Ayurveda, anyone? A healing trip to Sri Lanka

A taste of India but without the hassles.

May 1, 2010 22:47
Yoga by the sea at the Barberyn Beach Resort.

sri lanka 311. (photo credit: Jackie Beecham)


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BERUWELA BEACH, Sri Lanka – When one mentions “ayurveda,” many people look at the horizon and try to change the subject.

Treatments such as shiatsu, acupuncture, homeopathy, even reiki healing have been accepted into the lexicon of alternative therapies, but ayurveda has mostly stayed near its southern Indian origins.

Historians have not pinpointed the exact time frame of this science but agree that classical ayurvedic texts were written in India between 3,500 and 5,000 years ago.

I surmised that this was enough time to see if the therapy worked or not when looking for a holiday that would give me “a bit of R&R.”

I was post-operative, having just broken my kneecap in three places. My friend, following a second bout of cancer, was also looking for a place where she could be spoiled but with a spiritual bent.

We examined the Internet for a good value holiday where the sun would be shining in February/March. I thought about Thailand, but was turned off by the 13-hour flight. Broken kneecaps don’t do well in tourist-class plane journeys over long periods.

Then we came across an ad about the Barberyn Beach Resort hotels that offer sun and relaxation at the seaside/pool with daily ayurvedic treatments. The Barberyn folks are Buddhists who started their first spa hotel in 1965, at Beruwela Beach two hours south of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo.

It claims to be the oldest and most authentic ayurveda spa hotel in Sri Lanka.

The hotel faces a reef which allows swimming almost throughout the day, a huge advantage along Sri Lanka’s southern beaches, which for much of the year are plagued by strong currents.

Nevertheless, Barberyn’s reef didn’t help on December 19, 2004 when a tsunami hit Sri Lanka’s southern coastline. Thousands lost their lives here. Two were killed at the hotel, which was heavily damaged. Barberyn Reef resort was rebuilt and the Rodrigo family also opened another hotel further down the coast – the Barberyn Beach Resort hotel at Sri Lanka’s southern tip, called Weligama.

To maximize the benefits of ayurveda, one should stay a minimum of two weeks, so we decided to split the fortnight, one week at Barberyn Reef and one week at Barberyn Beach Resort. Both hotels offer identical treatments.

We found the hotels comfortable three-four star establishments, although the Barberyn Beach Resort is newer and on a larger property.

Early morning walks and swimming on the beach right opposite the hotel are what draw many “repeaters” back to Barberyn Reef. Its sister hotel, Barberyn Resort, has a more peaceful Buddhist-inspired atmosphere.

One rate is charged for full board and a separate rate for the ayurevedic spa facilities. No one forces you to do the spa, but it is very much part of the rhythm of the hotel. Upon arrival, I saw a doctor who prescribed a tailor-made regime of treatments, diet and medicines . By checking my eyes, tongue, pulse and asking questions, she was able to establish whether my three doshas were in balance.

In ayurveda, the doshas represent your mind and body type. Everyone has three, vata, pitta and kapha, but usually one or two doshas show up more dominantly in a person’s physiology.

If you have too much vata like me, then you’re likely to suffer from stress, stomach complaints and skeletal problems (that explains the broken kneecap).

An overdose of pitta can contribute to sore throats and other inflammatory diseases. Too much kapha can pile on the kilograms and lead to allergies.

The trick is to balance the three and that’s done with natural herbs, lots of body massage, acupuncture, herbal and steam baths and sessions where you are wrapped in hot pads and different pastes that pundits claim can cure anything from skin problems to tight shoulders. All these relaxing treatments last well into late morning.

Afternoons are reserved for advanced treatments such as shirodhara, where warm oils are poured onto the forehead, the patient is told not to swim or sit in the sun and abstain from idle conversation. This treatment cleans the mind and another, using a variety of rather weird-tasting concoctions, purifies the body from toxins by cleaning the intestines. You have to be near a bathroom and eat rice for two days, but it’s worth it in the end. I lost a whole kilo and my skin glowed. There are other treatments for improving hearing and eyesight and getting rid of nasal drips. I was given a ghee (clarified butter) wash in my eyes which allowed me to read without glasses for the rest of my stay.

During the day there’s a specially prescribed diet with lots of red rice, lentils and vegetable curries (absolutely no meat) which suits your body type and in my case, helped me lose weight (two kilograms in two weeks). I was allowed to enjoy unlimited fresh papaya and mango juices and of course Ceylon tea at tea time. After our bodies had been pampered, we could take daily yoga, tai chi or meditation classes led by Buddhist monks and swim in the attractive pools or sea. Lectures on the ayurvedic way of life gave us a taste to keep us following the path once we were back home.

The hotels offers short trips to local towns and tourist sites most afternoons, which is included in the room price. This is not a substitute for touring the country ( I did that on a previous trip), but it does give one a taste of what Sri Lanka can offer.

Sri Lankans are kind, gentle people who enjoy catering to tourists. The country is a good introduction if you want to get a taste of India but without the hassles. I would call it “India lite.”

The government signed a peace agreement with the Tamils last year so fighting ceased in the north and eastern parts of the country. The hotels are in the south, which is generally quiet.

Logistic details: I flew Royal Jordanian Airlines from Ben-Gurion Airport, with a stop (30 minute) in Amman, to Colombo. The connection back was also very quick. Ticket price $760. A hotel driver collected us from the airport and took us back (included in deal). Room, full board and spa treatment about 120 euros a day per person in a double room (spa costs 60 euros a day per person ).

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