A popular saying begins, "When the world wearies..." and some people fill this in with "there's always the garden" or others with "drink good wine." For me, it is "get a massage." I have been pummeled by blind nuns in Costa Rica, trammeled by a galloping male masseur hanging from a rafter in China, I've been to strange shady little strip mall parlors and glam spas that gave me cucumber water. I have sat in a Balinese pool filled with floating flowers before being massaged. You get the idea. I am an enthusiast. And, this is perhaps what led me to the doors of the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California.
I own a group of small wilderness lodges in Alaska, and massage and yoga are offered at each lodge to guests as part of their stay. Over the years, various massage therapists and yoga instructors have come to work for me and have brought along with them different styles, lotions, essences and, occasionally, dogmas. I want to bring shape and form to my own small wellness program and so I suppose I am in search of a philosophy.
I called the Chopra Center and signed up for a week-long introductory course called Perfect Health. I flew from Anchorage to Los Angeles and took a small commuter flight in to Carlsbad. Ten hours of air travel and a fifteen-minute taxi ride brought me to the entrance of the La Costa Resort wherein the Chopra Center is located.
The La Costa Resort is a multi-demographic golf course-family resort-convention center that seems an unlikely setting for the meditative crowd. I eyed the mega sports bar warily near the reception desk as I checked in, but that was the last I saw of it. From the time I tossed my luggage onto my bed until my early morning departure a week later, the corner of the compound that held the Chopra Center itself -- and the resort spa that we could access -- was all that captivated me.
Deepak Chopra, the charismatic and prolific Indian-born physician (and Huffington Post contributor), founded the Chopra Center on the premise of blending Eastern philosophic practices with a Western-based empirical model to enhance mind and body wellness -- the best of both worlds. The Perfect Health program encompasses meditation, yoga, daily massage and classes about diet, stress management and other lifestyle topics.
The Chopra Center is based on the principles of Ayurvedic medicine, a 5,000-year-old Indian tradition of mind and body wellness. The core premise of Ayurveda is that we all have a particular dosha, or mind and body type. There are three principal dosha classifications: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. There are things we can manipulate, through diet, thought and physical exercise, to bring our doshas in or out of balance.
Mantra and Meditation
A group of twelve students gathered together in the outdoor patio in front of the Chopra Center for breakfast. We were served that day -- and every day -- oatmeal, granola, fruit and lots of cinnamon. In several locales around the center were tea stations serving hot ginger tea. We were encouraged to drink it throughout the day.
My group consisted of several Canadians, a young man from Singapore, two women from Australia and a diverse array of personalities of varying ages and walks of life.
Our first formal session was on meditation. Each of us received a notebook on how to meditate. We also received a personal mantra, a set of words to repeat while meditating. Our mantras were selected based upon our birth dates and hour of birth. (I had to call my mother during one of our breaks to ask her what time I was born. This led to a long conversation about kitchen remodels.)
I was given a small card with my mantra written on it and instructed on how to clear my mind. Meditative benefits on brain activity have been well documented. I think learning how to meditate was the single most significant lesson of the week.
Each day began with a yoga session at 6:45 a.m. in an open space with large windows that offered a view of thick Pacific Ocean mist rolling in towards us. Each day ended with a yoga session at 6:30 p.m., with the same view turning scarlet then dark. We would meditate twice a day. Between were massages, classes and consultations with various experts on specific topics -- all in all, each a busy day. We used any free time to go over to the La Costa spa to sit in the steam room or near the spa's secluded garden and pool area, replete with meditative stone walkway. Lunch was most often lentils and rice.
For each dosha, Ayurvedic medicine dictates certain lifestyle habits: when to get up in the morning, what to drink or eat, foods that might provoke a certain inner fire or cool a hot temper. All the guidelines and tools for following an Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle were given to us. We each received a copy of Deepak Chopra's book, "Perfect Health: The Complete Mind Body Guide" as a guide. Herbs and spices were recommended for our body types.
The massages were different each day -- some accompanied by singing bowls, some with herbs and oils. A daily massage is a habit I could surely get used to. The use of abundant oil in Ayurveda is good for me, living in the harsh climate of Alaska. We all had a glow and certain serenity by the end of the week.
Is an Ayurvedic approach the right one for my small wellness program? We'll see. I'm off to check out a Chinese massage practice called Tui Na next. Stay tuned.
To learn more about the Chopra Center, visit www.chopra.com. Perfect Health programs, among many others, are offered each week.