Ever wondered what it's like to go on an Ayurveda retreat in
India? Just ask Catherine Chichester. The wellness expert, spa
founder (she established the highly rated Village
Barn in Oxfordshire) and globetrotter recently enjoyed a
memorable and inspiring stay at Kalari Kovilakom in Kerala. Read on
for her first-hand account of the Ayurvedic experience.
Wellness expert Catherine Chichester
recently enjoyed an incredible Ayurvedic stay in India © Catherine
Greaves: How long have wellness and mindfulness been
important parts of your life? Walk us through your personal
Catherine Chichester: "My wellness journey started very early
on. My mother ran a private hospital in Bavaria, Germany and from
age 11, I spent most of my holidays there. The health system was
(and still is) very different in Germany. Alternative or
complementary therapies and treatments were very valued in addition
to allopathic medicine. Patients would enjoy holistic treatments
like Kneipp Massages or would be told to go and breathe in the
sunshine in addition to seeing their doctor daily.
Beyond my experience in Germany, one of my aunts was a pioneer
in championing homeopathy, having set up a homeopathic pharmacy in
Belgium in the 80s. She introduced me to the basics of energetic
medicine. From there, my personal wellness and mindfulness journey
began with having children, starting with an ante natal yoga class
I took 16 years ago."
How have your travels and retreat stays around the
world influenced your own wellness career?
"Prior to my stay at Kalari Kovilakom in Kerala, I had a memorable
time at the Hippocrates Health Institute in Palm Beach,
where I spent four weeks learning about the importance of raw food
and juicing. The Mayr Clinic in Austria was also influential -
the original Mayr Cure is based on a milk and bread fast.
Both these programmes, with their fasts and enzyme-rich
nutrition, got me thinking in such a different way about how we
heal. I suppose I am not a great one for "fluffy" spa retreats.
Ideally when I spend the time and money, I want to come away with a
Healthful, freshly made food is all
part of the Ayurvedic experience © Kalari Kovilakom
Tell us about your experience founding Village Barn
wellness spa in Oxfordshire. What were you goals in terms of
helping others progress on their personal wellness
"At Village Barn, the strapline has always been:
home to abundant health. For most people, "abundant health" means a
(long) healing journey - and for those who take it seriously, this
may take a lifetime.
I firmly believe in empowering and giving personal
responsibility through education. I've studied with innovative
health pioneers all over the world and am an avid reader - above
all, I love sharing this accumulated knowledge to help change
people's lives and rethink how we all live."
The retreat's beautiful exterior ©
You enjoyed an incredible stay at Kalari Kovilakom
in Kerala. What made this a standout experience for
"It might sound somewhat strange to proclaim Kalari
Kovilakom as my favourite retreat to date - especially when you
consider that I spent quite a few of my 16 days there in real discomfort. I was
woken before 6:30 AM most mornings, and fed a very lean, low
calorie, sugar-free and fat-free diet. Much of my time was spent in
isolation. Kalari Kovilakom is also certainly not as splendidly
luxurious as some of the five-star, extreme resorts that I've
previously visited. So on the surface of things my statement makes
absolutely no sense at all!
It's not that I'm bored with the polished perfection of these
other retreats - I suspect it's just that I have finally understood
that all this comes at a price. It is paid for with authenticity,
integrity and depth. These are key words for Kalari Kovilakom. This
place caters specifically to people who want to dramatically turn
their health around (not casual tourists), and to take that journey
with the sincerity it deserves.
I know my health has been totally different because the changes
from my time at Kalari were not on superficial level but at a
cellular level, and I reap the benefits to this day."
This Ayurvedic stay is not for
casual tourists, but best for those who really want to pursue a
healing journey © Kalari Kovilakom
There are a lot of misconceptions about Ayurveda in
the Western world. How does Ayurveda in India differ from the
experience you'll encounter in Western spas?
"For me, the difference comes down to the fact that this is a
system of science and healthcare that was invented thousands of
years ago, when we had a very different conception and value system
around time. Both time and space are at a premium for most of us
today. Ayurveda recommends long (two-hour or more) four-handed
massages, twice daily, during their Pancha Karma cleanses. It
understands that deep change takes time. It is not
When running my five-day detoxes at Village Barn, participants
frequently requested to do the course in less time. Culturally, we
don't give healing the time and space it needs.
Ayurveda in India knows no other way, and it takes healing
seriously. They don't just give you any treatment - the doctor
prescribes a treatment after he examines you (tongue and pulse are
most important). I've been to spas in the West where people can
pick an Ayurvedic massage, which is a concept that's actually alien
in true Ayurveda. It would be akin to walking into a hospital and,
without knowledge, picking up any pill and taking it!"
The retreat encourages peacefulness
and healing © Kalari Kovilakom
For those planning their first-ever wellness
retreat, what advice do you have to impart? What should visitors
expect from the experience?
"Be prepared for change, transformation, and healing. These
things are not always comfortable (in my experience they often
aren't), but they are so very worthwhile."
Outside of your retreat experiences, can you
recommend any landmarks, cultural outings, or other
"I really enjoyed the nearby Fort Kochi after my time at Kalari
Where is the wellness industry heading these days?
What can visitors expect to see and experience in retreats in the
"I think the wellness industry is booming today. As for trends,
I suspect medispas will continue to become more popular, as we
realise that our lifestyles owe such a debt."