|Boys at the Gurukul|
When you visit Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living International Center in Bangalore, India, you cant miss the many good looking young Jesus looking boys mystically floating around in their white kurta pyjamas with their long locks draping over their shoulders. This is the trademark look of the Guru and his disciples. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (or Gurudev as he is fondly called) is one of India's foremost Gurus with probably the largest span of international devotees. I first experienced him in Singapore in 1997 when he stayed with my friends Rafiq and Lubu Jhumabhoy. He was lesser known then.
|Vishalakshmi Mandap the main Hall|
Since then I visited this Ashram/Centre in 2007 to do his basic Happiness course which was then called the Sudarshan Kriya. The Centre has now grown a multiple times. The course is basically a set of breathing techniques to simulate a high with calming effects which in turn prepares you for meditation. The classes are now systematically conducted within the Ashram and also by a large number of trained teachers all over the world. In Delhi itself there are several Art of Living teachers mushrooming in every community backyard. The basic course that I did, now has several levels of progression from Silence Retreats to physically and mentally challenging courses on personal development.
Guruji's intention for the Ahsram was to preserve the spiritual heritage of India. He started Yoga and Pranayama classes, Satsangs (spiritual discourses) and Seva (service) which all rolled into one, came to be his USP. His simple teachings of oneness, joy, service, authenticity and love have pierced the hearts of a huge number of youngsters across the globe. They have flocked towards him expanding the activities of the Ashram to organic farming, raising sacred cows, an old style "Gurukul" for spiritual teaching, an Ayurveda Centre and International spa and much much more that I could not unravel in just one trip of 4 days!!
|The famous Gir cows. Note the beautiful long ears.|
It has therefore been a great honor for me to be invited to consult at the Sri Sri Ayurveda Panchakarma Spa and the Panchamrut Restaurant by my friend Neha Ahuja.
I wasnt sure what to expect, but LOVE flows out of everyone in the Ashram. They all have a great sense of Seva, a sense that they are doing every and anything for the benefit of others. Gurujis presence permeates every action and every thought in the environment. Its hard to explain the energy without physically experiencing. HE IS OMNIPRESENT.
My friend Seema who accompanied me, gorgeous Aman who was deputed to take care of me in the Ashram and Poornashree from the spa, made sure my work and stay in the Ashram was smooth and without any hitches. We were given the VIP rooms (thats a luxury in an ashram!) and had a car available to us for easier access to certain areas of the expansive ashram.
|Aman Seema and Poornashree, my companions at the Ashram|
My work unfolded from the kitchen to the service centre to the ayurvedic spa and then to the International spa. The spa had grown very fast as international clientele were beginning to come in big numbers and Sreejith was keen to keep up with their demands.
I spent 3 days training the chefs in Be Free oil free, sugar free and gluten free vegan cooking. It was very interesting to intertwine my cooking with Sattvic (ie no onion and no garlic, both being "rajasic" and therefore high emotion producing foods) and Ayurvedic principles according to the doshas. I thought Be Free cooking was pure enough but when I combined other traditions it took it one notch higher. For example I created a gluten free unbaked pizza and instead of a tomato base I gave it an avocado base. Avocados, rare in other parts of India , is abundant in the South! And I got the thumbs up from the Directors!!! Those who know me well, know that I never intended to be a Vegan Chef but I like creating food as colours and combinations come easily to me ( probably because of my design background). Besides, it falls beautifully under the umbrella of Wellness that I am so committed to!
|Briefing the team|
|the favourite beetroot and orange sald|
|Chef Indira and me|
|Setting the lasagne|
|Thumbs up from Chef Srinivasan|
|Shining Rakken Bodhisattva!|
My therapist Shama, was from the Himachal, North India and she used her feet skillfully on my body to give me a thorough kneading on all my pressure points. This is a no-oil treatment. All my muscles and bones were accessed from all sides with full body pressure coming in from the soles of her feet. The pressure was applied systematically along my limbs ( inner, outer and middle). Traditionally giver and receiver exchange places so that both get both roles . It is therefore also called Altruistic Yoga or Yoga for Two (not sure what Yoga has to do with this, but never mind!) Thus by massaging my tightened muscles and accumulated fatigue, after 90 mins of bliss I came out of the treatment room shining like a Bodhisattva! (And I was not asked to exchange roles with Shama either!)
