The small lush green state in southern India, where the 5,000-year-old science of Ayurveda has its origins, hardly needs an introduction. From Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kozhikode up north, Kerala is full of resorts offering rejuvenating holidays. Last year, a record 4 lakh plus international tourists visited the state, out of which many were there for what has come to be known as ‘Ayurveda tourism’. Given the huge money-spinner this is turning out to be, it’s inevitable that a quick buck is made from the uninformed, who equates Ayurveda with a massage or two. But choosing the right Ayurvedic package is not just a simple matter of going online to find the best places and rates.
You could be lucky, like Shingara Singh, 56, who works in a manufacturing set-up in England. His first experience was so good that he returns every year for a rejuvenation package. Or you could find yourself returning from a vacation in hell as the unfortunate woman who suffered from spondylitis did. She chose a package offered by an unauthorized centre, where her neck was subjected to such unscientific massages that she ended up acquiring a serious new problem called torticollis or wryneck.
The Kerala government is now trying its best to check the growth of unauthorized Ayurvedic health centres by introducing a new legislation but the malaise has already spread.
Ayurveda packages can be classified into two broad types—the wellness ones and those offering clinical treatment. Many of the Kerala Ayurveda centres offer clinical treatment packages that manage a range of disorders from asthma, allergies or lifestyle disorders to orthopaedic and neurological ailments. But, if you are looking for treatment for a niggling condition, then avoid ‘shopping for a cure’ on the Internet and establish contact with a qualified doctor.
This checklist applies only to wellness packages.
Which should you opt for?
Within the wellness range, there are a whole variety, often confusing if listed by their Sanskrit names. But once the jargon is demystified, it’s quite simple. Essentially, there are four types—rejuvenation, relaxation, stress management and detoxification.
Typically, rejuvenation is a programme aimed at making you feel more energized and active, increasing vitality, and providing relief from tension. As Suja Isaac, executive director of the well-known Soukya International Holistic Health Centre in Bangalore, explains: “Ayurveda, from time immemorial, has focused on anti-ageing and rejuvenation programmes to prevent disease and to maintain the body’s health. This is recommended for anyone above the age of 40 for 14-21 days annually and is like an investment in one’s health.” The rejuvenation programme usually consists of panchakarma and other special Ayurvedic routines based on the person’s health and constitution. Panchakarma, which is essentially a purification process, can take many different forms, ranging from special diets and oil massages to therapeutic vomiting and purgation.
Shingara Singh goes in for a yearly rejuvenation package at Poovar Island Resorts, 30 km from Thiruvananthapuram, since, he says, “there’s essentially nothing wrong with me.” He lists the many positive effects. “My back used to give me trouble while bending, now that’s gone. I can also think more clearly,” he says.
The relaxation packages are less intense than the rejuvenation ones and tend to be more ‘feel good’ treatments. You can go in for one of these if your holiday plan is more about sightseeing and shopping. Detoxification rids the body of toxins that accumulate due to smoking, alcohol consumption, intake of heavy and rich food, as well as toxins that accumulate from negative energies. The stress management programme is a little more intense, combining a host of therapies for mind and body, and usually includes yoga and meditation. Ultimately, it’s best to let the doctor at the centre decide which package is best for you. As Dr Sreeraj of Rajah Ayurvedic Hospital in Thrissur says, “It’s not the patient who decides, but the doctor, at least at our centre…” He goes on to say, “Ayurvedic programmes cannot be presented as items in a hotel menu which can be ordered by a guest.” Instead, he says, it’s a good policy to send your medical history to the doctor at whichever centre you have zeroed in on, and have an interaction over the telephone.
Suja Isaac echoes this. “Wellness packages may appear to be casual in nature, but it is important that they are administered only after a proper health evaluation is done by qualified, experienced doctors,” she says.
Which is the best time?
It’s unanimously agreed that the best time for any Ayurveda package in Kerala is the monsoon months between June and September. As Suja Isaac explains, “This is when the doshas get aggravated.”
In Ayurveda, the human body is divided into three different constitution types or doshas—vata (the combination of air and ether), kapha (water and earth) and pitta (fire and water). The Ayurvedic premise is that each individual is a unique combination of the doshas, and any imbalance in this is the cause of all diseases. So, obviously, correct diagnosis is critical.
The monsoon is also considered the best time for Ayurvedic treatment because, as Dr U. Viswanathan of Poovar Island Resorts explains: “This is the time the body exhibits a natural tendency to detoxify.” Essentially, during these months, the pores in the skin open up and become more receptive to herbal oils and therapy. However, most centres operate round the year, but room rates will differ, according to season.
What’s the ideal duration?
The relaxation packages—in which you can combine your other holiday plans with a massage or two, are the only ones where you can look for options of less than a week. The other three programmes—stress management, rejuvenation or detoxification, require at least 7-14 days. Dr Sajith Varma, chief physician, Purnagram Holistic Health Village at Mulamkuzhi, says it can even be extended to a maximum of 45 days for a full panchakarma—detoxication course. Dr Viswanathan feels a 14-21 day package must be chosen, if it is to be really effective, though he admits that at resorts it could get expensive given the high room tariffs.
Can a wellness and sightseeing package be combined?
It depends on what your primary aim is—if it is wellness, then it’s best to focus on the treatment to get the most out of it. Any kind of tiring activity like sightseeing, too much television, computer usage, or intense reading is best avoided.
On the other hand, most doctors understand that people do want to experience the locale as well. Says Dr Sreeraj, “Ideally, the focus should be on the treatment, as this is what will benefit the body. But then what benefits the mind is also helpful for rejuvenation or relaxation.”
Dr Viswanathan of Poovar points out that although it is ideal to keep aside a few days for sightseeing either before or after the treatment and not combine the two, they do have ‘soft’ days woven into the schedule, where patients are given time off for sightseeing.
Can the kids be taken along?
Most centres encourage families. As Dr Sreeraj says, “Indian families tend to relax only when they are together.” Many of the centres have excellent entertainment options including babysitter arrangements. A family which returned from a successful Ayurvedic holiday in Kerala described how, while the husband opted for a stress management programme and the wife a relaxation one, they put their child through weight- loss management.
Why do rates differ?
Rates, which can range anywhere between Rs30,000 to Rs90,000 or more for a 14-day package, depend on a lot of factors, including the quality of facilities, location of the property, how experienced the personnel are, doctor’s consultation fees, and so on.
A key factor is the purity and freshness of the Ayurvedic oils and the fact that they should not be re-used—often, in treatments such as Dhara, the oil has to be changed several times, so keep a sharp eye out for that. The good centres rely on established names such as Arya Vaidya Sala, Kotakkal, or Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, Coimbatore, which have certified manufacturing practices. Some of the high-end centres have their own herbal garden where medicinal plants are grown organically and these make their own oils.
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