As the most indulgent weeks of the year are over and winter finally arrived to most of the Northern hemisphere, escaping for an exotic Ayurvedic retreat to the sun-kissed Maldives, might work best on your overloaded bodies and minds. If last minute travel does not fit in your schedule, at least be inspired to restore your wellbeing.

A weeklong stay at a secluded Four Seasons Resort is taylored to ground your Vata energy, tame your Pita fire or elevate your earthy Kapha, the three doshas that are indidvidually assesed by an in-house Ayurvedic physician. Longer retreats are more beneficial, but a week can already switch your energies and create a deep sense of holistic health.

Villa in MaldivesSunset in Maldives

Luxurious pampering while detoxifying

The splendid yet isolated location of the Landaa Giraavaru in the Baa Atol supports your balancing efforts. After about 30 sweaty (no airconditioning!) minutes hydroplane ride from the capital’s Male international airport, there are no cars, bakeries, fluffy heaps of gelato and coffee houses to tempt and trigger cravings. Although the restaurants serve normal food, the tasty meals prepared for you three times per day, sattisfy enough that you do not wish to join the generous buffet. The first morning I saw a well-rounded Russian tourist with three plates of croissants, sausages, pancakes, generously sipping on his X-large latte, a Chinese couple devouring pork dumplings and fried noodles, and I must say it did not look appealing for a breakfast. Whether it was the doctor’s herbs and tonics that cast a healthy-minded spell over me or the relaxing warm oil massage the night before, my mind had alerady switched to a more mindful eating mode. Psychologically, I found it intriguing how quickly our attitudes can change!

Romantic sunset

In nature’s hands

Ayurveda is attuned to nature as this ancient health system implements nature’s universal rules to human wellbeing. Disbalance of the three doshas (bio energies) results in deterioration harming our body and mind. In its essence Ayurveda is preventative medicine requiring taking charge of your health and actively seeking lifestyle solutions. I wrote recently in-depth about its principles, so read more if you desire broader knowledge.

If you booked in for this Ayurvedic retreat, you have done the first step, you sliced some time for yourself to feel better.

Now, upon landing in this pristine natural haven in the blueness of the Indian Ocean, start observing your sensations, thoughts and moods, as well as the nature’s elements surounding you. Learn more about yourself. Being attentive to your inner self teaches much more than observations from relatives and friends. This mindful insight can guide your approach to wellbeing. Discovering your real likes and disruptive forces, equipps you better for dealing with the challenges of the busy and challenging daily life, when automatic behavior usually rules over our minds.

Free from distractions that cities usually flood upon us, you can walk safely barefoot on the silky sand to the spa or the casual resort restaurants. Skipping worries about what to wear and slipping into the comfortable white linen attire handmade for the participants in the hotel’s Ayurvedic programme, you immediatelly feel liberated.

Four Seasons Maldives spa treatment suiteNatural clothes in India

The nature’s elements have a great power. My daily readings about Ayurveda, the millennial wisdom of accumulated knowledge tamed my hyperacitve mind. The horizons of my sensory experience suddenly brightened through an improved perception, and my awareness of subtle sounds and inner feelings resurfaced to my consciousness. I could control better my voluntary organs as my mind  found strength in peace.

Engage all your senses

TOUCH when a masseuse touches your body, hair, head and face, give yourself to the realm of nothingness – the blissful sensation of pure joy. When taking shower or a bath, enjoy the gentle energy of the water envelopping you.

SMELL find your preferred aroma and also what disturbs as the right fragrance can help to restore balance. Rose, water lilly, and cinnamon comfort me. What aromas make you feel great? Try, sniff and find them.

VISION a steady flow of ocean in the distance, observing animals and the smooth choreography of the fish in the sea, enhance my concentration. Walking in nature and observing its beautified perfection as much as positively coloured painting can shift my mood so powerfully that no city can achieve. Find what appeals visually to you.

SOUND steady, calm sound of burping water, no jerky waves, as much as a smooth provencal wind feel so good. Mantras like the three karas I learned from the onsite Bhutanese yoga instructor.  “A” vibrating into the lower body; “U” relaxing the middle digestive and chest area; and “M” humming in your head, neck and shoulders do wonders while lying in the yogic corpse pose with your palms opened towards the sky. The right “music” makes wonders!

TASTE not too sweet, not too salty, sour, or bitter, just right amount of each is ideal to remain balanced. Having a pot of soothing warm infusion with herbs and spices such as cardamom, cinammom and ginger, has the potential to ground aggravated vata or pita. Each of us has different taste preferences, think about yours.

beach life

Ayurvedic retreat in hands of Landaa Giraavaru

The in-house Ayurvedic physician assess your state of wellbeing from your appearance, pulse and discussion about your daily lifestyle. Our Kerala-born doctor with a monastic concentration held my wrist to check the patterns of my pulse, then he looked at me smiling, his white teeth (his secret: charcoal tooh brushing) glistening between his lips. The thought highway of my brain suddenly stopped on allert as my curiosity was awakened. What followed was a precise analysis of who I am and what I need to change in my life. This person with a medical degree was not a fortune teller after all, but a qualified doctor. He disclosed that knowing others from a short encounter is one of the most difficult acquired skills of any Ayurvedic practitioner during his compulsory five-year education.

We were prescribed herbal pills and bitter, plant-based drops, both assisting with what was needed, a poor absorption of nutrients in my case. The doctor also built our treatment schedule, from suitable types of massages to yoga.

My poor digestion of raw onions so loved for its antibacterial function by the Ayurvedic practitioners required plenty of swallowing of herbs and supportive plant infusions after the meals. These helped, little. Still, I would cook the onions.

