Night wrangles with dawn when you wake up. Birds still slumber in their nests outside your room. By 5am you join other residents for pooja in the central prayer room of the colonial-era house that dates back 370 years.
The chanting and clanging cymbals in the light of the oil lamps make for an ethereal experience. Suddenly, you feel more alive than you have ever been before. By 6am, with the birds now chirping in the trees outside the expansive windows of the yoga room, you carefully contort your body under the watchful eye of your instructor.
After a flavourful Kerala breakfast, your masseuse leads you to one of the massage rooms. Moments later, you are slathered in warm oil and milk, that soothes your tired body. A robust and fruity aroma engulfs the room. Then, firm, but gentle hands knead the medicinal oils deep into your stiff muscles, at once invigorating and soothing.
Welcome to the rejuvenating Ayurvedic massage that for millennia has been used to detoxify the body, heal ailments, and refresh the senses. In a world where hectic work-life combines with un-mindful living, Ayurveda with its herbal massages, complemented with yoga, meditation and pure vegetarian meals, allows you to restore the inner balance of your body, mind and soul.
The Ayurveda Mana in Guruvayoor, a temple town two kilometres from the capital city of Kochi, is run in the Perumbayil family’s ancestral home. The family is one of the oldest aristocratic families in the area. The colonial-era home, set amid coconut, pepper and mango plantations, was converted into the Ayurveda centre. Guests with serious medical conditions as well as those seeking a detox routine are offered authentic and traditional treatments with none of the frills of luxury resorts.
Kerala, a state in southern India, is the home of Ayurveda with a 5000-year continuous unbroken tradition of this healthcare system. Ayurveda, a Sanskrit word that literally translates to the Science of Life, is based on the five elements – Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Ether (space) and three constitutions or doshas - Vata, Pitta and Kapha. When these three constitutions are in balance the body is healthy. An imbalance in the doshas results in disease.
The rich biodiversity of Kerala and its year-round pleasant climate has enabled the nature-based medical system of Ayurveda to flourish. Bordered by the Indian Ocean on the west and south and the lush green, sweeping mountains of the Nilgiris on the east, Ayurveda has been practised as a way of life, long before the system travelled the world as a holiday experience.
Kerala’s tropical forests hold in their bosoms over 900 Ayurvedic herbs and medicinal plants. The western ghats that border Kerala on the east are bio-diversity hotspots. Walk down the forest trails, and you will arrive at one of many sacred groves that dot the land. These groves hold the secrets of ancient medicines.
Athreya Ayurvedic Center’s Dr Sreejit is a seeker of such secrets. He underwent an ancient Ayurvedic treatment called Kutee Praveshika Rasayana, practised by yogis in the high Himalayas. This treatment supposedly halts the ageing process. That’s right. Forget those anti-ageing creams. The Athreya Ayurvedic Center on the outskirts of the Kerala backwaters near Kottayam has one of only three kutee huts in India, where Kutee Praveshika Rasayana can be experienced.
In a kutee – a specially designed three-walled house with almost no light inside, you could, if the doctor deems you ready, undergo the treatment that goes back centuries. But 35 days in near darkness with no solid food and minimal contact with any life form, is rigorous on body, mind and soul and certainly not for everyone.
For the rest of us mortals, Kerala offers numerous options where you could experience the rejuvenating power of Ayurvedic therapies while also enjoying the comforts and luxuries of a modern resort.
The government helps in your decision-making through a strict accreditation system to ensure quality. Ayurvedic centres are classified into Ayur Silver (those with minimum facilities), Ayur Gold and Ayur Diamond – the highest rated facilities. At any of these centres, you can be confident the treatments are offered under the supervision of qualified doctors and masseurs. Kerala offers a strong Ayurveda healthcare infrastructure and the state boasts of the largest pool of qualified, trained manpower.
The Somatheeram Ayurveda is the world’s first Ayurvedic hospital in a beach resort environment. Launched in 1985, the resort is situated on a hillock overlooking the pristine Chowara Beach in Kovalam.
“We started Somatheeram to promote Ayurveda all over the world,” said Baby Matthew, founder of Somatheeram. “Those days there were only Ayurveda hospitals for locals, with limited amenities. We created this hospital with more than 20 doctors in an ambience where you don’t feel you’re in a hospital.”
Today, Ayurvedic resorts dot the landscape of Kerala, from the hills of Wayanad to the beaches of Kovalam and the backwaters of Allepey.
There are options for those on a budget and mid-range resorts. Or you could go all out and choose a place like the Carnoustie Ayurveda & Wellness Resort where you can opt for Ayurveda in opulence. Here you choose your own villa with a private pool, fusing traditional with modern.
At any of these resorts, you can choose a day’s course or a full one. Full programmes, lasting seven to twenty-one days or more are like pressing your body’s reset button.
Every individual will come away with a different experience of Ayurvedic treatments.
So, take some time off from your busy schedule, and spend it on caring for your body, mind and soul at an Ayurvedic centre in Kerala. You will not regret it.