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Ayurvedic foot massage. Photos by Margie Goldsmith.
Ayurvedic foot massage in Sri Lanka

Ayurvedic Treatment in Sri Lanka: A Week of Bliss

I sit on my spacious sun-drenched balcony overlooking the Indian Ocean, mesmerized by a fisherman sitting on top of a thin wooden pole in the water. He casts his rod again and again, but catches nothing. Then a Sri Lankan man in a white shirt and long pants walks in the water close to the shore pulling a huge dead fish. Is that a shark?

I am at the Ayurveda Paragon a wellness hotel on the southern end of Sri Lanka where I’ve come to recuperate from an exhausting three-week business trip in Vietnam. I plan to eat healthy food, hang out on the beach, and try the Ayurvedic cure.

Ayurveda, which has been practiced in India for 5,000 years (and in Sri Lanka for 2,500 years), is said to cure all ailments including Parkinson’s, arthritis, migraines, back pain, asthma, allergies, and diabetes. Unlike Western medicine, Ayurveda treats the cause of an illness rather than its effects; and its remedies are unique to each patient.

My first appointment is with Dr. Buddhike, an eighth-generation Ayurvedic physician, who asks why I am here. I say that I am completely stressed, I want to cure my insomnia, my sinus condition, wean myself off Splenda, and lose five pounds.

He looks surprised. “You cannot do that in one week. Ayurveda works very slowly. Most people stay two or three weeks. Can you not extend your stay?”

“I can’t,” I say. He looks disappointed. I add, "We’ll just have to make the best of the time we have."

Dr. Buddhike examines my tongue, reads my pulse, and says my dosha is Pitta Vata. In Ayurveda, each person has a unique blend of three mind/body energies called doshas; good health is maintained by balancing them. Doshas are based on the parents’ genes, karma, and climate.

The medications I am to take, says Dr.Buddhike, will be to balance my doshas. My program is: a two-hour treatment every day with two therapists who will massage my skull, face, foot and body, using special weight-reducing oil, face fomentation, lemon bath for weight reduction, nasia (sneezing powder) and acupuncture for my sinus condition.

My room at the Ayurveda Paragon
My room at the Ayurveda Paragon

Acupuncture daily? Two therapists and a daily massage? In NYC, these treatments for seven days would cost roughly $1,700, but at the Paragon, it’s all included (along with my spacious balconied room, meals, Yoga, the Ayurvedic doctor’s appointments and cultural excursions) for only $162 per day.

Buddhike tells me I am to drink two liters of water daily, have soup and fruit with every meal (I can also have vegetables at lunch), and to drink Pitta and Vata tea. In Ayurveda, he explains, food is considered medicine and can balance all disharmonies and disturbances.

He tells me to start the day by meditating and then go to yoga. I don’t meditate, I tell him. I will run on the beach, instead. No running, he says -- only swimming and yoga. I need to relax, he says, which in turn, will help me sleep.

“It doesn’t matter if you meditate with your eyes open and just look at the ocean. Listen to the ocean and the birds. Just relax.” He says my 'medicines' will be placed in my cubbyhole daily: tonic before meals, pills after lunch and dinner, powder and hot herbal water before bed. Fortunately, all the instructions are written out. All I have to do is follow them.

Lunch in the open-air dining room, like all meals here, is a buffet. Even at breakfast, there’s soup (pumpkin, chicken, celery, vegetable, squash – the selections vary with each meal), scores of hot platters of fresh cooked green beans, banana flowers, steamed white radish with curry sauce, cucumber in coconut milk, baked cabbage, and baby eggplant.

Dessert includes sour and sweet bananas, mango, papaya, star fruit, kiwi, grapes, melons, and rambutan. I eat as directed and drink tea without my Splenda – it’s not so bad, though I think staring out at the Indian Ocean makes it sweeter.

Fruits at the buffet
Fruits at the buffet

Each day for lunch and dinner I take two little round black pills, which are made at the Paragon pharmacy. Curious, I join the 'pharmacy tour,' a busy warren of small rooms where smiling workers in green aprons are mixing and measuring herbs, roots, bark, and flowers for the 350 different herbal medicines prepared each day for the guests.

I watch as they count pills and place one guest’s day supply into a baggie. In another room, two women stir a boiling herbal concoction inside a cauldron. All the medicines are Ayurvedic and come from nature, mostly from the jungle. Glass jars with a black energy paste ferment in unpolished rice for six months.

I leave the pharmacy and head to the health center, filled with Buddha statues, fresh flowers and everywhere the aroma of essential oils. Nirmala and Keshari, my two therapists, lead me to the treatment room whose window looks out to the Indian Ocean. No New Age music here -- the music is the sound of the waves lapping to shore.

