Ananda in the Himalayas is a spa with a difference. It’s a hideaway located in the foothills of the majestic mountain range. Here beauty, peace and serenity come together to create a haven that is guaranteed to refresh and rejuvenate your body and soul
A delightful by-product of my deep interest in holistic therapies is that I have become somewhat of a spa fiend. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the sensorial offerings of many a top-notch spa in India and abroad but somehow, Ananda in the Himalayas continued to elude me. Then, finally, this spring I came to this cradle of holistic well being to experience a week of their new “Yogic Detox” program. I arrived in the evening, a little weary from a hectic trip to Delhi, and was eased into my week of cleansing with the Detoxifying Salt Scrub, a vigorous rub down with Himalayan salts infused with juniper, cypress and grapefruit oils to draw out impurities. I returned to my room tingling and buffed to a high shine, ready to absorb and enjoy the experiences that lay ahead.
At Ananda you can cram a serious amount of wellbeing into a single day. “Beginners” yoga takes place at 7.15 am every morning and is followed an hour later by the less-leisurely “Intermediate” yoga session. This takes place at the splendid amphitheatre, which offers views that make that early-morning wake up call worth the effort.
Later in the day, “Full Moon Stretches” are conducted at the gym and if you want, you continue with sessions designed for different purposes such as core stability and the cheekily-titled “Abs, Thighs and Bums” workout.
My first private yoga session was preceded by a consultation with the teacher to ideate on what I wished to achieve during the week and create the ideal routine for me. My ambition of swiftly attaining a gymnastic bendiness was patiently filed down to the more realistic goal of collating a series of asanas to facilitate flexibility in the long term
Although I had given up my yoga practice for some weeks as I’d been travelling, I gamely attempted to be blithely lithe and was very encouraged when my instructor kindly complimented my technique and knowledge.
The next day my yoga instructor had the delightful idea of taking our session outdoors.
In the dappled light of the amphitheatre, I stretched my limbs and understood why some Himalayan yogis choose never to leave this devbhoomi, or abode of the gods. Pranayama was never more effective at clearing the lungs and my mind than in this pristine mountain air. It was in this state of ataraxia that I floated through the rest of the day, arriving mid evening at the spa for the Stimulating Shower Blitz. I had never before experienced being pummelled by gallons of water shot through a high-pressure hose. It takes some getting used to but I came away utterly invigorated, having in fact blitzed away any sluggishness in my system.
On one of the days, I proposed we take my yoga and pranayama session in the Music Pavilion. Beside this bandstand, with its striking frescoed ceiling, is a pool of water that runs the length of the hall and reflects the pavilion. In the summer, the tree by the pavilion is a favourite spot of the monkeys, who dive into the cool beckoning water of the reflecting pool. Charmed as I was by this setting, I was nevertheless grateful that the “monkey man”, as he is known, kept a vigilant eye out for any playful simians that might crash our yoga class.
Ayurveda pivots on the tridosha theory that a person is comprised of varying parts of the natural elements – air, fire, water and earth – resulting in the three major constitutional humours of vata, pitta and kapha. To discover a person’s constitution, or prakruti, and to determine which elements are in balance and which need redressing, the pulse is examined and a questionnaire is filled out to fine tune this assessment. Every person manifests the physical, mental and emotional attributes of their dosha type in various ways, depending on how much in or out of balance they are.
A basic overview describes the vata (air, ether) type as typically thin, anxious, changeable, adaptive and creative. Pitta (fire, water) is of medium build, aggressive, irritable, and makes a good leader. Kapha ( water, earth) tends to be amply built with a heavy bone structure, likes routine, is good at running organisations and is leisure loving.
After a discussion with the resident Ayurveda doctor, I was declared to be of vata-pitta prakruti and informed that I mildly needed to balance both humours. I was prescribed a diet that would facilitate the restoration of equilibrium. For the rest of my stay, I was offered a choice between the exquisite and elaborate international menu and the less expansive but mercifully still varied and consistently delicious fare of Ananda Wellbeing Cuisine.
The Road To Detox
On my first day, after lunch, I made my way to the jala neti session. Jala neti is considered the simplest of the six yogic cleansing techniques collectively known as the kshat kriyas. It requires pouring warm, salinated water from the elongated nozzle of a neti pot into one nostril and allowing it to flow out of the other. The benefits of jala neti are many. Regular practice of this technique has provided relief to chronic sufferers of sinusitis, headaches and allergies.
Later in the week, Kunjal Kriya was on my schedule. It is this type of cleansing practice that I had dreaded while planning my trip to Ananda. It involves drinking two to eight tall glasses of warm salt water and then proceeding to stick two fingers down the throat to induce vomiting. And yet, on the sixth day of yogic detox, with all the preceding focus on mental and bodily processes, all resistance had melted away into calm surrender and it seemed a most natural thing to do. Perhaps this is why kunjal was saved for the latter part of my stay. Kunjal kriya flushes the upper stomach and lungs and regular practice will reduce acidity and enhance assimilation of nutrients.
At Ananda, abhyanga, the classic Ayurvedic warm oil massage, was performed by two therapists in synchronicity. Abhyanga is known to impart a youthful glow to one’s skin, improve eyesight, enable peaceful sleep and increase vigour and vitality. After a foot bath in a Himalayan pebbled brass bowl, I settled into the massage bed and was lulled by the lilting cadences of the guruvandana recited by the young therapists from Kerala. This Sanskrit prayer gives salutation and thanks to the divine teacher for removing ignorance and granting clearer insight. Gentle nuances such as these abound at Ananda, transforming the merely pleasurable into the sublime.
On day two, I tried the rejuvenating Choornaswedana massage, which involved being energetically thumped with warm herbal bundles. For my aromatherapy massage, I decided on the Ananda Spice blend comprised of black pepper, cardamom and ginger oils, which promised to warm and relax the joints and limbs.
The highlight of my final day was the divine Ananda Fusion Massage. This signature treatment is a medley, blending the best of Eastern and Western massage styles.
It was a perfect culmination to my stay at Ananda.
The meditation and yoga instructors at Ananda are very knowledgeable and well-versed in translating esoteric Eastern terminology into a comprehensible and concise format for lay people seeking to learn the traditions. There are twice-daily talks on Vedanta, which espouses that a state of uninterrupted bliss is our true self. Through a pursuit of self knowledge, Vedanta Philosophy redirects us from the endless (and ultimately worthless) chase for worldly pleasures to self discovery. You can also take one of the evening group meditation sessions, bird sighting walks, cooking classes and, of course, a personalised itinerary of spa treatments to relax.
You are free to do as much or as little as you choose. Treks to nearby temples and monasteries and Ganga aarti in Rishikesh are among the several outings that Ananda can organise for those interested in exploring the surrounding area.
Along with purification of body comes a similar experience for the mind. Trataka meditation sounds simple enough. Staring unblinking at a candle flame till you feel the sting of tears, all the while disciplining the mind to stay unattached to the flow of thoughts, is not quite that easy, as it turns out. I am accustomed to meditating with my eyes closed and while I am moderately familiar with the Buddhist Zazen, where the eyes are partially open so the practitioner allows external stimuli to enter and is yet not distracted by them, I found it challenging to not be diverted by my burning eyes. Trataka is a practice that I intend to continue. It improves concentration, strengthens the eyes and empowers the ajna chakra, the centre for higher intuition.
People come to Ananda for various reasons: Healing, rejuvenation, school reunions and even corporate conventions. I suspect they come back for one single reason – a holiday at Ananda is incomparable bliss.