Ayurveda in Sri Lanka
During my Yoga retreat in Ulpotha in Sri Lanka in June 2015 I opted for the 10 day Ayurveda cure called Namaskaraya (Salutation) on site.
Sri Lanka with its ideal climate and Ulpotha with its unique environment sounded like an perfect combination for an exiting Ayurveda treatment program. Ulpotha is a particularly suitable place as the food, the environment, and activities such as Yoga complement the therapies and serve to underscore the holistic approach of Ayurveda itself.
Ayurveda in Sri Lanka has a long tradition
Ayurveda in Sri Lanka has a long tradition: it is said that in the 6th century BC, Prince Vijaya from India became king of Sri Lanka and introduced Ayurveda to the island together with his personal physician.
Ayurveda aims at balancing the body’s energies through which health and vitality can be restored.
I was given an appointment to see Dr. Srilal, Ulpotha’s resident Ayurveda doctor on my second day of stay. Dr. Srilal invited me to his ancestral hut where I was to symbolically offer betel leaves, a very traditional form of ‘paying’ a consultation fee.
The 7 Doshas in Ayurveda
Dr. Srilal took great care in explaining Ayurveda in general and my course of treatment in particular. He read my pulse and through asking me a variety of questions, he got a sense of what imbalances were present, thus also determining my Dosha.
The Dosha describes the body’s energy, there are 7 different Dosha types:
- Vata / Pitta
- Vata /Kapha
- Pitta / Lapha
- and Tridosha, which is a blend of all 3 primary Doshas Vata / Pitta / Kapha
Dr Srilal determined my Dosha as Tridosha, lucky me! It meant that I was allowed to eat anything and do any activities, everything in moderation.
Whereas my peers, of which most were identified as Vata / Pitta types, were recommended to avoid certain foods.
Apparently I am well balanced by genetics (oh well, maybe not my doing then?).
Dr Srilal then chose my treatment program, which started with detoxification therapies which are preparatory and specialised elimination treatments such as oleation and fomentation:
All of the Ayurveda oleation therapies are administered with the intent of dislodging toxins from the body’s tissues and moving them towards the pores. These toxins are extracted through the fomentation therapies, which consist in turn of herbal baths, steam baths and herbal saunas.
My 10 day Ayurveda cure
Ayurveda day 1
Day 1 starts with a consultation with Dr Sri Lal, who diagnosed my imbalances by pulse reading: I am Tridosha, well balanced by genetics. Dr Srilal explained also, that you cannot change your Dosha type in general, but you can balance out imbalances.
Further he explains, that at Ulpotha no strong treatments (such as applying leeches for example) are administered, as those kind of treatments are better to be performed in a more sterile environment. At Ulpotha, we are in the middle of the jungle after all… more about that in another article.
The same day, I am enjoying an Abyanga, a relaxing oil massage with sesame oil which reaches the first layer of the body.
My therapist starts the treatment whilst I am sitting on a stool: she ‘slappes’ the crown of my head with oil, then performs a head and neck massage. I was then asked to transfer to the bed, where I received the beautiful full body and face massage.
After the massage I was escorted to a stunning bath tub carved out of a piece of rock, where I soaked in my herbal bath that made me feel like a million dollars.
Ayurveda day 2
On the second day, Dr. Srilal ordered an Angamarda Abyanga which is a deeper and more invigorating oil massage for the second layer of the body. The oil used was Pinda oil, which penetrates the skin deeper.
The strokes for this massage were repeated many times which made for great relaxation.
After this massage, which was my total favourite amongst all treatments, I was invited to the sauna.
The sauna at Ulpotha Ayurveda Village is a traditional round hut with open fire underneath.
I sat on the little bench inside and admired the skilfully laid out floor:
each of the small compartments in the floor was filled with different herbs, flowers and medicines.
Ayurveda day 3
On day 3, I was looking much forward to my Shirodara, the oil pouring to the forehead, the 3rd eye.
Lying on the traditional wooden Ayurveda treatment table I enjoyed the warm oil flowing over my forehead and scalp. My therapist also moved the pot from which the oil was dripping along my hairline several times for about 20 minutes, thus using about 2 litres of oil. This treatment is highly detoxifying, relaxing and stilling the mind.
After the treatment I was given a headscarf to cover my head and hair, keeping the oil and its benefits for a little longer. I was to wear the headscarf for 2 days non-stop, not being allowed to wash my hair.
At first I thought that this would be a rather messy affair, however have to admit, it wasn’t so bad after all. Of course, the hair does not exactly smell like fresh roses on day 2, however I survived.
Yet washing my hair was a little challenging afterwards and it took about 2 days for my hair to get rid of all oil residue. What I only learned later on is that you should not first wet the hair when washing out oil. Better to first apply shampoo to the dry/oily hair, loathe it in vigorously and then rinse with water.
Ayurveda day 4
On day 4, I received the Sarvangadara that involves the dripping of oil on the whole body. Similar to the Shirodara, this treatment focusses on the body though and is lovely to receive!
