How Dubai swapped hedonism for spirituality

Spiritual activities such as yoga at The Palm’s ocean-themed resort, Atlantis, are gaining popularity in Dubai

In most cities, the opening of a yoga and meditation studio would cause a wave of intrigue, perhaps a few raised eyebrows – and not a visit from the authorities. “I could tell they were undercover inspectors,” says Shadi Enbashi, co-owner of Dubai’s SEVA Experience, as he recalls the “two guys” who showed up many years ago at one of the first events: a lecture on cosmology and energy flow. “They asked, ‘What are you doing? What’s going on upstairs?’”

Shadi laughed as I grimaced, thinking that despite the UAE’s progressive outlook, the open practice of astrology, tarot reading and energy healing would have been controversial. “No – they listened to the lecture,” he continued, “and then they came down and said, ‘This is incredible.’ They liked what they had heard. Now we are working with the government on team building and wellness events.”

I have been visiting the city for almost 15 years, during which time I have witnessed its reinvention from flashy expat playground to cultural powerhouse, with an abundance of beautiful museums and galleries. But Dubai’s focus has also quietly shifted from the hedonistic to the spiritual, with full moon ceremonies, energy healing and breathwork classes popping up all over the city. I’ve been following the trend from afar, snooping on friends in my former hometown as they traded boozy brunches for yoga and sunrise reiki — and I looked all the happier for it. But can this city of excess really do wellness? And if so, how can holidaymakers also benefit from this?

A yoga class at Seva Wellness, DubaiA yoga class at Seva Wellness, Dubai

A yoga class at Seva Wellness, Dubai – Seva Experience

I expected SEVA Experience to be a smart yet basic yoga studio, but this whitewashed villa is an oasis. In the courtyard, the pink bougainvillea blossoms fluttered in the wind, and the roar of the city – the honking horns and the noise of construction – dulled to a distant whisper.

SEVA was offering holistic treatments long before they were trendy: Shadi’s wife Eda Güngör founded the center in 2014, in Jumeirah, a quiet neighborhood known for its low-rise housing and long sandy beach (but the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall are just 15 minutes away). minutes drive). away).

As I chatted with Shadi, barefoot people left a yin yoga class, and an assistant swept the empty studio with smoldering sage – a cleansing ceremony known as smudging. “A lot of people say this is an escape from Dubai,” he smiled, absentmindedly gathering his legs in sukhasana, the cross-legged yoga pose. “But we say no: it is not an escape, it is an extension, a possibility. Something else.”

That afternoon I took part in SEVA’s ‘sound bath’ session – and I was poured into a puddle. Perhaps it was the deep vibrations of the gongs and the low, ubiquitous tones of Tibetan singing bowls, whose sound frequency is said to calm the body at the cellular level. Or maybe it was just lying in a darkened room for an hour, breathing deeply and stretching under the guidance of certified hypnotherapist Prem Amit. Anyway, I came out with blue eyes and Bambi legs: more dribbling than perky, but still tension-free.

Chill out: in the Aura Skypool, the world's highest 360 degree infinity poolChill out: in the Aura Skypool, the world's highest 360 degree infinity pool

Chill out: in the Aura Skypool, the world’s highest 360 degree infinity pool

This year, SEVA’s workshops include astrology and tarot readings, past life regression and full moon kundalini yoga – with singing, dancing and breathing exercises. But for a lighter touch, many city attractions also explore wellbeing in a more ‘traditional’ Dubai environment. At the glamorous DRIFT Beach Club you can try yoga, pilates and floating HIIT classes with sea views on paddle boards in the pool. And look forward to pop-up meditation and yoga classes in places like Aura Skypool (the highest 360-degree infinity pool in the world), the 124th floor terrace of the Burj Khalifa and the 150-metre-high Dubai Frame – whose glass floor will certainly brighten up your interior. brightens up. downward dog.

From sky high to sea deep, my next wellness date was in the depths of The Lost Chambers Aquarium, at Atlantis’ ocean-themed resort, The Palm. “And relaaaax…” Yoga instructor Katrina urged, as a group of stingrays floated over my head. “Flow like water, find space in your body…”

Lost Chambers Yoga at Atlantis The PalmLost Chambers Yoga at Atlantis The Palm

Lost Chambers Yoga at Atlantis The Palm

Yoga lingo usually annoys me, but there was something hypnotic about the sparkling blue view through the aquarium glass, a window into a world of swirling fish and rays of early morning sun. Four times a week, these hatha yoga classes take place before the aquarium opens to the public, a chance to stretch out alongside – and then explore at your leisure – the 65,000 sea inhabitants, who are fed restaurant-quality seafood and cared for by more than 100 aquarists, veterinarians and water technicians. During the cool-down I watched divers cleaning the other side of the glass, under the gaze of their spoiled divers.

