Ayurveda is an ancient Indian healing system of therapies which centres on three distinct body types, or doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each dosha has a unique set of characteristics that can be balanced in a variety of ways – through external treatments and diet among others.
It’s a fascinating world that we are keen to explore when we visit Kerala, Ayurveda’s birthplace. The luxurious Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra (www.niraamaya.in) is the ideal place to indulge, set atop dramatic cliffs teetering over a pristine stretch of the Malabar Coast around 15 minutes from the main tourist town of Kovalam.
Diagnosed as a Vata Pitta combination after a brief assessment and examination, the doctor prescribes a series of treatments that I can undertake during our stay. Although extended treatment is recommended to really see the benefits, as I have nothing too out of sorts, I decide to give it a go anyway.
And I’m glad I did – my one week in Kerala, far from the frenzied pace of urban living, is by far the most tranquil I have spent in India.
Here are five ways we tapped into the ancient world of ayurveda.
A lukewarm stream of oil spills from the brass vessel hanging overhead, gently striking my forehead before breaking into tiny gleaming rivulets that trickle into my hair. For one whole hour, I lie there as the gentle pressure sends me in and out of slumber. This ayurvedic therapy is believed to diffuse mental tension, ease headaches and improve sleep with cosmetic benefits an added plus.
- Njavara kizhi
Less relaxing is the pummelling I receive at the hands of two therapists that afternoon as they pound every inch of my naked body with heated bundles of herbs in this a treatment purported to have anti-ageing effects. But I must admit, when I step down from the vast wooden treatment table, my body has taken on a new lightness and my skin is incredibly soft.
- Abhyanga snana classic
The heavy-handedness of the njavara kishi is soon forgotten when my two therapists conduct a traditional four-handed oil massage with an abundant supply of aromatic medicated oil poured liberally over every inch of my naked body. Wordlessly, they work in perfect synchronisation for 60 minutes, with the treatment said to improve circulation and relax while enhancing energy flow.
It’s more of a balancing act the next day when I arrive for another massage – this one utterly unlike any that I have ever tried before. My therapist’s well-trained feet are the focus here as she works her way into the knots and muscles of my back with her soles – her heels and toes relying on ropes suspended from the ceiling for support and balance. This treatment is revitalising and detoxifying while also stimulating blood circulation.
- A dosha-based diet
The food at the hotel is delicious so we’re a little reluctant when we opt to try the ayurvedic diet. But it’s only a day and a glance at the menu reveals a list of dishes that sound pretty tasty. As a Vata Pitta, I breakfast on vegetable idly and lunch on a thali consisting of a vast number of concoctions including pumpkin curry, ladies fingers and banana curry. It’s delicious, but my resolve has faded by the evening and I can’t help by try the fish tikka instead.
Those keen to take their ayurvedic treatment beyond the realm of simple spa pampering can sign up for the more drastic pancha karma – an intense five-stage cleanse that claims to cure a range of ailments.
But we opt instead for daily yoga and meditation classes in the resort’s peaceful surrounds at sunrise and sunset with a private tutor who teaches us the importance of breathing and expertly guides us through a series of postures designed to calm the body and mind. Bliss!