It’s fair to say that high-tech suffers from a reputation problem. Despite all the promise and excitement it offers us, headlines are instead dominated by threats of AI stealing our jobs or accidents caused by driverless cars. Yet rather than letting tech cause stress, some hotels and spas around the world are turning to tech to relieve those headaches and back knots.

We see to using technology in a mindful way,” says Anna Bjurstam, wellness pioneer at Six Senses Spas and Wellness. Bjurstam joined Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas in 2013 and now is in charge of constantly evolving the global spa brand to keep ahead of the curve, re-energising Six Senses wellness initiatives and addressing changing techniques. “My role as a wellness pioneer is to look at everything; where we’re heading, what’s happening in the markets, keep ahead of trends, which ones are real, which ones are not, and how you want to tap into what’s coming,” Bjurstam explains. “It’s also part of making sure that the wellness we are providing today is up to date, always modifying, changing as new research and new science comes up.”

Keeping up to date with the latest advancements in science and medical research is at the core of the Six Senses’ approach to wellness. To use the brand’s own analogy, wellness is not just confined to the four walls of the spa. Instead, practicing wellness can be a tool to treat the body to become more aware and make improvements in a playful and experimental way – with technology providing the equipment to do so.

Decoding the body

As Bjurstam describes, Six Senses has offered personalised wellness treatments in its spas since 2015, when the brand first started to identify biomarkers to inform guests’ decision making around treatments. “For us, technology’s hugely important because the guests can understand their own wellness,” Bjurstam adds. “Sometimes they think that they are in a certain state of health or not. But when we use technology it can tell us, so the body doesn’t lie.”

A guest may not be immediately forthcoming about the stresses and strains on the body and mind, but it will show up in a screening. By measuring biomarkers, anything within the body that a person may be trying to hide, may be undiscovered or just misunderstood is all laid out before the spa technician to see. “[Biomarking] has hugely helped us. Because if someone has booked a detox programme, but they’re not sleeping enough, we need to address the sleep first before and then you can do a milder detox,” explains Bjurstam.

Biomarking is a non-invasive analysis that is fast, simple, and often the first step to making long-lasting improvements. Together with monitoring sleep, skin and emotions, a guest’s experience is uniquely personalised as their treatment course is tailored to their requirements, whether that is through massages, LED therapy and IV nutrient drips, detoxifying body work, oxygen altitude-training sessions or diet suggestions, to lifestyle recommendation like hikes and immersion in nature, yoga. “Medically, we’ve been able to do this for years, of course,” notes Bjurstam, “but not in a wellness spa and wellness location of that magnitude.”

Hacking health

However, measuring biomarkers is only one element that goes into Six Senses’ overall technical and innovative approach to wellness. It feeds into a huge array of therapies considered under the umbrella term of biohacking. “The biohacking trend is one that we’re seeing right now exploding because people are understanding and seeing the benefits of it,” Bjurstam notes. When we talk about biohacking, it is looking at lifestyle and diet, the little changes that can make a big difference to how the body thinks, feels and reacts. There are no invasive treatments such as gene editing or inserting microchips under the skin. Instead, biohacking employs methods from fields like biology, genetics, neuroscience and nutrition to enhance physical or mental performance and improve overall health and well-being.

The RoseBar Longevity programmes available at the Six Senses Ibiza, for example, offer one, three, or seven-day packages, marketed as ‘highly personalised journeys’. Unlike most traditional spa packages, there is no set menu here, instead the treatment course is bespoke for each guest, informed by comprehensive diagnostic tests that have been interpreted by the team of medical experts. The results are then incorporated into a regime of nutritional support and exercise, considering science alongside spiritual pathways. While no treatment plan is the same, a course may include a functional medicine consultation with a resident doctor, personalised nutrition consultation, training or yoga sessions, group meditation, breathwork and energy medicine. Technology is one element of this holistic approach, used at each step to enhance the treatments and improve their accuracy. For example, this could be using the Hypervolt Go, a powerful device that moves to give a portable percussion massage; a Venom Back Wrap, which amplifies the soothing power of heat with compression and vibration to melt away stresses or tension in the core; compression boots; the Vyper Go Roll a percussion device to increase circulation and flexibility; sleep tracking, using wearables such as sleep tracking rings to monitor sleeping patterns, the results of which are analysed and discussed with Six Senses’ experts the following day.

