Arriving in Sri Lanka
From the time we arrived at Colombo, Sri Lanka at 2am this morning I feel a sense of excitement being in the home of Ayurveda. For the next 7 nights my dream of experiencing a week’s panchakarma in an Ayurvedic Resort in Sri Lanka is coming true. (A panchakarma is a time to chill out, focus on restoring good health and detoxing. It is usually done at a change of season. Spring is the optimal time and autumn also a good time.) However, it should be for 10 days to 3 weeks and I am here for 7 days.
Barberyn Ayurvedic Resort
Barberyn Ayurvedic Resort is a place which focuses on Ayurvedic treatment. It is the original Ayurvedic Resort in Sri Lanka and was established in the 1980s. There is a chain of three now, the latest is ready to be opened. Apparently there are 750 workers employed. You can only stay if you receive treatments. Barberyn is considered an authentic Ayurvedic Resort with fully trained doctors etc.
Your stay starts with a doctor consultation and you are prescribed medication and treatments designed for your condition. Some have real health issues and others use it to stay healthy by coming once a year. The whole focus is on good food, rest and relaxation, treatments and medication. The resort like a 5 star hotel – overlooking the ocean with a beautiful swimming pool. It has beauty rooms, fine dining restaurant, tailor services, library, yoga and tai chi classes and a gift shop, with many staff keeping everything working like clockwork to ensure comfort.
Day 1 – the 2 hour journey to Beruwala
I was starting to wonder if Beruwala was fictional as we meandered on our two hour journey along motorways – our little car speeding along at 120 kmh, and through small villages ( one of which we stopped at a tea shop laden with tea), palm tree and rubber tree plantations. Traffic is similar to India but without the frantic, mass populated roads and the multi lined tolled motorways are as good as anywhere. It can still be hair raising though with not many rules for tuktuks, cars, trucks and buses all vying for room.
After a couple of hours, down a long drive way in which the other cars had to stop and reverse to let us pass, we came to a picturesque Sri Lankan resort bordering the ocean and nestled amongst tropical trees. As the car pulled up a smiling Sri Lankan man opened my door and led me to reception where I was given a beautiful lotus flower and a fresh fruit juice. In the background surf crashed on a reef. My first impression of the resort was its characteristically Sri Lankan character with open walkways, thick white concrete walls, dark teak joinery and many smiling workers continually raking leaves from walk ways. It is a big resort with about 90 staying at this time. For some reason they seem to be mainly German and Japanese. The resort is sprawling with low rise rooms, some bungalows facing the ocean, two whole blocks for treatment rooms with many therapists, a huge restaurant and reception area, shop and library. There is a quietness about – a gentle hush. It is as though there is no one else about. Although at meal times in the restaurant are busy.
From the time I arrived it was action. After my fruit juice I was whisked off to see my room. Lunch was being served now and I needed to have a consultation with an Ayurveda doctor at 2pm. Treatments were following so the afternoon flowed very quickly.
A darling qualified Ayurveda lady doctor took more than 30 minutes to diagnose, using questioning, visual cues, especially the tongue and energy pulses on the wrists, blood pressure and blood test results. From here a programme was designed for the next 7 days.
I was amazed how the whole process – from treatments to medicine to eating plans – flow so seamlessly. Although there are over 70 people staying there is no waiting for treatments –we go from one treatment to the next. My medication is waiting in my cubby hole after the last treatment with instructions about when to take it. In my room is a thermos of boiled water so I can take medication with warm water as prescribed.
My treatments are an Ayurvedic head massage in which I sit in a chair and my scalp and back are massaged. Then I am moved to a table and my face is massaged. By now I am dozy with relaxation. I am given eye drops as part of my medication plan. Then another lady comes in and I am given a 4 handed massage, which may be considered rather confronting – I am wearing a pair of knickers only and the whole body massaged with long sweeping strokes, even around the breasts are massaged vigorously with lots of hot oil, finishing with heated balls (like poi) with herbs and medicated oil pressed into the skin. The massage is a way of getting the skin to absorb the heated, medicated oil and the bolus are heated with herbs and medicated oil also.
From there I am taken to a row of loungers and I lie down. My stiff shoulder, hip and lower abdomen are covered with hot medicated pastes. Aloe Vera is rubbed on my face, cucumber slices placed over my eyes and a mosquito net to cover me while I lay there for about 30 minutes.
Then I shower and am given a herbal bath with a lady pouring the herbal warm water over my body the whole time. After that I go to the acupuncture room where the acupuncturist strategically places needles and I lie there for about half an hour. My treatments are now finished.
