For many of us, "Ayurveda" is synonymous with "hot stone
treatment" or "oil massage." But in truth, Ayurveda - an ancient
Indian system of healing - is far more holistic and complex in its
approach to wellness.
In order to brush up our Ayurvedic know-how, we went straight to
the source: Ananda in the Himalayas, one of India's finest
health retreats. Read on for a beginner's Ayurveda guide from Dr.
Mathew, Ananda's head Ayurvedic doctor. From personalised treatment
plans to meditative yoga to time spent in nature, here's what a
first-timer can expect from their first Ayurvedic experience.
Dr. Mathew, Ananda's head
Ayurvedic doctor © Ananda in the Himalayas
Greaves: Can you tell us a bit about Ayurveda's
origins and history?
Dr. Mathew: 'Ayurveda has long been used in India as a handbook
of healthy living. The oldest written reference to Ayurveda is in
the Vedas, a body of ancient texts that are more than 2,000 years
old. Historically, Ayurveda was practised as fully-fledged medical
science, even comprising surgeries and transplants.
In more recent times, Ayurveda has evolved into a complementary
and preventative health care system, and the focus is more on a
personalised understanding of health, which collectively takes into
account not just the body, but the mind and soul as
Ayurveda consists of nourishing
treatments © Ananda in the Himalayas
For those after a basic Ayurveda guide, can you tell
us more about what the key aspects of a treatment plan would
'The key aspects of Ayurvedic treatment are detoxification and
the regeneration of body tissue. The primary phase of cleansing,
which is called 'panchakarma' in Sanskrit, involves various oil
massages and other treatments that are designed to target fat
tissues and the stubborn toxins contained in them. The elimination
is done using natural pathways of cleansing. This is followed by
nourishing treatments that rebuild the body cells.
The effects of the process vary, depending on the type of oils
and herbs used - all of that is decided on an individual basis, in
order to address the root causes of each patient's imbalance. But
in general, after one undergoes full panchakarma, the immediate
impact will be improved immunity, digestion and circulation. The
bones and joints will be nourished and the body feels light and
A traditional oil treatment ©
Ananda in the Himalayas
How do you go about crafting bespoke Ayurvedic
treatments for every guest?
'Every Ayurveda experience has three pillars: the treatments, a
personalised diet plan, and restorative activities like yoga and
other physical activities. The treatments focus on the immediate
health condition. The food is planned according to the person's
body type. Personal goals like weight loss, detoxifications, etc,
are also considered when the diet is set. The activities are mostly
yoga-based, and are carefully planned based on long-term goals and
health conditions. Since everyone is unique and has different
issues they wish to address, the final Ayurvedic plans are always
What makes the Ayurvedic programme at Ananda
'At Ananda, both the ingredients used and the people behind the
treatments are special. The therapists are schooled in our own
training facility, and are not only trained in the individual
procedures, but also in basic anatomy, physiology and common
The moderate weather at Ananda throughout the year also helps us
plan warming and cooling treatments no matter the season.'
Guests should feel light and
mobile after treatments © Ananda in the Himalayas
What should newcomers to Ayurveda expect during
their first time with an Ayurvedic doctor?
'We put a lot of focus on finding the root causes behind
patients' imbalances. So, the first meeting will almost exclusively
deal with the guest's health history, diet, and other lifestyle
practices. This is followed by a traditional pulse examination, or
'nadi pareeksha,' which will help us verify the current energy
balance in one's body. The treatments, diet, and activities are
then planned based on this information.'
What are other highlights of Ananda's overall
'At Ananda, guests aren't just doing treatments, but learning
about a whole lifestyle that can heal and help prevent problems
from reappearing. The retreat's location in the foothills of the
Himalayas, the presence of the Holy River Ganges, and the proximity
to the popular spiritual destination of Rishikesh all add to the
holistic healing effect.'
Ananda's gorgeous scenery
complements its treatments © Ananda in the Himalayas
Can you tell us more about Ananda's history? How
does its Himalayan setting assist in the overall visitor
'Ananda occupies grounds which were once used by a local king
for his all-weather palace, complete with wonderful views. The
concept of staying at a place where the major focus is Ayurveda and
spa treatments is very effective when you can also go on nature
walks, treks and temple visits.'
How can new practitioners learn to distinguish
authentic Ayurvedic practices from more modern versions that may
not be traditional or approved?
'The authentic practise can be distinguished because it is
tailored very strongly to the individual, and is always supported
by simple lifestyle, diet and activity changes.'