An Ayurvedic wellness retreat ~ Tangalle, Sri Lanka

For years we have turned to Chinese traditional medicine for a range of treatments because we have been impressed by the merits of a holistic approach to health.

The Chinese medical history is anchored on concepts of energy flow through a web of energy channels that superimposes over the Western description of the human body as being comprised of bones and muscles and blood vessels and organs.

So we always thought of health practitioners falling into two camps… either Western medicine or Chinese medicine. Now that we are living in Sri Lanka we are starting to understand the Sri Lankan medical tradition of Ayurveda, which has a 3,000 year plus, rich history.

The indigenous scheme of traditional medicine, called Ayurveda, has been practiced for many centuries in this island nation. The ancient kings of Sri Lanka who were also prominent physicians, sustained the survival and longevity of the Ayurvedic system based on a series of prescriptions handed down from generations to generations. Interestingly Sri Lanka seems to be the first country in the world to have established dedicated Ayurvedic hospitals.

The definition of Ayurveda is “The Science of Life” and is famed as South Asia’s ancient healthcare system based on herbs and diet. It takes into account the relationship between energy and matter and emphasizes the harmony of mind, body and spirit to cure diseases.

We endeavor to put aside our own bias (in favor of Chinese holistic medicine) and start the process of discovery of what Ayurveda entails….. As we ride our motorbike around the Southern coast of Sri Lanka, we often pass multiple Ayurvedic clinics, Ayurvedic shops and as well, specialized spice and herb gardens that are grown for the purpose of Ayurvedic treatments. It is all somewhat mysterious and it is time for us to “get with the Ayurvedic program.”

Of course we have long been exposed to the concept of the three Ayurvedic body types, or doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) through our years of immersion in and study of yoga, and and how it can help to balance the three energy forces.

Far from being a gimmick to attract tourists to Sri Lanka, Ayurveda is the dominant local medical treatment. In fact 75% of the islands population depends on Ayurveda because of it’s reliance on natural plants,locally grown herbs and created oils. There is even a Minister of Ayurveda in the government.

So off we go for a short stay at Sen Wellness Sanctuary, which is located in a nature sanctuary, on the Southernmost tip of Sri Lanka, near a pristine beach and designed to be in harmony with its surroundings   For us, the setting is the cherry on top.

We take a slow drive further south from beaches we have been exploring in the area. Driving here is easy as the the further south we go, the smaller the villages and the more rural the region becomes. Small countryside scenes of locals going about their day, be it selling from a small store front or working in a rice field or walking home from school, dot the landscape.

School girls in their white uniforms, maroon ties, and long black braids heading home.

We stop along the way at rice fields, all in various stages of the harvesting process.

After driving along the coast, we eventually arrive at the doors of Sen Wellness Sanctuary. Quite a dramatic entrance!

The design of Sen Wellness is impressive in that great care has been placed on creating an atmosphere where serenity reigns and architecture reflects natural designs.

Sen Wellness Sanctuary is a dream that had been 25 years in the making. The founder and celebrated osteopath Dr Kankanamge, left his Sri Lankan homeland for London at the age 18, like so many youth, during Sri Lanka’s troubled history. Dr Kankanamge established a holistic clinic in the medical district of central London and had a vision to return one day to his homeland to establish a holistic health care sanctuary, and now he has done just that with Sen Wellness Sanctuary.

The location of Sen Wellness amidst a natural reserve is very much consistent with Ayurveda’s emphasis on all things natural. The design of the facility further features the primacy of energy as part of the healing process. For this reason the main building and all the bungalows are built as cylindrical shapes like shells, which draw energy from the earth.

Wooden boardwalks lead to the two story bungalows. The board walks are elevated so as to prevent wildlife from being disturbed, allowing them passage, beneath the structures.

The bedrooms are all circular in shape and uber comfy.

Every room has it’s own small patio in the front, facing towards the lagoon.

All meals at Sen Wellness are self serve buffet style in this open, airy colorful space. One of the cooks was available for questions and when I mentioned I cannot eat onions due to allergy, special dishes (sans onions) were created for me at the following meals.