The stingrays weren’t the only ones making fun of seafood: at Twiggy by La Cantine, the beach restaurant at my hotel, Park Hyatt Dubai, I devoured pesto-drenched squid, garlic prawns and sea bass carpaccio with truffles – and returned later for a feast of sushi and sashimi. I’ve stayed in countless hotels in Dubai, but there’s something particularly soothing about the lush gardens and Arabic-inspired architecture of the Park Hyatt, while the Ahasees Spa offers decadent treatments: think crushed-pearl body scrubs and gold-enriched massage oils.

The beach restaurant of Twiggy by La Cantine, part of the Park Hyatt DubaiThe beach restaurant of Twiggy by La Cantine, part of the Park Hyatt Dubai

The beach restaurant of Twiggy by La Cantine, part of the Park Hyatt Dubai

For years, celebrity award-winning restaurants have dominated Dubai’s dining scene, but a new crop of venues are championing wellness instead. Teible, at the Jameel Arts Center, has a Green Michelin star for its no-waste menu, featuring pickled herbs and house-fermented kohlrabi, kombucha and dates. Even the most reluctant pickle eater can wonderfully stimulate their microbiome; ask nicely, and chef Carlos Frunze might even show you his fermentation cabinet, filled with bubbling jars.

Lunch is served at Twiggy by La CantineLunch is served at Twiggy by La Cantine

Lunch is served at Twiggy by La Cantine

I ended my trip by escaping the city to a place I’d long wanted to visit: the World Islands, a man-made archipelago loosely shaped like a map of the world. Located in South America, the Anantara World Islands Dubai Resort is an oasis of thatched-roof coastal villas, infinity pools and toes-in-the-sand dining. A huge vegetable garden supplies the restaurants with food, and peacocks parade through the flower beds. It’s glitzy Dubai, but with a relaxed Maldives-style atmosphere.

“This is a place of pure tranquility,” enthused the resort’s spa director, Galina Antoniuk, as we discussed the resort’s wellness offerings over a cup of tea. In addition to the “normal” spa treatments, it also includes crystal rituals, herbal compresses and magnesium baths (“to rebalance the body”), all created by Galina, for whom spirituality is key. I tried the latter, and it was indeed fantastic: a deep tissue massage and a long, hot dip in petal-strewn brine, followed by a final yoga session – on the beach, of course.

As I teetered on a sandy foot and stretched my arms high into tree pose, I focused my eyes on the horizon—on the silver shard of the Burj Khalifa, glittering in the distance over the water. Of course I felt perkier. How could I not? Yes, there will be a new trend in town soon, but I’m with the incognito inspectors: this one is worth capitalizing on.

The essentials

Hazel was a guest of Visit Dubai. For more information, Emirates (0344 800 2777; offers direct flights to Dubai from seven UK cities – from £535 return, based on departure from London Heathrow. King rooms at Park Hyatt Dubai (00 971 4 602 1234; from AED595 (£134) per night, including breakfast. Sea view rooms at Anantara World Islands Dubai Resort from AED885 (£200) per night, including breakfast;

Yoga classes at The Lost Chambers Aquarium cost from AED 160 (£32); SEVA workshops from approximately AED 110 (£23.50);

Dubai from a different angle

Four more alternative trends to explore


Guided by a professional astronomer, Platinum Heritage’s Private Night Safari includes stargazing and storytelling deep in the desert, plus a moonlit nature walk and three-course dinner (from AED 2,500/£563 per group). The Al Thuraya Astronomy Center offers state-of-the-art telescopes and tours.

street food

A ‘Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage’ with Frying Pan Adventures showcases authentic dishes from Iraq, Syria, Palestine and beyond, on a four-hour walking tour (AED435/£93pp). For street-style Lebanese food, head to Al Mallah (Al Dhiyafa Rd); for local fish and seafood, book Bu Qtair in Umm Suqeim (+971 55 705 2130).

Wild animals

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is a ten-minute drive from Downtown Dubai, but the swamps and mangroves are teeming with flamingos, kingfishers and eagles (free entry and tours). Visit Al Qudra Lakes (free) to spy desert foxes and Arabian oryx.


Alserkal Avenue is a thriving center with small galleries, artsy cafes and independent shops – ideal for an afternoon of lounging (free). Jameel Arts Center showcases talent from across the Middle East, with workshops and lectures offering a deeper dive into the region’s creative scene (free).

Leave a Comment