Later in the week I changed from the herbal bath to the steam room. This wasn’t for the faint hearted. I had to lie in the large coffin shaped wooden contraption with my head sticking out. It certainly got hot in there. In fact the first time I thought my bottom had caught fire. When I told the lady she looked rather alarmed.
My medicines don’t taste very nice. All medications are plant based and natural, so the body can assimilate well. They are not sanitized like synthetic drugs, so they are not guaranteed to taste or look good. I have been given some powder to add to warm water to be taken after dinner; two lots of pills (they looked like baby cannon balls) and two different lots of medicine – one to be taken on rising and before bed and the other after meals. I just hold my nose and drink! Once I learned the one after lunch and dinner is made like wine, it somehow tastes more palatable.
Yoga class is at 5pm, optional of course, but this is a highlight for me to join someone else’s class so I rushed off to join it. A delightful Sri Lankan lady took us through an hour and a half of intermediate yoga. Always good to see just how different each teacher’s personality contributes to what is taught. I have to remember that I am usually double (or more) the age of the fit young bunnies at the classes and to be kind with myself. I am sure I will limber up with 4 hours of yoga a day and in a room without air conditioning.
Dinner – I feel a bit strange eating by myself. The deal here is that you sit at a table – the restaurant is organized by room numbers. Because I am here on my own, I eat on my own. My room number happens to be situated right up the front in the middle of the restaurant and I feel very conspicuous, so I have organized my chair so I look out at the ocean with my back to the other 70 or so tables. Everyone is on their own journey and there isn’t opportunities or maybe desire to meet up with others. I guess language is a barrier too with people from all over the world who have come here to heal. Everyone seems to be on their own journey.
Oh I love the food – how can food be so healthy yet so divine! It is sheer delight to lift the big stainless steel covers to discover what astronomical delight awaits. For breakfast and lunch there would be about 20 different dishes – always lots of tropical fruits as well and about 8 different desserts. For dinner we are served and on one night there is a Sri Lankan buffet and on another night there is an English type buffet – for me, I am given herbal tea and fruit juice and a soup to start and I am served 3 courses after that. The portions are small but filling and incredibly tasty. There is no meat here and with the food has incredible variety.
Up at 5.40am for yoga at 6am. A lovely class with lots of talking about mindfulness, how we make choices in our lives, a huge focus on sun salutes and some pranayama and relaxation. Breakfast was divine. J The morning is free so I am catching up with laundry and computer. Another divine lunch – at lunchtime there are lots of desserts which I suppose I shouldn’t be enjoying so much. Treatments start at 2.15pm and once again there is an Ayurvedic head massage, a full body massage with 4 hands, hot herbal compresses put on shoulder and hip, hot herbal bath with water poured continually and methodically over my body and an acupuncture session. Not much time to shower and off to yoga and then dinner. Haven’t done much today but feel ready for bed early. I suppose 4 hours of yoga and 3 hours of treatments and lots of good food may be doing wonders for me.
Yoga today was with different teacher who I enjoyed more. She led us slowly into the session with meditation, pranayama and gentle asana, but by the end of the session I was sweating after all those sun salutes. Breakfast was as delicious as ever – soup, herbal tea, fresh fruit and a plate of many different Ayurvedic tastes. There is also the European selections and cereal selections but why not sample all the different food while I can – enough time for porridge when I am back at Waihi Beach. Today I received a complimentary facial from the beauty rooms. I fell asleep so hope no noises escaped from my mouth! My face feels so smooth now without being greasy. Today I tried to get my treatments changed to mornings but there are no spaces left in the morning because the resort is too full. I missed out on a tea plantation tour and a turtle hatchery tour, which are both in the afternoons. Oh well, I have been going to start a book, so that is what I will do each morning in my alone time. Sitting on a lounger overlooking the reef isn’t such a hardship.
The only change in treatments was today I had a steam room instead of an herbal bath. This is for weight loss. When I saw the room I was horrified. There were 4 big teak, coffin- looking furniture. I asked if I had to get my head in too (if she said yes I was going to run away). Anyway my head was sticking out the end supported and the lady sat beside me which was comforting. I stayed in there for 10 minutes and felt like my bottom was on fire at the end. Luckily I am used to saunas so it was manageable – only just.
I can’t believe it is Day 4 already. My excitement and anticipation has changed to a feeling of being settled in and going with the flow to experience everything fully. I am feeling really good. It is hard to explain, but I feel so healthy.