|Therapist Shama sharing her light through her feet.|
|Anam and me|
The Hilot treatment works in 12 steps starting with cleaning of the feet, a thumb technique on my back, moving on to pressure points, and long effleurage strokes across my whole body. The whole procedure was geared to stimulate the nerves, increase lung activity, soothe the nervous system, as well as break up deposits found in the joints. It took 120 minutes and after my hard work in the kitchen I really appreciated this great relaxing treatment. The oil they used was pure almond oil.
Sreejith then drove me around and showed Meera Vanam, the Ayurveda Centre's residential accomodation, which is open not only to Ashramites but also to outsiders wanting to come in for the treatments, and the cream of their suites, The Maharaja Villa, for VVIPS where treatments are brought to the villa (oh how Indians LOVE to be spoilt like this)!!!!!
|Meditating in Meera Vanam|
|The Maharaja Villa|
|Yes always remember to smile|
The next day I tried the Haritakalepam. The base of this chlorophyll wrap is the Moringa Oleifera leaf of newly discovered superfood, our own grown drumsticks. Moringa is used for "tired" blood (anemia), arthiritis/rheumatism. asthma, cancer, constipation,diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, intestinal ulcers, heart problems, high blood pressure, kidney stones, fluid retention, thyroid disorders and bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic infections!!!! Whew, no wonder its a superfood.
Today I had two therapists working on my body. Anam from yesterday and another sweet girl from Arunachal called Thutan Lhamu. They started with a prayer to Dhanwantari, the God of Health, and proceeded to clean my feet and set me up for a four hands synchronised Abhyanga massage.
I must admit, that I usually find four hand massages distracting because most of the time the difference in each therapists pressure and speed can cause me disturbance energetically. Here, however, I found the synchronisation very thorough. This wrap includes a five step process so the massage was followed by an application of "chana"(chickpea) paste over my entire body. For the first time in my spa experience history I was then asked to lie down inside this gorgeous wooden steam box and allow my body to absorb the oil and the nutrients of the chana paste. It was most relaxing.
Steaming the Ayurveda way
After 10 mins of steaming my body was cleaned of the paste and I was asked to lie down while the chlorophyll wrap was gently applied to my body. I was delighted to know that the leaves for this wrap were handpicked from the Ashrams organic garden and freshly ground with pavitra sukhoshan jal into an aromatic paste. With a rich array of vitamins, protiens and minerals. Haritakalepa delivers powerful antioxidants to the skin cells as well as moisturises, nourishes and cleanses the skin. After the application my body was warmly wrapped around and I was asked to relax for another 15 mins with the lights dimmed and soothing music to keep me company.
It was hard to get up after such pampering but the wrap HAD to be washed down and the final step of this beautiful treatment involved a gentle massage on my facial muscles with my favourite Kumkumadi oil. This oil is a concoction of highly valuable herbs including saffron and I absolutely love the smell as it takes me into my own journey of the vast number of Ayurvedic treatments I have experienced in some of the most beautiful resorts of the wolrd, amongst coconut palms, monsoon rain, outdooor showers, oceanside treatment rooms, humidity of South India, surrendering to the oily body and hair, listening to the sweet voices of the therapists singing the prayer to Dhanwantari. and, usually, birds chirping in the trees in this commonly outdoor experience.
The girls topped the treatment off with some small rubbings of herbs on my head and forehead to prevent me from catching a cold!
Id like to thank Neha Ahuja, Sreejith BS and Poornashree for this great experience at the SSAP.
|Rudra Puja on Monday|
Recommendation: Some open windows and balconies to bring in the sounds and light of nature would definitely enhance the experience.