We head out the huge wooden arch doors which are at the entrance to Sen Wellness, to explore the environment and find the beach before we receive our Ayruvedic consultations.

The only sounds we hear are of crashing waves nearby, and we make our way through fields of palm trees soaring up to the sky. We encounter a group of large monkeys who run one by one across the road scampering right in front of us.

The beach is natural, wild and deserted. Close to pristine. Thankfully, it will stay this way as it borders the protected natural sanctuary area. The waters of the Indian ocean at this Southern most tip of Sri Lanka are rough, but there are natural rock pools which are protected from the backwash and good for submerging oneself to cool off from the heat.

 

An Ayurvedic doctor is on staff and each guest receives an Ayurvedic consultation to determine personal needs. As Ayurvedic treatment revolves around diet and herbal supplements, a concotion of treatments is established for each guest. This arrives before dinner on a tray filled with boxes with each guests name on their box of supplements or pre dinner “shots”.

The recommendations we receive from the Ayurvedic doctor re food intake include some surprising information. Using the Ayurvedic concepts of cold and hot foods (which has nothing to do with the temperature but more the innate heat in foods), we are told for instance that raw tomato is fine, but cooked tomato is not. Mushrooms and all citrus fruits are to be avoided. This definitely runs counter to our notion that all fruits have important vitamins and minerals and therefore are beneficial to overall health.

Every morning times and types of massages for treatments are put on a board. Ayurvedic massage is typically 30 minutes long (30 minutes short!) Again counter to what we know, as we have been accustomed to enjoying much longer massages from our time in Thailand where the opposite is true and an hour and a half to two hour massages are the norm. Ayurvedic massage makes use of plentiful herbal oil as well as herbal hot compression packs.

Schedule for the day with yoga offered in the morning and in the early evening.

The yoga shala is a particularly beautiful space, open to the elements. We participated in a Kundalini yoga class, offered by a visiting highly experienced Kundalini yoga teacher from Japan.

Seeing as we are located right on a large lagoon, we decide to opt for early morning bird watching in lieu of the morning yoga. A tiny narrow boat meets us at 6 a.m. We did not see many birds, but we did have a tranquil meditative water experience to start our day in a serene way.

Mangrove trees line the lagoon. Our boat man points out an alligator lurking in the shadows, but that and a few flying birds is all the wildlife we see on our boat ride.

This is a typical Sri Lankan fishing boat ~ balanced on one side by a long log. We wondered if we would fit in, but we did!

Morning water mediation in the glow of the sun rising rapidly.

 

A big thanks to Sen Wellness Sanctuary for hosting us: http://senwellnesssanctuary.com/

 

 

54 thoughts on “An Ayurvedic wellness retreat ~ Tangalle, Sri Lanka

  1. Lexklein

    What a relaxing and informative getaway. I have seen the word Ayurvedic for many years and have always associated it with yoga, but I know very little about it beyond that surface familiarity. I love learning about different mind-body health philosophies, but I sometimes wonder how to balance or integrate the various teachings. The mushroom and citrus prohibitions are a great example; most of the nutrition and health info I have absorbed for years says these are good; how do we really know what system to follow?

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Lex, that is a very good question re health and nutrition.

      Our own answer to this is that the more we learn about a health system the more we incorporate these health guidelines into our day to day life, the better we can assess empirically what works for us and what doesn’t. For instance, we have had so many positive experiences with Chinese foot reflexology and Chinese herbal medicine that there is no longer any question for us that the holistic system is sound.

      When it comes to Ayurveda it is too early for us to opine, and we are sticking with our morning lemon citrus water to start the day. (Which per Ayurveda would be eliminated). Meanwhile we are collecting anecdotes from people in Sri Lanka who have had personal success stories with Ayurveda.

      Ben & Peta

  2. Joanne Sisco

    Being a water-baby, I have a high need to be near, on, or in water. My heart instantly recognized the soft sound of the water lapping against the boat / paddle in the video.

