We try to squeeze a little rest and relaxation into every vacation. Katie McKnoulty, the nomadic freelance marketing strategist and graphic designer behind The Travelling Light, one of our 24 Favorite Travel Blogs and Websites 2015, took this goal to the next level by booking herself into a ten-day ayurvedic retreat in the jungles of Bali. To say we’re just a little jealous would be putting it mildly.
BEBENGAN, Bali – I came to Sukhavati Ayurvedic Retreat and Spa in the jungles of Bali to detox for ten days in their Panchakarma program. I wanted to set my mind, body, and soul back to zero, and escape the noise and temptations of my daily life.
At Sukhavati I didn't just eat the food, visit the spa, swim in the pool, and drop a few pounds. This health retreat was much deeper than the average spa vacation. I fell down a rabbit hole into a whole new system of wellness, a whole new way of living — I got hooked on the ancient Vedic Indian mind, body, and spirit tradition of ayurveda.
Ayurveda literally means "the science of life." The idea behind the practice is to cultivate a healthy mind, body, and spirit — holistically — so we can become our best selves and realize our full potential.
The retreat was set up by Steve Griffith, teacher and advocate of ayurveda and transcendental meditation, who lived and worked for many years with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. The intent behind the retreat has always been about more than just pampering: They want to show and teach the long-term benefits of an ayurvedic lifestyle, albeit in a very luxurious and beautiful setting.
Within the Panchakarma program, toxins are released from the body through daily therapeutic treatments, yoga practice, and vegetarian meals designed to heal and restore. It all sounds very serious, but it was very indulgent, too.
A TYPICAL DAY
Days started at 7 a.m. with yoga in the outdoor pavilion lead by local Balinese teachers Agong and Guruji. They began with laughing yoga — the Balinese truly believe the old saying that laughter is the best medicine. Then we'd practice pranayama breathing and gentle yoga to get out of our head and into our body, followed by twenty minutes of meditation before breakfast.
The effects were long-term: After practicing this routine every day during my stay, it was easy to incorporate a portion of this daily yoga practice into my everyday life.
Most mornings after breakfast, I'd wander down to the quiet treatment rooms facing out to the green jungle ridge — this is where the real magic took place. The ayurvedic doctor on-site would recommend treatments specific to me and my imbalances: Most days it included an abhayanga and shirodhara. Abhayanga involves two technicians massaging warm, herbed sesame oil into my entire body in harmony, almost like a choreographed dance. They would massage the oil from the tips of my toes to the top of my neck, pushing toxins out of my body and organs through my extremities.
Next was the mind-calming shirodhara treatment. An oil canister was hung from a wooden stand over my head and positioned so oil would drip slowly out of the canister, drawing patterns across my forehead. I usually fell asleep at this point.
Other treatments included swedana, a steam therapy that had me standing inside a sweat box with my head poking out the top, and ubtan, wherein spices were sprinkled all over my body and exfoliated off.
At the end, I always felt relaxed, grateful, and very, very peaceful.
The retreat guests all came together for communal meals in a huge, wooden, open-air pavilion, sharing ayurvedic Balinese rice, vegetable curries, and daal. (Always daal.)
The food — and there was a lot of it — was not only very nourishing but also the tastiest vegetarian food I've ever eaten. The cuisine situation makes the retreat unlike so many other programs that might leave guests feeling a bit imprisoned by raw kale and watery soup. Those who fall in love with the cuisine (and there are many) and want to cook it at home bring home Sukhavati Bali's cookbook.
Most afternoons included a visit from the technicians for a facial in my private villa. I would lay on my four-poster bed as they cleansed, massaged, and exfoliated my skin with the all-natural creams and concoctions.
Afternoons were spent resting, reading, and relaxing in my villa or around the pool. This was my chance to do nothing at all in quiet and very beautiful surroundings.
For dinner, I would head back to the communal pavilion for another nourishing meal. Mealtimes are stimulating not only for the taste buds but also for mind and soul. I spent time talking to and getting to know interesting people in an open, peaceful setting.
Early to Bed
Night was low on city noises and high on jungle sounds. This was an ideal time to take a dip in the pool or continue the program of not doing much at all. (TV is highly discouraged.)
I went to bed early every night (the ayurvedic doctor prescribed a 10 p.m. bedtime) to rest before another blissful day.
I went to the retreat to detox, but I left with so much knowledge and a new understanding of my whole body. Those ten days of ayurveda have carried into my everyday life — and my mind, body, and soul are so much better for it.