Suffering from a case of burn out, DOSE contributor Rosie Sargeant heads to Soma Manaltheeram Beach Resort in Kerala to purge her negative energy. But does it feel more like purgatory?
I suffer from what my close friends term ‘hundred-mile-an-hour syndrome’. I spend my life in a perpetual rush to get from one thing to the next. I juggle multiple commitments which means I cannot fully ‘commit’ to a single thing, and I’m constantly plugged into devices which bombard me with vast quantities of information. It’s exhausting.
Wouldn’t it be great if I could take a break from it all for a while? I begin to imagine switching everything off – but instead of a blissful state, the emptiness terrifies me. I’ve filled my life with so much that I’ve become accustomed to it, and the prospect of de-cluttering is scary. What will I do with myself?!
It was time to find out. And so I embark upon an Ayurvedic retreat at Soma Manaltheeram Beach Resort in Kerala, in the company of others suffering from specific illnesses, burnout, or undertaking detoxes to rebalance their lives.
Ayurveda is an ancient form of medicine that can be traced back to 5,000 BCE. Only relatively recently have Westerners begun to tap into this ancient Indian tradition and seek its benefits for their health and wellbeing through visits to Ayurveda centres such as Soma Manaltheeram, part of the Somatheeram Ayurveda group that established the world’s first Ayurveda resort.
During my initial consultation, my doctor examines my body and asks a series of questions in order to determine my ‘prakriti’ or body type. This is governed by the proportions of the three ‘doshas’, the energies that make up every individual: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. If these are in balance then you are healthy, but an imbalance results in disease.
Of the three, my dominant type is Vata. When in balance, Vata types are creative and energetic, but when out of balance they are beset by nervousness, stress and anxiety – and sure enough, I have these in abundance right now.
The cure? A 14-day ‘Panchakarma’ treatment to first detox and then rejuvenate my body from the inside out. Literally. The first week involves drinking a cup of melted ghee each day, culminating with ‘purgation’ – or ‘purgatory’, as my partner and I ended up calling it. I’ll spare the details, but suffice to say that my inner demons were most definitely expelled that night.
Fortunately, the other treatments are not nearly as gruesome. For two hours a day I am left in the care of two exceptionally talented therapists who administer the treatments prescribed by my doctor, whom I must visit each day to discuss my appetite, state of mind, quality of sleep, and of course my bowel movements – which, thanks to the delicious menu of vegetarian food my doctor has tailored to my requirements, are doing just fine.
Admittedly, you’ll need to abandon Western notions of luxury spas at the door, where, instead of fluffy robes and lulling melodies in the background, you are expected to strip off your clothes and perch on a wooden stool wearing only a pair of giant paper knickers while the therapist holds your head and says a prayer in Sanskrit. But once you acclimatise to lying on a solid wooden table while litres of ghee are poured over your body and pounded in with mesh pouches, amazing things can – and do – happen.
Days 1 – 3
Three days in, I’m having a ‘Sirodhara’ treatment, which involves a narrow stream of oil being poured back and forth across my forehead. Until this point, I’ve struggled to stop thoughts racing through my mind throughout the massages, but now as I lie back and close my eyes, I am lulled in and out of consciousness. It feels both liberating and disconcerting at the same time.
Afterwards I am led to a relaxation area by my therapist and handed a fresh coconut to drink while I recover. A woman I don’t know looks at me with tears in her eyes and opens up about how the experience triggered a release of emotion she didn’t even know she had been bottling up. I haven’t been exposed to that much raw emotion in a long time, and before I know it I’m crying too.
Days 4 – 7
Over the next few days my hundred-mile-an-hour mind gradually takes things town a few gears, assisted by daily yoga and meditation classes in which I begin to feel an increasing lightness of mind and body, as if restrictions that had been holding back my concentration and depth in postures have suddenly been lifted.
I’m sleeping better – drifting off to the sound of waves crashing into shore and waking up to a morning of lying on the beach or by the pool, able to actually focus my undivided attention on a book without stopping every other minute with the impulse to check my notifications or frantically write down another task I’ve just remembered needs doing.
Days 8 – 14
The treatments seem to be taking effect on the outside too. The bags under my eyes have disappeared, my skin is glowing, and even though each day I’m eating more rice, roast poppadoms and chapati than I would permit myself in an entire month back home, my stomach is the least bloated it’s been in weeks.
I’ll admit that it has taken a good deal of open-mindedness on my part to see the benefits of having smoke from burning coals blown into my ears, or a luminous orange concoction poured up my nose, or a herbal oil enema administered by my therapist, however intimately acquainted we had become. But I must say that when the 14 days were up I noticed a world of difference in how I felt, inside and out, emotionally and physically.
Was I cured of one-hundred-mile-an-hour syndrome? I left Manaltheeram with no fewer commitments than when I arrived, an overflowing inbox to tackle, and the transition back to the pace of London life to confront. Yet my mindset had shifted; what would have agitated me before I could now approach with confidence and even excitement. I was back in control of my mind and body, and much more aware of how the two interact to affect the way I feel.
This is no retreat for the faint-hearted. But for those brave enough to give it a go, I would recommend wholeheartedly that you do. You’ll come back glowing (and that’s not just the glistening of the ghee). When it comes to detoxes and retreats, nowadays we are faced with a staggering amount of choice, and we flock to innovative new treatments promising to be the miracle cure. Perhaps it’s time to consider whether ancient wisdom could be the antidote to modern malaise.
Pricing: High season – double room from Euro 4000 for 14 nights; Low season – double room from Euro 3000 for 14 nights. Rates include all Ayurvedic meals, treatments and some excursions.
Address: Manaltheeram Ayurveda Beach Village, Manaltheeram Road, Kovalam, chowara, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695501, India
Nearest airport: Trivandrum International Airport (transfers included).