I love experiencing Ayurveda. The whole establishment is about peace. I love how Ayurveda treats the whole person; no one here reminds you to do anything – opportunities are here and each person has a choice, a responsibility and if they are willing to help themselves, they eat according to their plan, take the treatments and medication.
I am settling in to an enjoyable daily routine. The 6 am yoga session is fabulous – a gentle entry into the day with meditation, pranayama and working up to sun salutes. The class is not as strenuous as the intermediate class at 5.15pm but I enjoy that class too. At the end of yoga I look forward to breakfast. After a few days have passed I realize I prefer sweetness for breakfast – rolled oats and trimmings along with fresh fruit, rather than the curries and Sri Lankan food.
After breakfast I visited the tailor and a delightful lady is going to copy a favourite top in the loveliest fabric for the equivalent of $17. I pick it up Sunday morning. There was a visit to the herbal garden and pharmacy so I went along. It was amazing. I took photos and have a blog about it.
I am starting to feel really good. My hair looks glossy, my skin feels smooth. I can’t think of why I would be stressed. What a wonderful place this is – probably because I weighed myself and weigh 2 kg less than last Monday. The best part is I haven’t felt like I am dieting. I am hungry at meals but very satisfied afterwards (Why wouldn’t I be after 3 and 4 courses) maybe the difference is the type of food – no meat and the whole emphasis on whole, fresh produce prepared very imaginatively and tastily.
I now understand why I am having the treatments I am given. The Ayurvedic head massage is for my sore shoulder. The full body massage with special hot oil and the warm pastes applied to my shoulder and hip and acupuncture treatment is to help the shoulder and hip joints. The steam room is for weight loss. Then there are all the medicines to be taken at different times. So I think it is a combined effort of medicine, treatments, food, yoga and rest. What a wonderful way to nurture the body, mind and soul. Love it, love it, love it.
The yoga session in the morning is getting so much easier. I need to keep that in mind with my yoga classes – how it takes time to get one’s body and mind tuned into a different teacher: their way of speaking and teaching and how the asana are done. I have empathy for those coming to my classes.
Breakfast is just as scrumptious as usual. Today I am feeling a little bored. I am focusing on writing in my free time in the morning. Lunch comes around quickly and as usual I can’t resist the gorgeous desserts. Today the treatments seem to take forever and my mind is a little bored. I can’t believe it has taken a whole week to realise there is an amazing library here. I have taken out three books and have a day to read them! Yoga was lovely. Dinner was beautiful. Instead of a set menu served to us, on Saturday night there is a buffet with Sri Lanka theme. I had to have two platefuls because everything looked so delectable. I tasted the best fish I have ever eaten in my whole life. It is called fish ambulthiyal. I am going to google it and prepare it back home. Tonight I enjoyed sitting with a lady from London for dinner. She reported she had been horrified to see a crocodile walking past the car park. I was horrified too. I decided to check out that story. I am feeling better now I have some reading to do and back in my room I don’t feel so bored with my lovely books.
Oh dear. My last day. No yoga this morning because it is Sunday. There is a meditation class tonight which I will go to. I got up and did some yoga on my own – not nearly as much fun. At breakfast I asked the doctor who sits by the buffet, whether there are crocodiles around here. She said no, but there are things – I think she said giant modos – they are harmless and live along the waterways. What a relief. I couldn’t understand how people could be swimming and fishing in the ocean with crocodiles around so I feel happier knowing they are safe.
Another delicious lunch. Then I visited the doctor for my final consultation. She listened to my pulses, listened to my blood pressure, checked my tongue, asked about my health. Then she asked more questions and determined my body type, gave me some guidelines to keep in balance when I am home. She also gave me some oil to rub into my shoulder and suggested I do simple exercises for my shoulder. What a darling lady – softly spoken and gentle and gave me as much time as I needed with lots of information.
It was a little sad knowing I wouldn’t see the ladies giving treatments either ever again or for a year or more. All of them are smiley, friendly and although many have limited English, their actions and smiles make up for lack of words.
I attended the meditation class taken by a kind-faced monk dressed in orange robes. He spoke about how yoga and meditation are to control our monkey mind. A message I will remember from him is that if you think nice thoughts, speak nice words and do nice actions you will have a happy life. And if you are worried today you will probably be worried in the future. What you are now counts. He showed us a very effective and easy way to meditate – basically as you breathe in silently say ‘I am breathing in’ and when you breathe out say ‘I am breathing out’. Do this for 10 minutes a day and clear your monkey mind.
Day 8 – Back to Colombo
I am all packed, will go to yoga at 6am and have a shower and breakfast and the car is picking me up at 9am. What a fabulous week it has been.
