climb in bed.
For my second day at Sensei, I’ve selected a handful of activities and experiences. There’s so much to choose from—horseback riding, an adventure park, sports—but I opt to begin with a guided hike to Koloiki Ridge, a five-mile out-and-back that treks to one of the island’s highest points, where the views of the nearby islands of Maui and Molokai are pristine.
Forest bathing, the meditative Japanese practice of breathing in the natural world, comes next. It’s an hour of relaxation before I hop in a van headed for the harbor. Boarding the ultra-posh catamaran, we motor out to Shark Fin Cove and the best snorkeling on Lanai. Ours is the only boat there—the perks of a private island—and I spend a long, lazy afternoon swimming with bright tropical fish and an octopus who struggles to remain unseen.
Instead of heading back to Sensei, I’ve arranged to have dinner at the OneForty Steakhouse at the Four Seasons’ beach resort. They set me up with a complimentary room with a view of the water to get cleaned up before heading to the restaurant at sunset. Noshing on grilled scallops, seafood rigatoni, and lobster mashed potatoes, I watch the evening color spread across the sky.
Private, semi-private, and group experiences at Sensei include everything from yoga and meditation to hiking and horseback riding.(Courtesy of Sensei Lana'i)
My last day at Sensei comes with a jarring reminder of the real world. I wake early, inspired to spend some time in the gym before breakfast, to find that my flight from Lana’i back to Maui has been canceled, and I’ve been moved to one leaving at 8:15am. At the front desk, they help me pivot to the ferry instead, rescuing my last few hours on the island.
After breakfast on the deck of the koi fish pond, I return to a private hale for a facial and one last romp in the cabana’s magical serenity. Finally, with less than two hours to go, it’s back to Jim’s office for one final meeting. Like our previous encounters, he is kind and insightful as he breaks down some of the subtle shifts I can make in my own personal routine to optimize all three pillars of Sensei wellness: move, nourish, and rest. He sends me off with a classy set of hourglass timers, a reminder to take regular small breaks to rest and recharge.
I’m not ready to leave; I could spend an entire month drifting between the onsen garden and the pool, between the sculpture gardens and fitness and meditation classes. But if I have to go, at least I have a little piece of Sensei to bring home, a personalized wellness plan to keep me living my best life.
// 1 Keomoku Hwy (Lana’i City, Hawaii), sensei.com