13 Jan Sen Wellness on the beach in Sri Lanka
What better way to welcome in 2016 than with a deep physical & mental detox at the Sen Wellness Sanctuary, on a far-flung beach in Sri Lanka.
The Sanctuary is the inspiration of Sri Lankan-born Sam Kankanamage, founder of London’s Sen Wellness holistic healthcare clinic, beloved by many of London’s cognoscenti.
I was lucky enough to be among the 11 guests welcomed for the Sanctuary’s first retreat, over Christmas & New Year. We were treated to a personalised programme of Ayurvedic consultations & treatments, as well as four hours of Kundalini yoga each day. Ayurveda has always been a mystery to me. A so-called Ayurvedic specialist in London once put me on a 24-hour mung bean diet. I’ve never touched mung beans since. In Sri Lanka it takes 7 years to train as an Ayurvedic doctor; the country even has a Ministry of Ayurveda.
“Ayurveda is a system which balances the mind & body to allow access to a higher state of being and a reconnection to your spirit.” That’s how the resident Ayurvedic doctor at the Sen Wellness Sanctuary puts it.
For a hedonist like me, this translated into daily body massages with aromatic oils & amazing Sri Lankan cuisine prepared using the freshest of ingredients from the local market & an array of spices fundamental to Ayurveda. I’d never seen or tasted most of the fruit and vegetables before in my life
Our first three days of the retreat were about detoxing, the next about rebalancing, & then the final 3 about building up the body’s strength and immune system. The perfect 9.
For the yoga, unlike other retreats where tutors come and go, Breath of Life Sanctuary has a resident tutor for the season. For us, this was Maren Lander, who prior to leaving for Sri Lanka taught at London’s Sen Wellness Clinic, as well as at Evolve & Triyoga Chelsea.
Like at Sen Wellness Clinic in London, Kundalini yoga is the order of the day, a school of yoga that looks to achieve a mind-body balance through postures, breathing practices, meditation & chanting.
At 6ft (1.8m), with a strong bone structure & Germanic blond hair, Maren was a natural goddess, especially when playing the gong in the open-air yoga room. Her English husband was the in-house ‘head of entertainment’ for New Year’s Eve. A lot of fun. The retreat was a far cry from the TV series Namaste, Bitches.
Waiting for my suitcase to emerge on the conveyor belt at Colombo airport, I had had my eyes on every potential bean-eating, ujjayi breathing, yoga freak as possible companions.
To my relief, my fellow yogis – many of whom had never done yoga before – were ‘normal’, fun people … who liked to laugh & came laden with bottles of Taittinger champagne.
Given that Kundalini yoga is practised with closed eyes, I was also saved from any ‘I-can’t-stretch-as-far-as-you’ complex. So with Condé Nast Traveler naming Sri Lanka as one of 2016’s top destinations, here are my 15 reasons why this really was the holiday to beat all other holidays, or at least for now:
On Rekawa beach
Sen Wellness is located in a nature reserve on Rekawa beach. The south-facing aspect of the beach means that it is one of the few in Sri Lanka to get both sunsets & sunrises. It’s also deserted, apart from the fishermen & the turtle watch men, employed to protect the local turtle population.
We captured the moment when a 15-year old female turtle paddle back into the sea after laying her eggs, & then on another day the sight of two little baby turtles paddling into the water after hatching from their eggs. Amazing! Precious!
You can feel the pulse of nature: the rich, tropical vegetation, the birds, butterflies & animals, from wild monkeys & peacocks, to chipmunks, & roosters, the symbol of Sri Lanka.
Kundaline yoga at Sen Wellness
The day starts with yoga on the beach, watching the sunrise, followed by a stroll across the sand to where the currents are milder for a swim. For those feeling strong, the local fishermen appreciate a hand to drag their traditional oruwa boats out of the water.
The yoga ‘space’ indoors is open to the elements. Nothing beats lying down for shavasana relaxation after a two-hour yoga session in the evening & relaxing to Maren’s therapeutic gong ‘bath’ as night falls & the fireflies come out.
The Cacao Ceremony, held on full moon & for New Year’s, was very popular among the guests. We each drank a big jug of 42gr, almost half a big chocolate bar, of pure crushed-up cacao with hot water added – brilliant when you haven’t had coffee for days – while Maren took us through the ceremony. For me, it was a chance to lie down but also to help clear out those negative thoughts & to recharge.
A full Ayurvedic consultation with the resident Ayurverdic doctor. This is when you can come out with all your bodily and mental kinks, as he taps your back & looks at your tongue & asks lots of questions.
The most amazing of the daily body treatments was shirodhara. This involved a steady stream of warm, aromatic oil poured across the forehead to calm the mind & soothe the nervous system… & it worked.
The staff. Every morning, we were gently woken by two smiling faces & a cup of hot cumin or coriander tea. All the staff were warm, caring & respectful.
The fresh flowers, especially lotus flowers and water lilies, floating in water-filled terracotta pots. I’ve always loved flowers.
The circular design of the main retreat area and the cabanas. Our brains like curvy designs, as they reflect nature.
Nine days was the perfect number – 3 to get used to the surroundings, 3 to make the most of them & then 3 to wrap up & wind down. This also allowed for a few days to discover the rest of Sri Lanka & to round up the holiday to two weeks.
Tying a sarong
I regret that even though I was given a sarong, no one taught me how to tie it properly … as you can see, below. I blame it on not having a full length mirror. It was only when I travelled on to Galle that an Indian man in the trendy Barefoot Ceylon craft shop taught me how to do it… too late for the photo below, taken at a local temple.