A Healing Land – Ayurveda in India
By Cosmo Brockway
India is a land of a million theories. From the deeply mystical to the downright astonishing, any street corner or taxi cab can yield a beaming figure willing to hold forth on concepts and abstract streams of consciousness that leave even the most seasoned India hand wondering and silenced. We, at Ampersand, travel the length and breadth of the subcontinent and never tire of these encounters which yield such rich and occasionally bizarre trains of thought in which the only response often is in the words of Alice in Wonderland ‘curiouser and curiouser’.
Medical theories are a great source of discussion in Indian life with ailments and remedies avidly dissected with an openness utterly foreign to most Western ears. It is quite normal to approach an Ayurvedic doctor with a mundane complaint only to be led into a maze of analyses that unravel everything held gospel in conventional medicine. There is little more intoxicating than receiving an ancient wisdom that reaches into the heart of who we are physically and emotionally and produces a tangible sense of wellbeing. In the teachings of Ayurveda being "healthy" is more than just mere physical health – it is a radiant state of vigour and wellness, which is achieved, according to the vedic understanding, by living in balance and moderation in all things. We love the very true riposte that ‘there is nothing frivolous about wellness’ and it is a scene that has blossomed across India’s luxury travel industry in the last five years with natural treatments being found in luxurious palaces, beach side huts and even boats, serenaded by river dolphins on the Ganges river.
The term Ayurveda mingles the Sanskrit words ‘ayur’ (life) and ‘veda’ (knowledge). Ayurvedic medicine, as practiced throughout India, is one of the oldest known systems of medicine. Many practices predate written records and were handed down orally through the generations. More than 2,000 years ago, three Sanskrit books were penned known as the Great Trilogy and are considered the main epistles on Ayurvedic wisdom - Sushruta Samhita, Caraka Samhita, and Astanga Hridaya.
The main concepts of Ayurvedic medicine include a theory of connectedness to the universe. We, and our bodies, are all joined at one with the cosmos, our physical make-up (prakriti) and our inner being (dosha). To its many devotees from all walks of life and creed, Ayurveda is a source of untold testimonies of healing and self-discovery.
Vana, an hours flight from Delhi, in the foot hills of the Himalayas is the hottest destination for those in the Ayurveda know. This collection of modernist villas is an all- embracing healing retreat, wellness resort and ashram, opened in 2014 by brother and sister duo, Veer and Tara Singh. Veer explains that, "we envisioned a place where people could eat great organic food, be treated by the best Ayurvedic therapists, and become well in mind, body and spirit”. Nestling among mango and lychee plantations, Vana is deeply rooted in the profound experience. The Ku Nye massage – performed by a pair of therapists pressing hot pods into various energy channels while murmuring Sanskrit mantras is something to be remembered with wonder long afterwards. With Tibetan healing, Sufi singing evenings under the stars and exquisite organic food on offer, every detail at Vana is one of sensory awakening.
Thousands of kilometers from Vana, Ayurveda with a spray of tropical sea water is on offer at Kerala’s Neeleshwar Hermitage. One of Ampersands favourite retreats in India, Neeleshwar is a secluded grove of cottages surrounded by coconut trees on the fabled Malabar Coast. Practicing sun salutations on the golden sand at dawn is India distilled into a moment.
Urban travellers can escape to a boutique Ayurveda experience at Mumbai’s Oberoi Hotel overlooking sweeping Nariman Point. In an atmosphere as frenetic as Mumbai, the serene heart of Ayurveda takes on a potent quality. Two-handed ‘Abhyanga’ massages doused in aromatic oils and rooted in the tradition are best summed in Mark Twain’s reflection ‘after 10 minutes you forget time, after 20 minutes the world’.
Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide by Deepak Chopra, Random House
Eat • Taste • Heal: An Ayurvedic Guidebook and Cookbook for Modern Living by Thomas Yarema, Five Elements Press
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