With the streets lined with Ayurveda spas, and I thought it was time to take my wellness journey up a notch with a stay in an Ayurveda retreat in Sri Lanka. But I must confess, I was anxious about my stay in an Ayurveda retreat. I really like espressos, I don’t take kindly to being told what to eat and nor do I enjoy the taste of medicine. I wasn’t entirely on board with the vegetarian menu either during my stay at an Ayurveda retreat in Sri Lanka, unlike my neighbour pictured below.
Meaning the “Science of Life” Ayurveda has been passed down through the generations for over 5,000 years and is still practiced today by most Sri Lankans. In fact, Ayurveda centres are dotted throughout the island as the government dispenses herbal medicines free of charge and it’s not uncommon for tuk-tuk drivers to stop suddenly for a top-up of herbal medicine or tea regardless of whether they have passengers in the back or not.
I’m one of the many pampered guests of Barberyn Ayurveda Resort has been caring for since opening in 1984 for a predominantly European clientele, a third of which are returning customers. Barberyn is considered one of the most authentic and holistic healing retreats in the world and as it was the first of its kind, it paved the way for wellness tourism in Sri Lanka by bringing Ayurveda to the Western world with four resorts, Barberyn Reef in Beruwala (an hour from Colombo), Barberyn Sands (Bentota), and Barberyn Beach and Barberyn Waves near the seaside town of Weligama.
The essence of Ayurveda is maintaining a level of balance between the three life energies, or doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. When our doshas are in harmony we achieve a state of equilibrium; our well-being improves, vitality increases and the ageing process is delayed. Imbalances occur from incorrect eating patterns, stress, negative feelings, lack of exercise, smoking, pollution, and alcohol and drug consumption. The symptoms include tension, insomnia, back pain, arthritis, obesity, sinusitis, skin conditions, migraines and depression, to more serious illnesses like Parkinson’s disease and cancer for improved immunity and to detox the invasive treatments to severe diseases.
On arrival, I received the doctor’s consultation and a treatment plan to remove toxins, known as panchakarma, as well as a prescription for herbal medicines and a controlled eating plan. The treatment plan has three phases: 1) preparing the body for purification 2) purification and 3) post purification and rejuvenation. This isn’t a quick fix solution and while most guests will dedicate one to two weeks, three weeks provides optimal results.
Nutrition is the cornerstone of health and there are six tastes, or rasas, not just for the taste buds but for absorption by the whole body. Consuming all six tastes at every meal balances out the doshas. The tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. I’ve been put on a controlled diet, so the delicious cashew nut curry, pumpkin dishes and orange cake are off the menu for me, but I have free reign over the vegetarian biryani, string hoppers, curries, roasted vegetables, red rice, lentils, bread (to sop up all that goodness) and tropical fruits.
Consumption isn’t just about food either as liquids are equally important. Take note, gallons of warm water and herbal tea is consumed, which leaves little room for the forbidden coffee and alcohol. Even cold drinks are to be avoided as they decrease your digestive power and slow down detoxification.
Each day begins with a three-hour treatment, which at first is a confronting experience as there’s no segregation between the sexes as everyone swans around in just a green sarong. Not to mention I’m not generally in the habit of being bathed by complete strangers. They don’t remain strangers for long and I soon start to relax during the synchronised massages, baths, herbal paste applications, facial therapies and acupuncture.
Every day I’m administered fresh herbal medicines such as decoctions, pills and powders, which need to be consumed at specific times every day. Over 400 herbs are sourced from both resorts, nearby mangroves and the hill town of Kandy, and one decoction can contain up to 60 ingredients and include bark, root seeds and flowers. The decoctions are boiled in earthenware pots over a long period of time and reduction produces a strong and pungent flavour which is best diluted with honey or warm water.
My verdict: Barberyn is not for the “cocktails at sunset” crowd. Some of the therapies and humidity can be challenging at times, especially as most of the decorated rooms are without the interruption of TVs or air-conditioning as maintaining peace and a core body temperature assists with the purification process.
There’s plenty of free time to enjoy the optional and inclusive activities like yoga, Ayurveda talks and excursions. I opt for a lagoon safari with a visit to Cinnamon Island, which has the added bonus of afternoon tea with cinnamon flavoured biscuits; they’re kind of healthy, right? Other afternoons I slip into the salt-water pool overlooking the ocean or flop on the balcony with a book and those commanding ocean views. Most nights are languid except during the fire-breathing and dancing cultural extravaganzas.
My stay allowed me to thoroughly indulge in myself while escaping the trappings of modern living and existing habits. In fact, I may have even overindulged since I left one kilo heavier than I arrived; I’m so chilled I don’t even care.
Extra: If a trip to Sri Lanka isn’t viable Lakshmi Ayurveda Wellness Centre (www.lakshmiayurveda.com.au) in Hamilton Hill, Western Australia provide authentic Ayurveda experiences. Personalised services begin with an initial in-depth consultation to plan a holistic approach through treatments, understanding your dosha, exercise and eating appropriately to suit your constitution.
Now you’re all oiled up, you might also enjoy A funny thing happened at the Ayurveda Spa in Sri Lanka and while you’re on this magical island you should check out 10 unforgettable things to do in Sri Lanka.