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By Candice Marie Litchfield
I have briefly touched upon the world of Ayurveda but have never actually delved into the true meaning of the word; until now. Experiencing the worlds oldest known medical system, was just what the doctor ordered and so in search of some age-old wisdom, I set out for one of Sri Lanka’s oldest health retreats – the Barberyn Reef Ayurveda Resort.
The literal translation of Ayurveda is “knowledge” – or more precisely, the knowledge of what is required to ensure a long life of optimal physical, mental and spiritual health, and in today’s world, the search is on for safer medicines that have no adverse side effects. I soon learned that Ayurvedic therapy is not simply a collection of herbal recipes–rather, it is a holistic scientific system, leading to a long and healthy life without illness.
Ayurveda treats the mind, body and spirit as a whole, under the idea that each being is made up of a combination of five elements: space, air, water, fire and earth. These in turn manifest themselves in three doshas (energies) of Vata (air and space) Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (water and earth). It is when these doshas become imbalanced that one becomes ill. Ayurveda uses a combination of herbal medicines, oils, massages and diet to rebalance these.
Located on Sri Lanka’s south-west coast, 85km from the International Airport, Barberyn Reef Resort is one of few resorts that can be described as being literally “on the beach”. Sand stretches for miles along the shore and the resort is sheltered by a long coral reef running the length of the property, forming a natural lagoon that’s ideal for swimming. There are 76 rooms nestled in blocks around a medical centre, a seawater pool and restaurant. Barberyn is simple, yet authentic in its design, and it retains a warm and friendly ambience with extremely helpful and efficient staff.
Treatments here are based on drinking herbal remedies and taking supplements at specific times of the day. Medicines are made in the on-site pharmacy–a quick peek around the resort revealed its bubbling broths, lines of herb-stuffed jars and nurses painstakingly hand-rolling tablets. The Ayurvedic food, considered as important as the medicine, is divine and has opened me up to a whole new way of cooking. Think vegetable kotthu, ash plantain dumplings, snake gourd curry and red lentils, with all meals tailored to your eating habits. Meal times are mainly buffet orientated, with an a la carte menu every other day.
To assist guests with the concept of food-as-medicine, there is always an Ayurvedic doctor or dietician at hand during meal times to advise on the suitability of specific vegetables, herbs and spices, and to help select dishes according to individuals’ prescribed treatments. Additionally, all guests’ personal herbal elixirs and the instructions from the doctors at the health centre are on their dining tables, and all staff are well informed about each guest’s needs.
On the first day at the Barberyn resort, after a through medical consultation, I was given a cotton sheet to wear and a daily schedule of treatments, including a four-hand massage, (which was sensational), a herbal-paste session, acupuncture, herbal baths and various medical concoctions. I was also prescribed a nourishing eye treatment which was out of the ordinary but oddly relaxing, and left me with a pleasant, floating feeling.
I also partook of two days of Shirodhara, which entailed a methodical flow of medicated liquids on my head at 9am. For the rest of the day, I was to rest, which meant that I couldn’t participate in any of the free excursions or optional daily activities such as Yoga and Tai Chi,as I was not allowed out in the wind or sun, so I simply spent my time looking at the ocean from my balcony in between napping, which was actually quite resourceful, in that it forced me to do nothing for once. Indeed, this is exactly why many guests were at this retreat–to fully relax, with everything being taken care of for them – from their daily schedule, to their eating habits, to their overall health.
Zuzanna, for example, was a delightful lady who sat at the table opposite me. She told me of how she leads an extremely busy and stressful life in the City of London, and loves the notion of having three uninterrupted, stress-free weeks planned and catered for her. This seemed to be the general consensus amongst guests who had come to this resort to do nothing except relax and “recharge their batteries”.
Personally, I left the retreat feeling happy and full of energy with the added bonus of meeting some amazing people – one in particular who I know will be a lifelong friend. The only downfall is that I was unable to fully immerse myself into the recommended 10 day (or more) programme to reap the full benefits of this holistic healing haven, so it is hard for me to give a true representation of the desired effect, but I do believe that the amount of repeat guests and rave reviews of Barberyn speak for themselves.