A Beginner’s Guide to Ayurveda in Sri LankaJune 26, 2017
Ayurveda is one of those words that, when spoken, gets quickly categorised in the slightly-hippy-health-things-that-I-do-not-understand part of my brain. It’s filed somewhere between kabbalah and transcendental meditation. Well that was until I visited the Santani retreat in the hills near Kandy, Sri Lanka.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a system of medicine created thousands of years ago in India. It says that our body and mind are made up of certain elements and that by balancing these elements through food and lifestyle we’ll be able to live our happiest, most fulfilled life. Now I get it: when you hear the whole “body-mind” speech it’s easy to think you’re in the realm of the mystical and switch right off. But the link between body and mind isn’t hocus pocus. We experience it every day.
As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. In other words, things happen to us physically, but it’s the way our mind decides to react to them that determines whether they are good or bad. For example, you’re heading out with friends for the day and forget your telephone. You can either see this as 1) a disaster of unmitigated proportions (will your day out even have happened if it’s not posted on Instagram?!) or 2) the perfect opportunity to leave phone calls and social media behind for the day and really enjoy being in the moment with your mates.
In both examples, the mere act of thinking will produce a physical reaction. In number 1) it’ll be stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, whereas in number 2) it’s more likely to be feel good chemicals. Ayurveda is all about balancing out that relationship between the mind and the body so that we experience a lot more of the good stuff.
Sounds alright, right?
When I arrived, the resident Ayurvedic doctor (who looked entirely normal and wasn’t even wearing any prayer beads) sat me down to answer some questions. He explained that the body is made up of 3 elements (called doshas) and that these are roughly translated as air (vata), fire (pitta) and water (kapha). The questions determine which of these elements most dominate your body and mind and from there you can work out the treatments that are best to create balance.
What are Ayurvedic Treatments?
Food: Once you’ve worked out your Ayurvedic mix, the doctor chats to the chef and all of your meals are then tailored to your exact needs. So for instance, if your body has a lot of pitta, or fire, then you’ll be getting less hot spices and less caffeine as these would just make you even fierier. And trust me, the food looks like art and tastes like heaven. Head Chef Wajira Gamage knows his kapha from his vata.
Herbs: Ayurvedic medicine deeply trusts in the power of herbs. Once you’ve got your ayurvedic profile a skilled doctor will recommend different herbs that you can take to balance you out and get the maximum from your body and mind.
Detoxing: Otherwise known as panchakarma the detoxing process involves massages and steam treatments. If you really want to get adventurous though, there’s a whole array of slightly more exotic treatments. But seeing as this is a family show, I’ll let you explore those in your own time. Ahem.
Massage: This one deserves a bit more detail. Ayurvedic massage can aid the detoxing process, but it’ll heal all sorts of ailments and creaks too. I visited the Santani spa with a trapped sciatic nerve. The doctor prescribed a treatment which involved being pounded with bags of herbs and hot oil. Granted I felt a bit like I was being basted for the oven, but the next day “kapow!” the pain was gone.
Shirodhara: Anyone who has seen this could mistake it for Chinese water torture, but it’s marginally more chilled out than that. Medicated oils are continually and gently dripped onto your forehead (in your ‘third eye’ region for all you yogis) throughout the treatment. If your nervous system is a bit out of whack then Shirodhara might be the key – it’s said to relieve everything from depression, tension, insomnia and jet lag.