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A beginner’s guide to Ayurveda

Believed to originate in India more than 3000 years ago, Ayurveda works to harmonise mind, body and soul.

What is Ayurveda?

Loosely translated as the ‘science of life,’ Ayurveda is a timeless healing system rooted in the natural world and designed to reconnect us with the elements that not only surround us, but course through our brains, bodies and entire beings.

What are the 5 principles of Ayurveda?

At its core, Ayurveda is based on the body having the correct balance of nature’s basic fundamentals – earth, fire, water, air and space – which express themselves in the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Knowing your dosha and specific imbalances will dictate your unique prescription for health and vitality. And, as those in the know will attest, one of the real draws of Ayurveda is that it doesn’t preach, it simply guides you towards a deeper understanding of yourself, so you can live more aligned with who you really are.

oil pouring from a brown bottle into a metal bowl
© Sundara Ayurveda Health & Wellness Retreat Centre

How does Ayurveda enhance our health?

Sunita Passi is one of the industry’s most knowledgeable Ayurvedic practitioners and founder of Tri-Dosha Skincare in the United Kingdom. She believes that as people become more accountable for their own health, Ayurveda will come centre stage. “Also, we are starting to recognise and release unresolved trauma, and alongside this, a conscious collective awakening is taking place with the principles of Ayurveda being very much a part of it all.”

At the foothills of the Himalayas and close to the yoga ashram town of Rishikesh, Ananda is one of India’s most lauded health resorts and a globally respected authority on Ayurveda. The fundamental aim of Ayurveda is to restore the balance between mind, body and spirit, but for Ananda’s senior Ayurvedic physician, Dr Chandan, this richly diverse medicine offers so much more.

“I have noticed that Ayurveda is not only curing diseases like arthritis, skin disorders and digestive issues, but it helps enhance the body’s inherent ability to fight disease and restore health and happiness.” In his view, the pillars of every Ayurvedic prescription include adequate sleep, good nourishment and a healthy lifestyle (depending on individual dosha imbalances) and exercising for at least 30 minutes every day to help strengthen overall body capacity.

ayurvedic oil treatment
© Ananda

The Ayurveda diet: what should we eat according to Ayurveda?

In Ayurvedic thinking, every root is a medicine so there is no good or bad food. “Ayurveda works with the seasons and autumn, for example, is a season of deficiency and change,” Dr Chandan explains. “Autumn sees the decline of the Pitta fire element of summer as the Vata or air element of autumn comes to the fore. Vata season is dry, cool, windy, irregular and light, so it is wise to create the opposite qualities in your life – moist, warm, sheltered, grounded, heavy, slow and regular.”

Protein-rich foods packed with healthy fats and cooked with warm and stimulating spices (ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander), steamed vegetables, stews and soups are all recommended. And regardless of dosha imbalances, having a regular daily routine or dinacharya, with a consistent rising time and bedtime regularises our biological body clocks and is essential to a healthy mind-body balance.

spices and sliced sweet potato
© Unsplash/ Chinh Le Duc

Ayurvedic treatments

Loving the planet as you love yourself is the ethos of The Four Seasons Resort Landaa Giraavaru, part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the Baa Atoll in the Maldives. Spirituality lies at the heart of AyurMa, the resort’s Ayurvedic spa. Here, Dr Arun Tomson and his team take patients’ pulses while subtly tuning into their minds and prescribing bespoke programmes combining chakra balancing and stress-relieving massages with facials, yoga, breathwork, Ayurvedic herbs and dosha-specific meals. “AyurMa was founded on the basis that nothing operates in isolation and the more we connect with the Earth, the more we heal her, and the more able she is to heal us in return,” Dr Tomson explains.

For most practitioners, traditional massage like abhyanga, shirodhara (slow pouring of medicated oils over the third eye in the forehead) and Ayurvedic detox therapies (especially the rigorous panchakarma), are the epitome of self-care. According to Rafeena Kidavintavida of Liv Ayurveda in Sydney’s Parramatta, the five-stage panchakarma cleanse is designed to effectively eliminate toxins (ama), rebalance the doshas and restore metabolic fire (agni) in the body, thereby revitalising body and soul. After all, as Passi surmises, “with Ayurveda there is so much we can do for ourselves to enhance daily life as it guides us towards physical and emotional balance while opening up various aspects of our unconscious minds. In all, it’s a powerful path to a happier, healthier and longer life.”

The Four Seasons Resort Landaa Giraavaru
© The Four Seasons Resort Landaa Giraavaru

Where to experience Ayurveda

Sundara Ayurveda Health & Wellness Retreat Centre, Queensland

The moment you arrive at Sundara Ayurveda Health & Wellness Retreat Centre, a sense of serenity descends like balm to the soul. Set in rolling forested hills, this tranquil retreat is the place to come if you want – or need – a nurturing space to recover and recharge. In creating the retreat, founders Heidi and Joe Veraa wanted to give guests the chance to take a deep rest and forge a new path of vitality and health. Inspired by 25 years of study and drawing on the expertise of Ayurvedic practitioners, Ayurveda Panchakarma therapists, yoga and meditation teachers, soul guides, life and diet coaches, healers and more, the Veraas have created a truly personalised approach to wellness.

Following individual consultations with an Ayurvedic practitioner, guests are invited to surrender to massages and facials, rejuvenating baths, and gentle yoga and meditation classes that soothe mind, body and spirit and encourage sound, restorative sleep. Whether you choose a three-, five- or seven-day retreat, there’s plenty of time to unwind. Walk the rainforest trails, doze in a hammock, or soak in the magnesium pool. Sundara is an exclusive retreat for a maximum of three guests at any one time.

“All of us are focused on enhancing your experience and supporting you to reach your health and wellness goals,” says co-founder Heidi Veraa. Guests stay in separate modern bungalows featuring individual bathrooms, an indoor living room and large balconies, all with views over the valleys . It is a blissful setting to stop and gaze out into the stunning natural surrounds.

“We have, to date, planted more than 15,000 koala food trees across Sundara,” Heidi says. “And the whole retreat is carbon neutral.” Light, nutritious meals and juices await, along with practitioner-led ceremonies, discussions and visualisation sessions. As spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh said: “We already are what we want to become. Even in our most difficult moments, everything that is good, true and beautiful is already there, within us and around us. We just have to live in such a way that allows it to be revealed.” And that’s exactly the life Sundara seeks to bring forth for every single treasured guest.

Sundara Ayurveda Health & Wellness Retreat Centre
© Sundara Ayurveda Health & Wellness Retreat Centre

Ulpotha, Sri Lanka

Nestled in a sustainable organic farm on an ancient pilgrimage site on the western fringes of Sri Lanka’s cultural region, Ulpotha offers personalised Ayurvedic detoxification programmes alongside daily swimming, yoga, meditation and time to just be. With accommodation in mud-style huts, no electricity, hot water or doors, Ulpotha is not for everyone, but those seeking peace and spiritual renewal tend to become hooked.

Ayurveda Resort Mandira, Austria

This Ayurvedic clinic resort in Austria’s Styria region offers a comprehensive menu of authentic Ayurvedic programmes from short breaks to full-on traditional Panchakarma detox. There’s acupuncture, daily yoga, meditation and hearty vegetarian menus based on the principles of Indian healing, but adapted to suit western taste and sensibilities.

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