With my body fully covered in oil, I was enjoying the steam bath which is a great thing to have in Ulpotha:
The steam ‘room’ is something like a bath tub size basin in which the steam is produced , of course by natural wood fire. The tup is covered with a palm leave mattress on which you lie comfortably for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Everything is covered by a dome, again made from woven palm leaves, to keep the steam and heat in.
Very comfortable, relaxing and soothing.
Ayurveda day 5
On day 4, I was given a ‘break’, meaning I received the same treatment as the previous day, which I again enjoyed greatly.
Ayurveda day 6
If you are easily disgusted by detailed reports about mucus, stop reading here and continue with day 7!
So, when you start thinking “how bad can it be after all” remembering all the reports of horrible treatments people have received during their Ayurvedic cures, Dr Srilal for sure comes up with something ‘interesting’!
Day 6 was meant to further cleanse my head and sinuses, for which I first received a special head and face massage. Ok, so far so very good.
But then Dr Srilal administered some oil (about a spoon full to each nostril) which I was to pull up through my nose and spit out. I was so was horrified at first, that I forgot to spit it out and swallowed everything.
Not a good idea! The taste was horrible and the oil was itching and burning my throat.
After this very short but very unpleasant experience I sat for some time over a hot inhalation pot, my head covered with a towel, to inhale the herbal stream coming from the pot.
The inhalation wasn’t too bad and I was able to get rid of a lot of stuff running out my nose.
After this treatment which was my least favourite during my entire experience, I was given 2 different types of medicine:
- one was a couple of small pills, that looked like black pepper kernels
- and one was a shot of “schnapps” that had a brownish milky color and contained some alcohol. after a week of serious detoxification, you would think I would have craved for a ‘drink’, but it wasnt the right one I guess…
Ayurveda day 7
Almost as if Dr Srilal wanted to make up for ‘torturing’ me the day before, day 7 came along with lovely treatments again:
a full body massage and a body wrap with a herbal paste made from turmeric (antiseptic), gooseberry (removes toxins), and bees honey, called Pattu.
Pattu is an important step in the process of opening the pores of the body to facilitate detoxification.
I just love this picture of a friend of mine covered in the wrap mud during his Pattu!
Besides all the great Ayurveda treatments I have received at Ulpotha’s Ayurveda village, I was offered a ‘hot shower’ every day. The water is heated in a traditional kettle over open fire and then applied with a ladle made from cocnut shell.
Ayurveda day 8
Pindasweda is bliss!
Pindasweda is the application of oil with a milk rice poultice, which you can picture somehow similarly to the Thai steam ball treatment.
My therapist Chandri (who stayed with me during the entire cure) first applied room temperature Pinda oil all over my body, first the front followed by the back.
She then tapped up and down with the rice ball all along my body.
Afterwards the performed small circular movements with pressure and later effleurage-like strokes, totally yummylicious!
This treatment is actually said to be everybody’s favourite at Ulpotha.
Ayurveda day 9
With day 9 started the elimination therapies, which consist for example of inhalation, purgation and emesis treatments and are used to bring the body’s energies into balance. Once balance is achieved, nourishing therapies are administered to maintain that balance.
This is what I called ‘P-day’!
P standing for purgation…
And this is how it goes:
6.30 am: I am to drink a black herbal liquid, which does not have a strong taste as such, yet a very powerdery residue on the bottom of the cup. This is some kind of laxative, hence I am grounded in my hut till lunch.
8.30 am: I am given breakfast, a very liquid rice porridge, that was agreeable in taste.
I spent the entire morning between my hammock reading and visiting the bathroom…
12.30 pm: lunchtime! I had rice and very spicy curry from curry leaves, garlic and onions. Not my favourite food at Ulpotha where the cuisine is fantastic! Yet this meal was not meant to be a culinary highlight, instead have the effect of ‘ending’ the purgation process.
Further instruction for the day were:
– do not wash hair all day (as to not interrupt the inner fire)
– it’s ok to do yoga in the afternoon
– it’s ok to have normal Ulpotha dinner
Ayurveda day 10
My last day. How time flies…
On the last day of the Ayurvedic cure, I was given a facial with home produced products, oils, and a lovely face massage.
An Ayurveda cure every year
What I found particularly intriguing about Ayurveda at Ulpotha is the fact, that in 2005 an Ayurveda clinic was established nearby, to give Ayurveda treatments and medicines to local villagers free of charge.
The clinic is entirely funded by the income generated from Ulpotha’s Ayurveda treatments, which to me is the very essence of eco-tourism.
I did not experience any negative side effects from any of my treatments and enjoyed the entire process greatly. The Ayurveda treatments combined with serious daily Ashtanga Yoga practise, the surrounding nurturing nature, the friendliness and gentleness of the people, the simple yet natural lifestyle, and the excellent organic vegetarian food are the ideal combination for making one feel fantastic.
After this beautiful experience I am determined to do an Ayurvedic cure of 10 to 14 days every year from now on! Not only the cure itself was great for me and left me feeling newborn, but also the changes that I have incorporated in my daily routines back home.