Photo Courtesy of Ayurveda Paragon
If I told you I was going on a trip to an Ayurvedic hotel in Sri Lanka and planned to lose five pounds, get off Sweet 'n Low, and learn how to meditate -- all in just one week -- you'd probably say "fat chance." But that's exactly what I did at Ayurveda Paragon on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon. I haven't gone public with this news until now because I wanted to make sure it would "stick;" after all, I've given up artificial sweeteners plenty of times, have lost and gained back the ubiquitous five pounds, and have never been able to meditate.
I've now been home from the Paragon for two months, and I'm still off artificial sweeteners, I've kept off the weight, and I wake up every morning and meditate. I still can't believe it, especially as an Ayurvedic experience in Sri Lanka was not on my wish list. I wouldn't even have heard of the Ayurveda Paragon if my friend Shelby (who'd been there three times) hadn't kept telling me how life changing and inexpensive it was.
The price, she said, included all meals, daily two-hour massage treatments (individualized for each person) acupuncture treatments, Ayurvedic doctor visits, and cultural excursions -- all for only $2,300 for a 14-night package. That came to $164 a day. A day? If two therapists were to massage me for two hours in NYC, that alone would cost $500, plus tip). But as enticing as it sounded, Sri Lanka was an 18-hour flight away, so I ruled it out. Then I was sent to Vietnam on an assignment, which would include staying in seven hotels and visiting seven cities in only 14 days. I was exhausted just thinking about it, and that's when I thought, why not end the trip at the Ayurvedic place in Sri Lanka? The flight was only a few hours from Ho Chi Minh city, and I could relax for a week without having to change hotels.
So here I was at the Ayurveda Paragon, in a room with a huge terrace facing the Indian Ocean. Dr, Buddhike, the Ayurvedic doctor, looked at my tongue, took my pulse, and concluded that my dosha (body type) was Pitta/Vatha. He asked me my goals, which I said, were to lose weight, get off Sweet 'n Low, and calm down. Most people, he said, come for two or three weeks. Couldn't I stay longer than a week? No, I couldn't change my flight, but perhaps I could do a super-long run every morning. I was not to run, he said. I could swim and do yoga, but no running. I needed to be calm. What? I run almost every day! He gave me herbal pills to take before each meal, calming potions before bed, and said I'd be having a daily two-hour four-handed massage followed by a lemon bath. At least that sounded good.
Ayurveda, which dates back 8,000 years, is Sanskrit meaning "the science of life," and differs from western medicine in that it treats the cause of an illness rather than its effects. Ayurveda is based on nature, and different foods cure different ailments. My diet was soup and fruit for every meal (including breakfast), plus rice and vegetables for lunch, my main meal. I was to start the day by meditating, and was to drink two liters of water daily.
The food was delicious and cooked fresh. There was a different soup at every meal: pumpkin, chicken, celery or vegetable. The buffet table bulged with steaming hot platters of cooked banana flowers, white radish with curry sauce, cucumber in coconut milk, and baby eggplant. There were chicken, fish, meat, and plenty of fresh fruits including mango, papaya, star fruit, and rambutan, similar to lychee. No coffee, but I could have Pitta and Vatha tea.
Every day, I'd arrive for my treatment wearing the sarong they'd given me (mine to keep), sit for the foot scrub, then lie down on a wooden table whose "sheet" was a giant palm tree leaf as my two therapists rubbed hot scented sacks of herbs on my face, slathered me in aromatic oils, and worked in tandem to knead out my knots. After, they'd lead me to a room with a private stone bathtub, which was filled with hot water as well as lemon slices, flowers, coconut pieces, herbs, and different oils -- all for weight loss.
I've never been good at following instructions for yoga breathing, so I went to a Pranayana class and learned that yoga is simply preparation for meditation. I didn't have to sit in the uncomfortable lotus position, I could straddle a cushion and kneel, much more comfortable. The next morning, I took my pillow onto my terrace and listened to the sound of the ocean as I sat calmly without thinking for a good six minutes.
In the beginning I was so exhausted, I could barely swim a lap; but I didn't care because in only two days, I'd already lost 1.5 pounds. By the third day, my energy level was back up, and I swam twenty laps without even thinking about it. Then I walked along the beach and watched a fisherman perched crane-like on a pole in the water.
On day three, I went to the monthly full moon ceremony with some other guests at a nearby temple. Along with thirty villagers including their giggling children, we formed a huge circle and passed flaming oil lamps and bundles of flowers hand to hand into the temple. We then sat in a circle around a chanting monk who tied a blessing string around each of our wrists. I felt particularly blessed, because the next morning I weighed myself and I'd lost 3.5 pounds. I hopped on the back of a new friend's motorbike, and we drove past rice paddies to a 1,200-year-old temple to climb up 120 steps and see statues and depictions of Buddha. By day five, I had the routine down: meditate, yoga, beach, lunch, treatment, dinner, lecture, bed.
My final day, I weighed myself to discover I'd lost six pounds. To celebrate, I upgraded to Business Class on my Emirates A380 flight back to New York. Granted, my two Sri Lankan therapists weren't onboard, but I had a massage seat; and there was no evening Ayurvedic lecture, but I could chose from over 1,200 channels on my 17" Digital TV. And while I couldn't hear the lapping of the waves against the shore at night, at least my seat converted to a comfy flat bed and I had no trouble falling asleep. And believe it or not, the next morning when I awoke, I kneeled on my pillow, closed my eyes, and meditated.
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