Yoga doesn’t always de-stress me. As a westerner living in an Asian city, yoga classes are always full of stretchy, flexible, pretzel types, their perfect petite bodies modeling the latest yoga fashion, their feet freshly manicured, their blissful expressions reflecting the calm within.
I rush to arrive on time, head straight for a mat at the back and collapse into the untidy heap that is reflected back at me from all sides. While I wait for class to begin I creak my body into an uncomfortable crossed-leg position, knees up by my armpits, while all it really wants to do is sink into savasana. Class begins and I fold and unfold, twist and untwist, grimace and grimace. I roll my eyes at my dry-skin toes as I ease into downward dog.
I roll them again as my outlet singlet rides up when I turn into a triangle. I catch sight of my face and can actually see my brain rolodexing the things I’ve forgotten to do. As a sporadic yoga student, I can hardly expect instant nirvana. But no, yoga doesn’t always de-stress me.
So I was interested to see how I would get on at Ananda in the Himalayas’ Yogic Detox. A new programme, I expected it to fast track my flexibility and calm my mind. The retreat’s Ananda Spa might conceivably help with my old man’s toes too. The only thing I couldn’t realistically expect it to do anything about was my yoga wardrobe. But three out of four ain’t bad.
When I arrived at this beautiful retreat on a mountain top, heralded by a charmingly derelict 120-year-old Maharajah’s palace, I was in the ideal pre-retreat state: burnt out, stressed, sick and exhausted. I checked in, handing over my passport along with any responsibility for my life. For the next six days, I would follow my timetable of yoga, breakfast, treatment, lunch, yoga, treatment, dinner and sleep, just like a child.
Waiting for me in my room was an outfit of white kurta pajamas, the Ananda uniform. I loved it immediately and wore it all day every day. Another daily decision was taken out of my hands. And yoga outfit. Bonus.
Stays at Ananda start with an ayurvedic consultation and my doctor questioned every molecule of my being to find out I was mostly vata (flighty and sensitive), with a little pitta (fiery and intense) and zero kapha (steady and patient). Too tired to take much in that first evening it wasn’t until nine hours’ sleep and a breakfast of masala dosa that I felt at all receptive. Just in time for my yoga consultation.
Deepti was instantly my favorite member of staff here. Warm, friendly, down to earth and funny, it was impossible not to love her. I loved her, even more, when she listened to my litany of yoga woes without a trace of judgment, and when she proclaimed that just 15 to 20 minutes of yoga a day was plenty for flexibility to come easy, I considered kidnapping her and taking her home to Hong Kong. She prescribed a series of asanas that would work on my shoulders and hips, the clichéd hotspots of anyone glued to a screen for the lion’s share of hours in the day.
We strolled to the amphitheater surrounded by willow trees for my first class and Deepti endeared herself to me, even more, when she sat me down and said, “Check me out!” as she demonstrated the first asana. With a broad grin, I followed her simple cat and cow bends and she said, “Ha!” in approval. She took me through an hour’s ridiculously basic asanas. My contradictory brain wanted to be doing plough and crane, wheel and headstand, craving the gymnastic challenge they offer, but I could feel my shoulders and back were loving cat, cow and swaying palm and my hips butterfly.
Hitting the pillow incredibly early, the next day I was up early and joined a complimentary group yoga class up on the palace roof overlooking the surrounding Sal forest. The basic poses and exercises echoed many of Deepti’s and I felt my craving for challenge begin to back down in the face of common sense, fresh air, and calming nature.
My first day’s scrub at the spa had symbolically washed off the city-me, the second day’s aromatherapy massage felt like it was putting elasticity back into my skin and day three’s abhyanga massage and its copious amount of oil seemed to be oiling my joints. My two therapists, Simi and Rashima, were a seamless team as their hands rejuvenated my nervous system, flushed out toxins and conveyed their healing energy into my former shell of a body. Their chanting was the best grounding start to a treatment I’d ever heard, literally sending tingles up and down my spine and dragging my mind into the here and now.
Between detox treatments, yoga classes, meditation, and pranayama I was happily feasting on Ananda Restaurant’s three-course meals from the Wellness Menu, following either the vata or pitta suggestions, my favorite dishes the Indian cuisine-influenced ones. Downtime was spent gratefully soaking up the Vedanta Treatise, the “Enlightenment 101” to me by A Parthasarathy that had been left in my room, and which was teaching me the recipe for long-term happiness. Both were the ideal complementary jigsaw pieces to the yogic detox, targeting my digestive and psychological health.
For my second one-on-one class with Deepti we climbed from the spa up the waterfall staircase to the Music Pavilion. This, I decided, was going to be the picture I brought to mind back in Hong Kong’s crowded yoga classes. Listening to Deepti’s chants of “Check me out… Ha!” as the breeze idled through the open space, under the blue frieze ceiling, and above the cool marble, I let my eyes take in the pond, grass, trees and sky, and felt every sense savour the experience as we glided through the poses.
The next day between purging therapies – jal neti nasal irrigation and kunjal kriya vomiting, both nerve-wracking but not as challenging as I anticipated – we progressed to more testing poses, and then on day five it was suddenly my final class. Having failed to entice Deepti to Hong Kong, I soaked up my last “Check me out… Ha!” combination. My body felt lighter, looser and less intimidated by the practice, my mind calmer and even my toes sleeker. I had to leave my kurta PJs behind though. Three out of four ain’t bad.
I thanked Deepti for taking me from zero to potential yogini. With her kindness, warmth and ready laugh she had rekindled my fledgling love of yoga, reminded me that my own pace is the correct one and persuaded me that just a few doable minutes a day would be more than enough. One-on-one yoga with this beautiful soul had helped me focus on myself, listen to my body and allow my mind to relax. It had taken away my worries about fitting in with those around me and given me the patience to continue the journey back home.
Visit Ananda in the Himalayas
Ananda is positioned in the Indian Himalayan foothills close to Rishikesh and Haridwar and overlooking the Ganges. It offers a variety of programmes, ranging from detox and weight loss to sleep and stress management. Along with yoga and fitness, guests can take advantage of the six-hole golf course, cooking classes, treks, nature walks, birdwatching, whitewater rafting, safaris and excursions to neighbouring Rishikesh and Haridwar. For more information, visit www.anandaspa.com