As I boarded my plane to India last month to decompress at a spiritual Ayurvedic wellness retreat subsequent to my SB 403 advocacy efforts, two major emotions enveloped me – apprehension and excitement, both in equal measures.
Apprehension because I was flying Air India on the same day that the Khalistani extremist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun had warned Indians not to fly, saying that there’d be a threat to their lives if they did so! This was the same ideological movement that had blown up Air India flight 182 en route to India from Montreal in 1985, killing all 329 people on board. This extremist movement has had a long history of terrorizing people, demonstrating a recent uptick in violence in countries around the world.
From personally knowing several victims of crime who have endured hate and terror by this group, I couldn’t help but feel anxious. However, I chose to stay positive and was excited, since I was about to fulfill a personal mission of solo travel to a place I hadn’t been to. My goal was relaxation and rejuvenation and I didn’t know at that time that I was about to experience something profound and life changing.
My flight was thankfully uneventful, albeit exhausting from having missed my connection within India and spending long hours at the airport. Nevertheless, my enthusiasm had not wavered and I finally reached Arambol, Goa where the resort was located.
Having practiced yoga regularly in the past and familiar with Ayurvedic dinacharya (daily routine), I was looking forward to resuming my practice under the guidance of an experienced Indian guru. Nature, peace and silence were the elements I needed for my week of self-care and this place exceeded my expectations. The warm and friendly staff greeted me by applying chandan (sandalwood paste) on my forehead, garlanding me with beads and offering Solkadhi, a traditional Goan drink that was delicious and refreshing. The aroma of essential oils and agarbatti (incense) wafting through the reception area complemented the soothing bhajans (Hindu devotional music) that were playing in the background creating a mood of tranquility. They enveloped me in a comforting hug and brought an instant sense of calmness. I was struck by the serenity of my lake facing cottage which had a gorgeous view and I was glad I had trusted the online reviews and taken a huge chance on this place.
One of the first things that I noticed as I entered my room was a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important Hindu sacred texts, translated by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I was used to seeing bibles at hotel rooms all my life, so this came as a pleasant surprise. I quickly unpacked and headed out for dinner curious to find out what a sattvic (foods that increase energy, happiness, and mental clarity) vegetarian barbecue experience would be like. I picked a table that wasn’t occupied, ready to dive into the grilled paneer and pineapple starter when a friendly voice reached me from the adjacent table. “Hi, would you like to join us for dinner? Looks like you just arrived”.
I noticed a gregarious group of people waving at me, inviting me to eat with them. I moved to join them, and got acquainted with my tablemates who were from England, Germany, Finland and also from my own state of California. Love for yoga (HAF’s Hindu Roots of Yoga blog here), meditation, ayurveda and a deep respect for Hindu and Indian culture had brought this diverse group together under one roof. I returned to my room to rest after enjoying great conversations and looked forward to what was in store the following day.
I met my yoga teacher in the morning whom I instantly liked and I was somehow able to go through the vinyasa (linking movement with breath) class, although my body groaned in protest, not having practiced for years. My reward was a nourishing breakfast of papaya and other seasonal fruits, beetroot poha, detox juice and piping hot masala chai.
I met the in-house Ayurvedic doctor who, after an assessment, recommended treatments and massages based on my doshas and needs. My week’s schedule was chalked up with takradhara (a traditional Ayurvedic procedure where medicated buttermilk is poured over the forehead for a period of time), udvartana (a special type of treatment that uses warm herbal paste during massage) and abhyanga sessions (a form of Ayurvedic therapy that involves massage from head to toe with dosha specific warm oil). (More about Ayurveda here)
After enjoying my first relaxing treatment that day, I retreated to my room to chill out, making a mental note to attend the meditation class that afternoon followed by Yoga Nidra. The practice of Yoga Nidra can be traced as far back as 1000 BCE. Your body and mind attain a deep state of relaxation while your mind is awake. I had done Yoga Nidra a decade back for a few weeks and had always come out of the sessions with a sense of amazement at how tranquil I felt. I was glad that my body was able to sink deeper into relaxation this time around and I was able to sleep through the night without any jet lag whatsoever.
One of the best surprises of my stay at this retreat was the daily evening aarthi (a Hindu ritual in which light from an oil lamp is gently swung for the veneration of the deities) performed by my yoga guru. All guests were invited to join the prayers and mantra chanting and could take turns to do the aarthi. I was amazed that an American white couple from Seattle had not only completely embraced Hinduism but had also been teaching Bhakti yoga, the path of devotion, for years, bringing their students every year to Rishikesh, which is the spiritual capital of India. Chanting mantras in Sanskrit and devotional singing always triggered the release of happy hormones in me and I was grateful for this serotonin boost during my stay.
The elaborate vegetarian meals at the resort served thrice a day were carefully designed by Ayurvedic chefs and included nourishing khichdis, detox teas and juices, a plethora of curries, millet rotis and rice, soups and salads and were a definite crowd puller. My favorite meditation sessions included chakra balancing and sound healing techniques. I tried marma therapy which includes healing touches at specific points in the body and I experienced healing energy and sensations that seemed incredible. The guests at the resort soon became my yoga and meal time buddies with whom I had so much in common, although we were all from very different backgrounds. We shared personal experiences, laughed at funny stories and bonded fairly quickly. Although our life journeys were so varied, what brought us to this place was a love for sattvic food, spirituality, ayurveda, meditation and yoga, all Hinduism’s wonderful gifts to humanity.
When it was time for me to leave, my friend from London gifted me a beautiful pendant with malachite, a stone that’s associated with the heart chakra and has healing properties. His thoughtful farewell gift included a beautiful message to not let negative energy affect me in my line of work.
I am not likely to forget what he said when I asked him where he was headed after his stay in India ended. He replied “Thailand. I am definitely staying east since I want to be around Hindus and Buddhists”.