The trip back was so speedy, the car was a BMW and we sped along the toll road at 150kmh. Back to Colombo. I am so annoyed that I haven’t learned my lesson – walking along the road knowing where I am going and quite happy. A man starts walking alongside me and starts chatting asking where I am from etc. Then he suggests a tuktuk ride to the mall where I am headed, I agree and a tuktuk miraculously pulls up. The tuktuk delivers me to another place that sells gems and tea. What a rip off. I have learned, if someone is friendly they probably have an ulterior motive. What a sad world!
My thoughts…The philosophy of Barberyn Ayurvedic Resort as printed in the Directory in my room; ‘The vision of Barberyn is human development, which rests on the sustainability of life, both physical and spiritual. We believe that sustainability encompasses the sanctity of life, human consciousness and inner peace.’
How profound is that! And after being here a week, I believe Barberyn Ayurvedic Resort truly lives up to its philosophy.
Ayurveda is a science about self –healing – taking responsibility for our health, knowing and practising healthy routines, how we fit in with universal energy (days, seasons, years), which food is best for us, what lifestyle is best for us. We observe and know ourselves to see when we are in and out of balance. We know how to get back into balance quickly without illness manifesting chronically in our body.
We service our cars regularly so they work well for us. Do we look after ourselves so we function optimally? Do we even know how to? Or do we wish to know how to? Do we have time to do this?
Food and medicine come from nature and we need to look after nature. Ayurveda says health is the most important thing in the world and without good health we have nothing. When one is healthy and has longevity, one can give back to society and society will be healthy
While I am here, it is easy to see how many unhealthy choices I make in my everyday life. Do I really need to have that drink and believe if I don’t I am depriving myself? Should I be buying meat at the supermarket because it is easier? Do I need so many sweet things in my diet when I am overweight? Why do I still overeat when I know I am overweight and have to carry extra weight around with me 24/7? Do I need to watch TV for later than I know I should because it is hard to get up and go to bed? The list goes on.
This retreat has given me time to reflect. My goal is to now become more mindful throughout each day. I enjoyed mindful eating here and could savour each mouthful and be aware of my thoughts. When I did share a meal with a lovely lady we talked so much I can hardly remember what I ate. It was fun, but certainly not as relaxing and probably not as good for my digestive system.
This retreat is a wonderful place to have the time to focus on good holistic health – spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. There is no television, silence is encouraged when walking around, and cellphones are not encouraged in the restaurant. The day is divided into eating, resting and getting treatments. Staff are very polite and there is no stress in any way.
Results from Week in Barberyn
When I arrived the doctor asked what my main concerns were, I said I wanted less ama on my tongue (digestion) in the morning and lessen the middle line in my tongue (digestion and liver), my right shoulder and left hip were stiff. The doctor suggested I needed to lose weight because as one gets older, if we carry weight we get lots of aches and pains. I am very good at ignoring this issue of weight control. My excuse is that I love cooking and eating (which I do). My blood pressure was OK; 100/70 Vata and Pitta were aggravated and tongue coated.
Now it is Day 7 and in the meantime, there is less ama on my tongue, which suggests I am eating far more healthily here and digesting food better. The line on the middle of my tongue has definitely got smaller. In Ayurveda the tongue gives a lot of insight into the person’s health. Despite 4 hours of yoga a day, my right shoulder and left hip do not ache, and they only have pain in certain movements. I am sleeping more restfully and wake up feeling fresh. I feel lighter in body and mind. The doctor said my vata and pitta were pacified, my tongue was clear, my blood pressure good and lost 1kg without feeling hungry. She also gave me some medicated oil to continue to rub on my shoulder at home.
This retreat has definitely given me time for self-study and I am going to adjust my eating to focus more on vegetables. I have certainly not denied myself – there have been 3 courses for every meal, but the focus has changed on the type of food I am eating. There is no struggle here to have 5 fruit and vegetables a day – there would be at least 30 different fruits and vegetables prepared tastily.
The staff don’t usually speak fluent English so it is not possible to hear stories of healing but I have heard many true stories during Ayurveda studies. If I had a terminal illness, I know I would be coming here!! The medication may not taste good, but it is natural and based on thousands of years of practice; the doctors are well trained and the system focuses on the person not just the symptom, treating everyone as unique. The whole environment here is conducive to healing mind, body and spirit.
What a dream it would be if our hospitals in New Zealand were along the same lines as here – the emphasis on the individual taking responsibility for their own health; treating the individual holistically and uniquely and not focusing on the symptom; a healing environment which nurtures body, mind and soul; medicines from nature and not synthetically manufactured;