It is now day seven of my Ayurvedic retreat at the Ayurveda Yoga Retreat and Hospital, nestled in hectares of tea plantations in the province of Tamil Nadu in southern India, and I have finally settled in enough to give an update.
The retreat is located north of the city of Canoor, roughly 1800m (5,900ft) above sea level in the famed Nilgiri Hills, boasting roughly twenty-four peaks above 2000m (6,560ft). These hills are part of the Western Ghats, a mountain range on the southwestern edge of the Deccan Plateau. The area is world renowned for its teas.
After a long forty-eight hour journey to get here (yes, I offset and I know it really doesn’t make a difference!), and a gut-churning drive up the mountain (the car, truck, motorcycle, scooter and Tuk-Tuk drivers utilize some indecipherable system of horn honking and light flashing to pass each other on an extremely narrow winding road), I ended up with a lethal case of jet lag and a bit of altitude sickness. However, I did learn that eucalyptus is great for helping with altitude discomfort and thankfully grows in abundance in the area. The jet lag passed and you eventually get used to the roads and wild driving conditions, which are just a little different to the sleepy Canadian island driving I am used to.
Ayurvedic medicine (often described as “the knowledge for long life”) is an ancient form of Indian medicine and coming to an alternative hospital/retreat to deal with your health issues is both a leap of faith and probably one of the best things you could ever do for yourself in terms of attempting to address your health/mind constitution holistically. In fact, the earliest mention of Ayurvedic in literature on Indian medical practice appeared during the Vedic period in India (the mid-second millennium BCE), according to Wikipedia.
However, it is important to differentiate between a resort/spa and an Ayurvedic hospital/retreat centre. Here people aren’t getting pedicures, facials and manicures (although some guests do go to town for these services), rather many people are dealing with serious health issues ranging from extreme drug addiction, cancer, obesity, colitis, bulimia, etc. Other guests come to the centre for extreme detoxification or PanchaKarma.
Many people find themselves here when traditional or allopathic forms of medicine are no longer working for them, while others simply seek the intense forms of detoxification and weight loss programs available.
The guests are comprised of people from around the globe and their nationalities are as varied as their ailments. However, the commonality amongst the guests is their openness to change, transformation, desire to be healthy in body and mind, as well as their kindness and support in helping each other through the often uncomfortable treatment or detoxification process. The staff are also fully supportive in ensuring the majority of your needs are taken care of as quickly and gently as possible.
My visit to the centre is comprised of roughly forty-four days of treatment to deal with a number of minor health issues and to experience the deep cleansing of PanchaKarma. Although my health concerns are not as serious in relation to some of the other guests at the centre, they were health issues that I could never seem to get resolved back in Canada utilizing both an excellent traditional medical doctor and two wonderful naturopaths.
After the recommendation of several friends who have had some remarkable results after visiting an Ayurvedic hospital, I was intrigued and convinced enough to fly half-way round the world to try a completely alternative system of medicine to get a health/mind reboot.
For those who are unfamiliar with Ayurvedic medicine, it is based on diagnosing the body and mind’s ailments via a system of analyzing your ‘doshic’ state or type. The three main dosha types are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each body type manifests different behaviors, ailments and imbalances when out of alignment.
It is believed that knowing your personal constitution or dosha will allow you to understand yourself better and, being in balance, create greater harmony between your mind and body. Healing is much more difficult when the overall state of the body and mind are not taken into consideration during the treatment process, as is often the case with traditional western medicine where either the mind or body ailments are treated but rarely are they considered intricately linked.
At the centre where I am staying each person is examined and diagnosed by a medical/Ayurvedic doctor, and this includes an overview of your health history, current problems, physical and pulse examination (The doctor is available six days a week from roughly 9am to 5pm and you can visit him as often as you like!). Your custom treatment plan is then arranged around your dosha and health goals.
The healing process involves a special diet tailored to your condition(s), medication (five times a day) and a wide variety of treatments twice a day ranging from deep tissue massage with medicated coconut oil, enemas or colonic irrigation, steam treatments, rice and/or oil baths, nasal and eye cleansing, to ingesting clarified ghee butter to purge the system.
There are also yoga classes three times a day, plus daily meditations. The entire area is famous for its Nilgiri tea so the mountains are covered with tea plantations that, aside from providing stunning scenery, also offer miles of amazing walks. (Yes, the tea is amazing!)
So far, I am enjoying the experience as I have started gently with my treatments consisting primarily of deep tissue medicated coconut oil massages (usually accompanied with a lettuce scrub and warm shower) performed in the morning by two masseuses working simultaneously and an afternoon head, neck and back massage also with medicated oils that are tailored to my specific treatment plan. (Women cannot participate in some of the treatments during menstruation).
I must admit I have some trepidation about the coming weeks when my treatments will intensify to include some of the purging and more intense forms of detoxification. Thankfully, I will finish up the remainder of my stay with treatments geared towards rebuilding my system, restoring balance and rejuvenation.
Lastly, many people have asked me what a typical day at the centre is like so here is a sample itinerary:
6am: Medication is delivered to your room
6:30-7:30am: Yoga and meditation
8:30-11:30am: One hour specialized treatment
12:30-1pm: Weight loss yoga
1-2pm: Lunch (more medication)
1:30-4:30pm: A thirty-minute specialized treatment and a visit from the reflexologist (every three days for the reflexologist)
3-4pm: Intermediate yoga
4-4:30pm: Afternoon tea served in the garden
7-8pm: Dinner and medication
Participation in the yoga and meditation is not obligatory, but is encouraged. Meals can be eaten in the dinning room or delivered to your room – depending on how you are feeling.
The only other things of note are the government mandates that the electricity is turned off from 10am to noon and 4-6pm, and the area is teeming with wildlife. Wild monkeys are everywhere (there was a wild monkey invasion at the retreat today when they tried to break into the Ayurvedic garden and the kitchen). Wild elephants live on the mountains and there are numerous beautiful chatty birds in the tea fields and trees.
Valerie Williams is a writer living on Salt Spring Island, Canada and is currently on retreat in Canoor, India.