Sri Lanka has always been a place that refreshes not just the mind and body, but also the soul and spirit. And for thousands of years, the most popular method used to restore and rejuvenate tired bodies and weary souls has been Ayurveda- the oldest and most holistic medical system available in the world. Based on indigenous native and Indian medicine, it draws not only on a deep understanding of physiology, but also elements of philosophy, psychology and spirituality. It was so influential that traditional Tibetan Chinese medicine and Greek medicine embraced many of the concepts introduced by Ayurveda.
According to legends in the 6th century BC, the Prince Vijaya was banished from his Indian kingdom, sailed to Sri Lanka and become the island’s main ruler. He was skilled in the practice of Ayurveda and so, together with his personal physician, introduced the practice of Ayurveda to the island. Over the years, Ayurveda incorporated elements from similar indigenous Sri Lankan treatments to become the fusion of forms it is today.
More Ayurvedic practitioners than Western doctors
In Sri Lanka’s villages, Ayurveda is not considered a special treatment as in urban areas but an everyday method of treating aches and pains. In fact, the number of trained Ayurvedic practitioners in the island exceeds that of Western doctors.
Even those familiar with traditional spa treatments in the West (like aromatherapy and shiatsu) will find Ayurveda a new experience. And it’s an experience that’s becoming increasingly sought after. Such seekers will find Sri Lanka a singular destination, for all that collective wisdom regarding Ayurveda can be experienced in stylish and refined spas, with some of the world’s best professional therapists – with that friendly and courteous Sri Lankan manner.
Ayurveda – “The Science of Life”
The name comes from ancient Sanskrit: Ayuh or “life” and Veda or “Science”. So Ayurveda translates as “The Science of Life,” a fitting name for a system that devotes itself to a truly holistic approach to the ways the body and mind can be treated.
At the heart of Ayurveda is the theory of the Tri Dosha or “The Three Vital Forces”: Vata (wind), Pita (fire) AND Kapha(earth). In each of us is a unique combination of these forces or Doshas that help define our nature. Vata people are thin and energetic; Pita people are more intense and goal-oriented, while those with a Kapha disposition are methodical and nurturing.
When the Doshas are in harmony the body is in good health, but when equilibrium is affected, balance needs to be restored –Ayurveda provides the answer. Ayurvedic practitioners will initially meet you with the objective of getting to the root of whatever is ailing you. Details of your diet and lifestyle, your habits (good and bad), and your general environment, will be requested. The practitioners will also carry out a physical examination and find out details of your medical history.
Practitioners employ many of the medical herbs and plants native to Sri Lanka. They combine leaves, bark, berries, roots and flowers to created bespoke potions, oils and unguents tailor-made for the individual. Incidentally, in Ayurveda there is a belief that it’s not just people but also plants that can get sick – so only “healthy” plants are used.
Swedhana, Pizhichil & Shirodhara
Inside the tranquil settings of the spa, therapists will help you decide, which of the range of therapies to adopt.
In Swedhana you are placed in, or on, a wooden chest in which herbs are boiled and the resulting steam escaping through perforations embraces your body, helping to extricate impurities.
Pizhichil is somewhat different, consisting of a relaxing massage – sometimes using two therapists – in which soothing oils are rubbed into your joints.
Another treatment is Shirodhara (“Third Eye Drip”), in which oils and other liquids are gently poured from a special vessel onto the ‘third eye’ on your forehead for 30 minutes. Profoundly relaxing, this treatment is used for conditions such as headaches and mental tension.
Later you can indulge in a flower bath, in which you lie submerged in a warm pool of blossoms, scented with fragrant flowers and sandalwood – an experience designed to reset your body as it prepares to return to the real world.
Other treatments which can be added at the discretion of your therapist include:
- Gandusha (herbal gargling)
- Akshitarpana (eye-care)
- Karnapurna (ear-care)
- Shirovasthi (head oil treatment)
- Kativasthi (back oil treatment)
Classification of food
Since Ayurveda is concerned with treating the inside as well as the outside of the human body, you can also try Sri Lanka’s delicious foods prepared in an Ayurvedic manner, which are grown in the field, freshly harvested, and prepared using authentic herbs and spices sourced locally.
In Ayurveda, food is classified into six taste categories: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent.
Ayurvedic philosophy recommends you have these categories in every meal to achieve the proper nutritional balance. As important as the right mix of ingredients is the proportions: over-eating or eating before the previous meal has been digested is liable to cause an imbalance in the Doshas. Eating in moderation and at the correct time is central to the proper fulfillment of an Ayurvedic diet.
Useful on day-to-day basis learning about various methods – nutritional, physical or spiritual – you can take home and adopt in your everyday life. After all, it would not be true to the holistic nature of Ayurveda if the benefits were to stop after your holiday ended.
Before your return, why not purchase some Ayurvedic products?
Uduwarthana powder contains white sandalwood, turmeric and venivil leaves: when blended with milk it makes an excellent facial treatment.
Ksharabala, on the other hand, is oil used for treating nervous disorders from the entire babilaplant and over 40 additional medicinal herbs.
Many Sri Lankan Ayurvedic centres offer complementary therapies, such as yoga, reflexology and meditation, under the tuition of highly trained therapists. This will enable you to put together a bespoke treatment course. So a visit to an Ayurvedic spa may not just allow you to leave Sri Lanka feeling healthy and relaxed – but spiritually rejuvenated as well – truly a wonderful experience indeed.
What’s more, you can enjoy the pleasures of an Ayurvedic spa in some of the most tranquil and serene settings in Sri Lanka – on a golden south coast beach, near the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the verdant hill country of Kandy, and even in a traditional village setting with no electricity, and mud huts for accommodation.
When you finally emerge from such exotic settings feeling refreshed and uplifted, you’ll understand you’ve learnt something truly profound through your experience with The Science of Life.