Life in Mumbai can get pretty chaotic: it’s a big city, filled with—literally—millions of people. Like Raj says in ‘Big Bang Theory’: ‘it’s hot, and it’s loud, and there are so many people! You have no idea—they’re everywhere’.
Living in Mumbai is as complex as the city itself. My love-hate relationship with this city gapes as wide as the vast economic chasm that I see here every day. It’s true that Mumbai surprises me, has the most amazing street food, and might even be making me a better person, but sometimes – well, I just need to get the hell out.
To make my escape, whilst channelling my inner Elizabeth Gilbert/Julia Roberts, I booked into a yoga retreat in order to find some peace. I chose KARE Ayurveda and Yoga Retreat because of its proximity to Mumbai (4 hours by car) and some good reviews on Trip Advisor. Would three days be enough to explore a healthier way of living?
Thanks to infuriating Indian traffic congestion, we arrived later than we had planned at 11am – too late for morning yoga – but they had saved breakfast for us. We ate and then went for our consultation with the doctors.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayur means ‘science’ and Veda means ‘life’, therefore Ayurveda translates to the Science of Life. In practise, Ayurveda is a traditional holistic medical system originating in India that focuses primarily on prevention rather than cure.
During an initial consultation, guests at KARE discover their natural constitution: mine is Pitta, in which the fire element predominates. The consultation allows guests to declare any medical ailments they would like the specialists to focus on.
I would be learning about how to control my fiery constitution, alongside working to strengthen my lower back after last year’s injury. For three days I would be subjected to intense yoga sessions and massage treatments, whilst following a strict Ayurveda diet.
Eat: The Food
KARE prepares all meals according to Ayurveda principles: most of which I can’t remember, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t arrive worried that I might be hungry for 3 days. I even had a supply of cereal bars stashed in the bottom of my bag. I worried that I wouldn’t like the food, or that there wouldn’t be enough of it.
I needn’t have worried. Over the three days I ate everything and really enjoyed most of it (I’m not in any hurry to drink buttermilk again). It’s true that I did not eat as much as I normally do, but that is because the food was so nutritious and filling that I did not need to eat much. At most meals I turned down the offer of a second helping. I did not miss sugar and chocolate as much as I expected to – the chocolate chip cereal bars in my bag returned home with me!
An Ayurveda retreat will not serve ice-cold drinks, so you will always drink water at room temperature. In fact, at KARE we were not served regular water at all, but sweet herbal water that I liked so much I bought the herbs home with me to make my own.
Stretch: The Yoga
KARE offers Iyengar yoga, a practise that uses props to enable full access to each move. By using belts, blocks, ropes, walls, cushions, and the wheel—a contraption that looked like something out of a medieval torture chamber—guests can safely reach complex yoga positions that would ordinarily take years of practise.
The morning session lasts around 2 hours; Not only did I come out feeling wholly invigorated, but my lower back did not feel strained at all. I woke up looking forward to the morning session, and wondering how best to fit yoga into my life back at home.
Love: The Massages
Because, who doesn’t love a massage?
Guests take their first treatments after the morning yoga and breakfast. My treatment involved a full-body massage followed by Shiro Dhara, where the therapist drizzles warm oil onto the forehead.
The full body massage was, erm, thorough. The therapist handed me a tiny piece of cloth and a string and asked me to undress. I waited patiently for her to leave the room, but when she didn’t I realised that I was just going to have to take the plunge. Once unclothed, I was asked to tie the piece of cloth around my waist, a confusing request when all you have is a piece of string and a tiny cloth. Giggling at my bemused expression, the therapist then proceeded to tie it for me into a loose loincloth. Mortifying!
Once on the table, the initial humiliation dissipated with each massage stroke, and before long I had completely forgotten that I was naked in front of a stranger.
After the massage I had the Shiro Dhara treatment, which I’d previously been sceptical about. I mean, surely oil drizzling on your head for 20 minutes would be irritating, right? Wrong! It really was very relaxing, and became one of my favourite treatments.
The afternoon session was a shorter massage in which the therapist applied a warmed herb compress to my lower back, where I have had pain recently. In essence, I was beaten for 30 minutes with a hot and damp bag of herbs. Combining the heat from the herbs with massage strokes, she worked effectively to appease the pain in my muscles.
Did it change my life?
Three days was not long enough to make a real impact, but it certainly made a good start. I could already feel the difference that the diet was making; feeling less sluggish I found that I had energy to last all through the day and make the steep trek to the temple at the top of the hill for sunset. I certainly would like more energy in my daily life back home.
In truth, since getting back I have returned to some of my old habits (hello, chocolate, my old friend…) and I am never going to have the dedication to follow a true Ayurveda diet, but I came back more mindful of my eating habits, and am trying to introduce more water, fruits, and vegetables back into my diet. Start simple, right? I am actively trying to keep up with some yoga practise. I doubt I will find Iyengar yoga, but it’s not difficult to find yoga instruction online. I will try to visit KARE again before I leave India, and I would definitely consider a longer stay at a retreat.