Cold comforts

One of the more popular treatments across all of Six Senses properties is photo biomodulation or red light sauna. As Bjurstam explains, this is where you are exposed to red light for at least 20 minutes to increase mitochondrial production, leading to improved physical and cognitive performance. This is due to the direct supply of energy (in the form of light) to mitochondria, the energy batteries of cells, which in turn help to relieve inflammation, stiffness and soreness by increasing blood circulation, delivering more oxygenrich blood for a faster recovery and increases excretion of metabolic waste products. “The science is very clear on how it works, and what benefits it has – and there’s constantly new scientific research on additional benefits,” adds Bjurstam.

Another increasingly popular treatment choice from guests is cryotherapy – indeed, there’s a reason why cultures all over the world for thousands of years have indulged in hot and cold bathing. While hypothermic conditioning, such as saunas or steam treatments, has been a long popular choice to clear toxins and heavy metals like mercury through sweat and to stimulate the similar effects to exercise, releasing endorphins and increasing blood flow to the brain. However, it is cryotherapy that has been the top pick for spa-goers recently – and the results explain why.

“We think we have six senses or five senses, but we actually have 21 senses. And one is the way that our skin senses hot and cold,” describes Bjurstam. “So when [the skin] senses that it’s 15°C, it sends a message to the brain to tell the body to put on the immune system because something is happening to the body. And again, it’s been researched that it releases endorphins, it’s good for the ligaments and the joints. It’s actually used for people who have rheumatoid [arthritis], and [in] recovery.”

From your head to your toes, with a range of localised facial treatments and compression cryotherapy boots, to the whole body – even a full-length cryotherapy chamber – Six Senses has it covered, or should I say cooled. And yet this only represents a fraction of a thriving cryotherapy industry, one that was valued at over $7bn in 2021 and is expected to reach $12.34bn by 2030, according to a research report published by Spherical Insights & Consulting.

“When [the skin] senses that it’s 15°C, it sends a message to the brain to tell the body to put on the immune system because something is happening to the body.”

Upgrading wellness

Despite its rapid expansion within the wellness world and promising economics, the market for cryotherapy is currently inhibited by the shortage of skilled workers and facilities that allow this technology to be accessible. Because technology can only advance and bring benefits if we can ensure it is being used correctly and to its full potential. That’s why the brand’s wellness offering comes fully backed-up and informed through consultations with “some of the best experts in the world”, in Bjurstam’s own words. “We worked with Dr Michael Bruce, a sleep doctor, and then professor Steven Lockley, a circadian rhythm and sleep expert at Harvard, to say: How do we build the best sleep room? What pillows and what duvet should we have?

“We only know so much. But if you talk to two guys who do nothing else their whole life and look at sleep, and their expertise is so much greater,” she acknowledges. “Although, I cannot tell you how many pillows were sent to Dr Bruce.”

Another area that Bjurstam and her team are currently consulting with the experts on is female health, as the luxury hotel and wellness brand looks to improve and widen its offerings for this particular demographic in the coming few years. “We’re complicated beings as female,” she explains, “Men are a bit easier. They have testosterone. That’s it. Women have oestrogen and progesterone, and then a bit of testosterone and all kinds of other hormones that mess things up.”

Nor does the focus on wellness stop at the body, but there are also technological treatments on offer to improve mental well-being and cognitive abilities. “If you have an aroma diffuser for your grandparents or your parents who started to decline in memory and you put essential oil into this diffuser and they put it on for two hours every night, they improve their cognitive function and memory by 226%,” Bjurstam claims, citing a study published in Advances in Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation. “That’s because the olfactory, the smell sense, is the only sense that we have that is connected to the limbic brain, where our memory long term memory and emotions.” Another trend is music where certain frequencies can be played to help guests relax, destress, focus or be creative.

While the future looks like it will be decided by algorithms and data points, there’s little evidence that the human touch will be removed from the spa entirely just yet. It’s important to remind ourselves that despite its promises, technology can distract us, too – especially when considering many guests come to retreats like Six Senses to destress and unwind from their technological tensions. “We’re disconnected today with being in the rat race,” adds Bjurstam. “So equally as [much as] we want to have technology to enhance, we’ve always said [we do that] with high touch and high tech; that we’re working on various aspects on how we can connect the guest more to themselves.”

Spas and wellness centres have a long way to go until they become fully digitalised and automated. “I don’t think we ever are going to lose that human connection,” concludes Bjurstam, “because in the end, nothing will ever take over the actual human contact. But I believe that technology can enhance it.”