The two untie my sarong, ask me to sit, and scrub my feet. They then help me up onto the massage table, which is covered by a giant palm leaf. They massage my scalp, massage my face with soothing hot herbal sacks the size of a fist known as fomentation. Afterward, they work in tandem to knead out every knot in my body. I fall asleep.

Two hours later, they help me back into my sarong, place a red hibiscus flower in the folds, and lead me to the baths, a series of small private cabanas with stone bathtubs. I watch as they full the tub with lemon slices, flowers, slices of coconut, herbs, and various oils. They stir the water, help me in, and leave so I can soak. Twenty minutes later, they return to dry me, wrap me back in my sarong, and give me hot tea to drink.

Man fishing on pole.
Man fishing on pole.

From there, I am to return to my room and rest for an hour. I enter my room and find that not only has my 'house boy' sprinkled my bed in an artistic design of gardenias, but also he’s left a straw mat on top so I can lie on the bed without getting the oils on my body all over the bedspread or sheets.

My routine is simple: in the morning, I plop a pillow on my terrace floor and sit. Eyes closed, I breathe as instructed, trying to let the thoughts go away. They won’t leave, so I concentrate on the sound of the waves below me, and before I know it, five minutes have passed. Success!

I take a walk on the beach (a few fishermen are out, a small child kicks a soccer ball to his father, but otherwise it’s empty); I swim, change for yoga, have breakfast, read in a lounge chair by the pool (where the 'pool boy' brings me cold hibiscus tea sweetened with bee pollen), have lunch, then my treatment, nap, dinner, and evening program.

The after-dinner lecture is by one of the three Ayurvedic doctors on the tri-doshas, acupuncture, or the history of Ayurveda. One night there’s a cooking demo, another evening we watch sunset from the Peace Pagoda, a Buddhist stupa in Ramassala.

There are five Peace Pagodas in Sri Lanka, mostly built by Nichidatsu Fujii, a Japanese Buddhist monk who met with Gandhi in 1931 and decided to devote his life to non-violence. He began constructing Peace Pagodas in 1947.

Peace pagoda
Peace pagoda

Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any Buddhist country, dating from the 2nd century BCE. I am lucky to be there during full moon. One night I join a full moon ceremony at a local temple. We offer candles, incense, and flowers and listen to the monk perform a ceremony. He then ties a blessing string around each of our wrists.

A few days later, I visit Galle Fort, the oldest town in Sri Lanka and a UNESO World Heritage Site, with a Paragon staffer. I’m lucky, because Claudia Klages, my guide, wrote a best-selling guidebook on Galle.

The week flies by much too quickly. I see Dr. Buddhike for my final visit. My sinus condition is better, I’m off artificial sweeteners, and I’m meditating every morning. It’s time to weigh in. I can’t believe it! In seven days, I’ve lost six pounds, I have more energy than I’ve had in a long time, and I could swear I look ten years younger.

And it doesn’t end there – I’ve now been home five months – I don’t use artificial sweeteners (though I am using Stevia, a natural sweetener), I meditate in the morning, I’ve changed my way of eating, and I’ve kept off most of the weight (in spite of trips with “fattening” foods in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Memphis, Italy, and Oman).

Best, I’m doing more Yoga than I’ve done in years. Would I return to Paragon Ayurveda? In a heartbeat.

 

Acupuncturist at Paragon
Acupuncturist at Paragon

Further Information:

Ayurveda Paragon

Prices are per person sharing a double room: 14 nights $2,407; 21 nights $3,055; 28 nights $4,443; Single surcharge: $92.00 per week; surcharge for a terrace room: $198.00 per week when used as a single room or $132 per person per week for double-room occupancy of a terrace room.

How to Get There:

Emirates flies to Dubai from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston and Toronto. From there, fly Sri Lankan Airlines to Columbo. From there, the Ayurveda Paragon driver will pick you up at the airport and escort you to the Paragon.

(An international airport in Matara, on the island’s southern shore, is under construction, which will make the Paragon quicker to get to).

When Not to Go:

Sri Lanka has no marked seasons, though monsoon season in the southwest is from May through July.

Languages:

While Sinhala and Tamil are the languages, English is spoken by practically everyone.

 

Margie Goldsmith




Margie Goldsmith
has hiked, biked, climbed, Deepelled, ZORBed, paddled, test-driven $200,000-cars, done marathons and triathlons, and has luxuriated on seven continents and 117 countries and written about them all. She blogs for HuffPost, is Travel Editor for Women’s Running, Adventure Spa writer for www.healinglifestyles.com, and writes for national publications including Elite Traveler, Robb Report, ForbesLife, Parade, Islands, and many others. Visit her website, mgproductions.com.

 

Read more GoNOMAD stories by Margie Goldsmith:

Memphis, Tennessee: Land of Elvis and Martin Luther King

London Calling: The City of Immortal Rhymes

Running a Marathon in the Canadian Arctic

Finnish Lapland: Sweating in the Arctic

 

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