A peacock trills in the distance as our yoga instructor, Reema, brings her hands together with a gentle clap. But it’s not loud enough to break the conversation. A trio of men are still huddled, standing and discussing the recent dip in the market and the longevity of cryptocurrency.
I chuckle to myself, thinking, "They must have just arrived."
Already a few days into my week-long detox program at Ananda in the Himalayas, and my portfolio’s long-term viability was the last thing on my mind. I was already seated on my mat; legs pretzel twisted together, palms facing up toward the sky.
Dating back thousands of years, Ayurveda translates to ‘the science of life’. This ancient healing system focuses on a holistic approach that touches on mind, body, spirit, diet and any other aspect of life that’s craving balance.
Doshas are a central aspect of Ayurveda, and a stay at Ananda in the Himalayas. Defined as life forces, the three different doshas (Pitta, Vata and Kapha) are a combination of five universal elements.
Each person has a predominant dosha, similar to a zodiac sign, that governs how your body optimally functions. It turns out mine is Pitta.
For 23 years, Ananda has been one of the world’s leading Ayurveda retreats. A wellness safe haven for celebrities and royalty ranging from Will Smith to King Charles to Oprah. And in recent years, it’s become a go-to for business executives and CEOs looking to unplug and address long-standing issues.
This ancient healing system focuses on a holistic approach that touches on mind, body, spirit, diet and any other aspect of life that’s craving balance.
"CEOs now recognize the value of holistic health and balanced wellbeing, not just for personal reasons but also for their leadership abilities," says Mahesh Natarajan, COO of Ananda in the Himalayas.
"Being flexible, empathetic and adaptable is crucial to navigating companies to the next level in an ever-changing environment. This level of effectiveness can only be achieved if they work towards their own wellbeing."
Ananda facilitates this through its five pillars: Ayurveda and Holistic Wellness, Yoga and Meditation, Emotional Healing, Spiritual Awareness and Healthy Cuisine. After a pre-arrival questionnaire and a sit-down with one of the hotel’s resident Ayurvedic doctors, your dosha is defined, and each of these pillars is accounted for in your stay’s program.
Programs range from a five-day Stress Management program to a 21-day Sleep Enhancement program. There are also bespoke programs available because, like bodies, wellness is not one size fits all.
Setting the Stage
A white knuckle ride out of Rishikesh, past holy cows and top-heavy trucks, leads you through the gates to the Maharaja of Palace. Located on an over 40-hectare estate high above the spiritual city, Ananda feels like an otherworldly oasis.
Guests are led into the Viceregal Palace, a regal reception area that once welcomed diplomats but today welcomes a very different kind of peace seeker. Housing a library full of rare books and the oldest pool table in India, guests can enjoy both in between treatments.
A buggy ride away, and you get to the heart of this wellness world. The spa (including 24 treatment rooms, a gym and a heated pool), the newly designed restaurant with patio seating and views over the Ganges River, and its 75 rooms and suites are all within walking distance.
In 2021, the retreat did a major refurb on its three villas. Supremely private, tucked into the blooming greenery, these sprawling hideaways have pitched timber roofs, elaborate Indian art and private pools.
World of Wellness
While the serene setting is enough to drop the blood pressure, Ananda’s spa is the real draw. And although guests don’t have to participate in a multi-day program, it’s like visiting the Sistine Chapel and not looking up.
A combination of traditional Ayurveda practices and new-age treatments pepper the extensive spa menu. During my seven-day detox program designed by my resident doctor, I had up to three spa treatments a day.
The Ananda Fusion, the retreat’s signature therapy, was a full body massage using various massage styles and hot medicated poultices to help balance the body.
While each varies in length and intensity, traditional treatments like Pada Abhyanga were among my favorites. This specialty foot massage involves medicated oils applied to nerve points on the foot to help reduce anxiety, increase circulation and aid in more restful sleep.
The Ananda Fusion, the retreat’s signature therapy, was a full body massage using various massage styles and hot medicated poultices to help balance the body. Best of all was the signature essential oil used to ease aches and pains and help the digestive system. A combination of pepper, ginger, cardamom and essential oils left me feeling blissfully relaxed.
Food For Thought
Diet is a major part of achieving balance in your body and a vital part of any Ananda program. "One of the culinary philosophies we follow is food based on your body type, " says Diwaker Balodi, Director of Cuisine and Food & Beverage.
With weight loss, anti-inflammation and detox a focus for my Pitta-dominant dosha, my meals became restrictive. Suddenly I was on a sugar-free, gluten-free, vegan diet, and one day, a purely liquid diet. Luckily, my body responded well, with less bloat and a few kilos shed.
Railing against the misconception that Ayurvedic food is bland, Ananda focuses on the combination of nutritional ingredients using local spices. And miraculously, every plate that leaves the kitchen is tailor-made to that person’s dosha and Ayurveda-inspired goals.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
Between multi-course meals and spa treatments, guests have carte blanche over Ananda’s free daily activities. Although I couldn’t pull myself out of bed in time for the 7.15am Morning Mantra Chants, I went to daily yoga sessions.
A major part of Ananda’s five pillars, Rishikesh is often dubbed ‘The Yoga Capital Of The World’. With seven local yoga gurus on staff, it’s some of the most expertly taught yoga you’ll experience. I often went to a morning Hatha Yoga session and, in the afternoon, a Pranayama Meditation class.
The slow breathwork and calming tones didn’t just alter my perception of what yoga could be, but of how wellness could change you.
As part of my program, I had several private Yoga Nidra sessions to help ease my anxious mind. During the 45-minute session, I was guided into a subconscious state, where my body and mind were utterly still for the entire practice.
Akin to falling asleep during a massage, the slow breathwork and calming tones didn’t just alter my perception of what yoga could be, but of how wellness could change you.