Antigravity yoga & taichi pavillon

Meeting the challenges of a detox

The first three days of our caffeine, alcohol and all processed foods detox were exhausting. My mind was as tired as was my body. The culprits of my exhaustion were, strangely, the daily two hours lasting oil massage treatments concluded with a short steam, a natural herbal body scrub and a rub with henna shampoo. Since the “toxins” were released, this was normal. The ultimate “reward” of caffeine and alcohol in the form of energetic gratification was misssing.

An hour of yoga in the morning before breakfast felt great, but in the humid weather conditions of the Maldives, I had difficulties holding the balancing poses. As days moved ahead, I regained strength though, and my mind was becoming more clear. We started to be more aware of the blissful state of being balanced.

Free of stimulants and brain clouders like wine, I could listen to my body’s needs more attentively. I did not feel hunger neither did cravings distracted me from my inner wholesomeness as often as usually. In our ocean villa, there were cosy chairs to relax and the daily fresh deliveries of ripe baby bananas, unctuously sweet yellow mangoes, rambutans and other Asian fruits became my daily sugar fix. I was trully satisfied as my emotions slowly faded into a more controled domain of my brain.

There are plenty of helpful distractions from the detox process. Yoga, Tai-chi, snorkeling, evening guided meditation sessions and plenty of other detox-supportive activities like aqua yoga, antigravity yoga, as well as the dozens of classes, talks and trips offered by the hotel. Four Season’s legendary high level of service in its efficiency and quality, accompanied by an appropriate island friendliness was supportive. Since all the staff was living on the same island a sense of community pervaded the air. Your comfort is priority, so submerge into the pampering at Landaa.

Supportive spa treatments

Aromatic footbath and scrub clean your feet and initiate a sense of wellbeing. Chanting, prayers and gentle touches of the therapists’ hands on your head establish a more personal relationship of trust.

Long and firm strokes are further augmented by a four-hands massage.

  • Vata benefits from calming oils such as almond, sesame, and olive oil.
  • Pita is cooled by applying almond, coconut or sunflower oil.
  • Kapha will be invigorated by canola, corn and mustard oils.

At the end of each massage, sweating for more elimination is induced in a steam bath, where herbs like tulsi (Indian basil) are dispersed to support the doshas. After showering a red tinted herb powder for women or an ashy grey for men is applied on the forehead. Its protective powers are purely symbolic so you are allowed to skip this decorative face enhancement.

Perhaps the most known Ayurvedic treatment is Shirodhara, the slow and steady pouring of heated oil on your forehead’s third eye chakra. This nourishing and allegedly sleep improving treatment profoundly affects the mind. Its lengthy and monotonous pace can be quite disconcerting for the dominant Vata dosha. I trully disliked it!

My favorite pampering at the spa was Elakkizhi, when after a deep oil massage, further rubbing with warm poutrices stuffed with herbs and spices heated in medicinal oil promotes sweating of toxins, reduces arthritis, tension and sciatica.

My husband was troubled by congestion so he was prescribed Nasya nose cleanse that reduces the excess of Kapha.

Panchakarma, the profound cleansing during a 21 day period when you undergo daily treatments including oil massage, herbal poutrices, but also enemas (Vata), purgation (Pita) or inducing vomiting to get rid of excess Kapha, is the most therapeutical Ayurvedic remedy, but it is not suitable for everyone.

Blood letting for excess pita is believed to improve skin related problems. A thorough detoxification is not suitable for everyone though and people with anemia and suffering from weakness should not undergo this rather antiquated remedy. There were many other wellness enhancements that may be best for you. Any good doctor acknowledges personal health issues as well as reservations to some rituals such as the Devi Bhavani Ritual for Women supposedly replenishing the female energy – not every lady will be comfortable sitting on a smoke box – naked.

detox mealhealthy dessert

Healing through food

Ayurvedic food is made for Indian digestion used to spicy food. Despite its recognition of unsuitability of spicy food for an excess Pita, still the food served at the retreat was more spicy than a typical Western diet. An addition of cardamom or a fresh ginger infusion with dosha specific herbal blend can be soothing though. Having such herbal and spice infusion after each meal also exhausts any remaining desire for additional food.

Our meals during the Ayurvedic retreat were balancing, yet with the same composition for both of us, male or female,Vata, Pita or Kapha, the portions were too generous for a balanced diet. Our sustainable spirit refrained us from waisting so we asked for reduced portions. Breakfast was the most substantial meal. We did not feel deprived as we also were treated to a small dessert with fruits after each lunch. The dinner was usually a soup and another light vegetable based dish. The setting of our dining was changing as we were directed to each of the resort’s three restaurants, so we did not get bored. The overwater villas are so spacious and comfortable that eating on the terrace facing the ocean feels rejuvenating.

sandy beach

Island lifestyle

In our ocean refuge, days passed fast, as we were imbibing the calm and purity of our Ayurvedic lifestyle. Dozens of little fish jumped in a synchronised ballet dance above the water edge attracting the birds voracious for their catch. We even saw sharks fins floating in the deep waters in the horizon. Their elegant, relaxed and smooth submersions into the ocean were fascinating, not fearsome. Most nights were turbulent as the winter storm unsettled the ocean, and the force of the water element asserted itself disrupting my light Vata sleep. Trying to empty my mind, free it of anxiety and insecurity, by breathing deeply, opening my chest and contracting it with each exhale, I managed to get some sleep. We agreed, that not only we desperately needed to reset, but that this one week transformed our relationship with our self.

Departing for Dubai, the following days of dining out turned our meals and their impact on our mood and feelings into mindful discoveries. My first sip of wine was not as pleasurable as usually, true I was not drinking a first growth Bordeaux, but the wine enhanced the digestion of the Indian and Middle Eastern rich, dairy and meat heavy plates. There is always some good in something little naughty, wine being the perfect example!