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Elite goes back to basics to escape the stress of daily life

Elite goes back to basics to escape the stress of daily life

Author: Peter Foster
Publication: The Telegraph, UK
Date: March 14, 2007
URL: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/03/14/wganges114.xml

In the foothills of the Himalayas, on a hill overlooking the Ganges, the Ananda Spa is where India's wealthy industrialists and Bollywood stars come to de-stress and detox.

Here there are no traffic jams, choking air pollutants or trilling of mobile phones, only the soft sounds of running water and spiritual music designed to create an atmosphere of total relaxation.

It begins with a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor from Kerala - the home of Ayurveda - who diagnosed The Daily Telegraph's correspondent as badly over-stressed - a dangerous mixture of 60 per cent "pitta" (fire) and 40 per cent "vata" (air, space).

The prescribed treatment was shirodhara, literally "a stream of oil on the head" which the brochure said would have "intense rejuvenating and anti-ageing effects and improve memory".

It began with a reflexology foot massage using white pebbles taken from the Ganges which, the masseur said, contained powerful energies drawn into the stones by the sacred river over thousands of years.

At the very least, the sensation of the stones combined with the cool water was highly relaxing when combined with a head massage designed to soothe away the cares of the day.

Next came the oil itself, a hot stream that descended on to the forehead from a brass bowl suspended over a massage table constructed from a single piece of jack-fruit tree.

The cumulative effect over 30 minutes was positively mind-altering. As the oil enveloped the cranium, thoughts first wandered and then disappeared entirely as the mind entered a different space.

Colin Hall, Ananda's spa director, who hails from Newcastle, said that a few days of such treatments, properly applied, could transform his guests.

"They frequently arrive in a complete state," he said, "they are aggressive and jumpy, ready to find fault in everything. It's because urban India is such a difficult place to exist, everything is a fight, it's a life of constant noise and stress."

Although Ayurvedic spas like Ananda cater only to the very few - a single night's stay costs more than £250, which is more than a year's earnings for India's very poor - Ayurveda is an integral part of daily medicine for millions of Indians.

While India's biotech companies are producing the fast-acting drugs of Western medicine, Ayurveda has its own department in the federal Ministry of Health.

"Indians have used these techniques for thousands of years," said Mr Hall, "they begin from birth when oils are massaged into a baby's scalp generating that thick, lustrous black hair which many Indians have."

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