Kerala, known as "God's own country", is the epicenter of the growing Ayurvedic tourism industry in India. Ayurveda as a system of health and wellness has been around for hundreds - some say thousands - of years. Resorts catering to tourists who wish to experience Ayurveda, however, are a bit newer than that.
One such resort, Nikki's Nest (named after the founders' daughter), offers courses of treatment that range from 10 to 28 days in length, depending on the health issues one wishes to address. The most typical courses last 14 days, which fits neatly into the holiday schedule of the many Europeans who return, year after year, for cleansing, rejuvenation, and sunshine by the seaside.
Treatment courses include consultations with Ayurvedic physicians, herbal medications, therapeutic massage, and - very important - diet. Family members who are not undergoing treatment are invited to accompany those who are, and avail of the lovely beach location, tours, poolside lounging, and delicious food.
On the first day, clients attend an individual session with staff doctors to determine their dosha - “mind-body constitution” or “mind-body personality” - as well as discuss the issues to be addressed. All aspects of treatment strive to bring one back into balance. Once a person's dosha is known, medications, food, even the type of herbal tea offered at every meal, are determined.
The weather of Kerala is hot and humid for much of the year. Traditionally, Ayurveda was performed during the two monsoon seasons of the region. This was the time when the fields were not being tended, and the workers could afford to pamper themselves. It is also the cooler time of the year, though that is a relative term. Many Europeans still find it warmer than home climates.
A typical day at a resort starts with breakfast, followed by yoga (if desired) or other physical activity, a therapeutic massage with appropriate herbs and oils, lunch, rest, and dinner. Sunbathing at the beach or by the pool is interspersed regularly with these activities, at the visitor's discretion. Treatment times may vary depending on preference or local tour plans, so lunch sometimes precedes the daily massage. Although tours and shopping excursions can be arranged by the resort, they are not heavily promoted since rest is an important aspect of any detoxing regimen. Activity levels can plummet due to the change in temperature and the effects of the treatments.
The idea of receiving a daily massage may at first sound quite indulgent, but they are an important part of the overall treatment plan. While aspects are certainly designed to help one relax, massages are most definitely curative in character, rather than leisurely. Clients may be anointed with oil, scrubbed with herbal powder, or even rubbed with bags of rice pudding. The therapists work solo or in tandem with an assistant depending on the type of massage. Men always work on men, and women work on women.
Types of massage and medication may change as the program progresses. A client wishing to lose weight, for example, may receive both general and powder massages for the first week, with a day of purgation - light fasting with herbal supplements to cleanse the bowels - followed by different types of oil massages the next week. Mood and energy fluctuate as unwanted substances leave the body.
One of the most amazing and best aspects of the treatment is the food. Despite being locked into a diet plan by one's dosha, typical Kerala dishes provide an endless variety of delicious, local fruits and vegetables, frequently served in fantastic curries. Nearly all Ayurvedic courses prescribe a vegetarian menu, but with the incredible flavors available, most carnivores will not miss meat in the slightest. Nor do those on weight loss regimens suffer, as three full meals per day - when the food is correct for one's body type - still result in shedding of unwanted pounds. Eating for body type and avoiding processed foods have wonderful effects on the body, even without the herbs and massages.
If you want to include Ayurveda in your travels to India, it is recommended that you schedule it for the last portion of your trip. Venture forth to see the Taj Mahal, Hampi, wildlife, and culture at the outset. Save Ayurveda for the end in order to give your full attention to relaxation. Enjoy the wonderful weather, the salt air, and care you give yourself. Your body - and perhaps your soul - will thank you for it.
Disclosure: author had accommodations, meals, and a full course of Ayurvedic treatment provided by Nikki's Nest. Opinions, however, are her own.
© Katrina Stovold