Revealing Spiritual India1 Aug 2011
India is known for being one of the most hectic and bubbling countries in the world, a melting pot of culture, spirituality, politics and city buzz. It is one of the world’s fastest growing economies with the country’s poverty also increasing dramatically, yet it still remains the ultimate destination for people seeking spiritual wellness, respite and rejuvenation.
India is an escape, a perfect way to revitalise. Upon arrival the sheer hustle and bustle of the city, the cries from the street vendors and the touts all mixed with pungent aromas of food, hints of decaying rubbish and fumes from the many hundreds of cars packed in to such a crowded space, has misled some into believing it lacks spirit.
For some, it is enough to send them into a swirling haze, but, don’t be fooled, on a closer look you will see spirituality everywhere, caught up in the many sights and sounds this magical place has to offer.
Once out of the city throng and onwards to some of the surrounding areas you will become immersed in a spirituality that is India. Visitors will quickly discover that India lends itself to providing a perfect base for those wishing to escape the city life and travel on this very personal journey of spirituality.
India has been a destination for many years for those wishing to explore the ancient medical tradition of ‘Ayurveda’, directly translated as the Science of Life, with Kerala, being the ultimate destination for Ayurvedic retreats and resorts.
The very climate of Kerala lends itself to this popularity amongst visitors, with its winding backwaters, mountains, lakes and beaches and its expansive stretches of lush green jungle filled with plants and herbs of great medicinal value, all of which are vital to the naturalistic system of Ayurveda.
These surroundings, combined with the cool monsoon seasons that enshroud Kerala around June until September mean that humidity and stifling heat won't be a problem as you head into the lush green countryside.
The art and science of Ayurveda is very much focused on the rejuvenation and balance of your body and the strengthening and focusing of the mind. Ayurvedic treatments are strongly based on the premise that when the mind is focused and calm, the body will heal much more easily and signs of ageing will be kept at bay for longer.
The complex combination of herbs and oils are used in various different treatments claiming to alleviate symptoms, and in some cases, cure problems such as arthritis, migraines, exhaustion, high blood pressure, depression, cystitis, asthma and even nicotine addictions.
Ayurveda is not in most cases just a one off treatment and a quick fix, but a series of treatments working towards a balance of the three energies Vata, Pitta, Kepha within the body, a harmony of the mind, body and soul.
For most of us, however, India will be a vacation, a couple of snatched weeks in the year that we need to recharge our batteries and time cannot be given to the serious adoption of the Ayurvedic treatment processes.
However, with the amount that is on offer for the weary body and mind, India is the perfect place to dip a toe into the bubbling stream of wellness that keeps it charged and rich in vitality. Many holiday destinations prepare special Ayurveda Packages giving you the best and the most relevant of the treatments for those needing rejuvenation from a busy and hectic life.
Kerala is filled with idyllic retreats that are surrounded by lush green countryside and waterways, a perfect starting place to try some of the treatments on offer, giving most of us the mid-year lift that our bodies are crying out for.
Some of the treatments that we can benefit from are the Ayurvedic massages and baths, such as the Vishesha Sharira Abyanga—the synchronised intensive massage which will involve two therapists using oils to strengthen and invigorate the skin and tissue.
Special therapies are also available which will concentrate on specific ailments and mental awareness, and baths to detox and revitalise the body and mind.
Yoga is an integral part of Ayurveda and what better place to explore this than travelling to the foothills of the Himalayas and the sacred river Ganges and the town of Rishikesh. Rishikesh ‘the world capital of Yoga’, and a place once visited by The Beatles, is home to many ‘ashrams’ or retreats and schools of yoga, and is the perfect place to experience classical Indian yoga.
Rishikesh, with its religious importance, is known as one of the most atmospheric places in India with frequent visits from Hindus and many others wishing to bathe in the sacred waters of the Ganges, ready to strip off layers of Karma in the holy waters.
The mountainous region of Rishikesh is a vegetarian city by law and is also alcohol free which works well for most travelers on a road to rejuvenation as you won’t be disturbed by those looking for a city away from cities. Mornings and evenings are punctuated by stunning sunrises and sunsets, that serve as a backdrop to locals bathing in the sacred river.
The soothing temple chanting will become the soundtrack to your stay in this area as chanting begins early in the morning and continues until light is almost peeking through the cracks in the dark night sky. Night is a time for offerings and Camphor Leaf boats will be floated along the river, an unimaginable experience as you watch, with the distant sounds of temple chanting floating through the dark.
Meditation is a must for yoga and a place to really explore the art of meditation is in Puducherry, and if you are brave enough for a three hour drive from Chennai, stunning stretches of coastline will be revealed to you. Here, you will find ashrams with the perfect setting for meditation with views out over the coast.
From either end of the country to the very centre of the bustling metropolis of Mumbai, you will still find spirituality peeping out at you from every crack and corner. One of the most unusual but perhaps more instantly rewarding types of therapy for rejuvenating the mind is Laughter Therapy.
Laughter Therapy or Laughter Yoga has been around since the 1990s where it was first launched in a Mumbai park as a laughter club, by Dr Madan Kataria. It is thought that laughter therapy boosts the immune system and decreases stress hormones and also helps to reduce blood pressure, but overall, it is thought to help relax and calm the body and mind.
A wonderful image of groups of people in parks in the hectic setting of an Indian city, laughing and releasing all inhibitions is therapy on its own and enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face.
A spiritual trail around India is so much more than just an exploration of a country, it is a true exploration of the spirituality of the country and the people, and although this journey will be a journey towards revitalizing and rejuvenating your own mind and your own body, and indeed a very personal affair, you will come across people from all walks of life with the same goal in mind.
Each one looking to the healing traditions from a rich Indian history to replenish, revitalise and get healthy, ready to take on the demands of the second half of an otherwise busy and hectic year back in the city.