    Your water mediation reminds me of my hiking partner who dons the same expression in the sunshine. She thinks of her face as a solar panel picking up energy from the sun and recharging her batteries 🙂

    Love your photos and this visit to the spa.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Joanne for such lovely feedback! Your hiking friend is absolutely correct – we can recharge our batteries with a bit of sun, water, trees, wildlife. I do like the image of the solar panel…:) I too have a strong need to be near or in water…(witness our large outdoor bathtub under the trees.) It is great living on an island, as the sea is never very far away.

      Peta

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Hi Ez, not swanky but definitely pampering. You would have liked the upstairs open air yoga Shala. Incidentally, reading your commen now I wonder if there is a musical dimension to Ayurveda?

      Ben

  3. Shari Pratt

    Fascinating that nature, spirit, and health are balanced parts of the whole. Thank you for information about Ayurvedic approach to health. And as always, I love your photos, each one a view into Sri Lankan life. The last photo says it all – best wishes to you and Ben.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      I always find nature to be one of life’s great healers. It is not just a matter of personal preference. There is plenty of research to show that spending time in nature not just psychologically but physically / energetically, contributes to a recharging of our “batteries”. Once you accept that we humans, like all living things, are first and foremost energy, then it is not a big leap to appreciate that other forms of energy, ( nature, raw foods…) contribute to good health.

      Glad you enjoyed the photos!!

      Peta ( & Ben )

  4. Jacqueline Bell

    I like the morning water meditation and it relaxed me watching you in the little boat Peta. Beautiful pictures as always and very interesting comments. Thanks to you both

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      So glad you could take a morning boat ride with us. We always think of you when reviewing luxury boutique hotels and retreat destinations, wondering “would Jacqueline like it here?”

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Gros bisous,
      Ben & Peta

  5. Coco Padmani Kaur

    WoW! wonderful Morning Sunrise meditation on the tiny boat in the quiet lagoon !

    Only just watching this 30″ video makes my mind calmer!

    Thanks for coming to taking my Kundalini Yoga Class during your stay!
    Please join my one of retreats ( wellness retreat by cocorooh) in the future one day!

    It was so lovely to meet you, Peta and Ben

    Also thank you so much for your guidance and advise for my new adventure in my small business !

    Sending lots of love to both of you from Maldives, CoCo

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Coco it was a pleasure to meet you and we both really loved your kundilini yoga class. So glad our paths crossed at this particular time when you are launching this part of your business and that we could contribute to your thinking…

      Glad you enjoyed the meditation video on the lagoon, it was so very peaceful.

      No doubt our paths will cross again and the Maldives, being so close by, are definitely on the agenda for 2017 or 2018.

      Ben & Peta

  6. Liesbet

    Looks like an amazing experience, Peta. How long did you guys stay there? How did you feel afterwards? Will you try to keep to the diet (no mushrooms!!) once back home? The natural surroundings are stunning and I can just imagine the peacefulness of the environment. Stunning beach as well!

  7. Peta Kaplan

    We were there for two days, although most guests seem to stay for about a week, or longer. Due to the fact that we were only there a short time we did not receive any of the supplements, as most of them take a while to have impact as is the case with almost all natural supplements. Takes time for them to build up in the body.

    We met with the yoga teacher and another guest about ten days later when they were traveling through the area where we live, (Galle) and they both said that they felt great.

    Nope that diet is not for us… we both start our day with lemon water and believe citrus fruit to be important. Mushrooms too have in our opinion and research many benefits. In fact we take reishi mushroom capsules and make chaga mushroom tea!

    Gorgeous region, beautiful beaches with very little development.

    Thanks for your comments Liesbet!

    Peta

  8. Anita @ No Particular Place To Go

    A beautiful setting and lovely rooms, Peta. I’d love to learn more about Ayurvedic medicine and like it’s emphasis on the natural. Seems so peaceful and a place for you to just BE without all of life’s distractions. (It would be hard though for me to give up citrus fruits, mushrooms and cooked tomatoes …!)

    1. Peta Kaplan

      It is true Anita, that Sen Wellness is set up to “just BE” which is in and of itself a huge benefit. In addition the key to Ayurvedic wellness and healing is the knowledge that health is not a “one size fits all” proposition. One must understand the unique nature of each person and situation, taking into account the individual, the season, the geography, and so on.

      “Each person has an Ayurvedic constitution that is specific to him or her, and movement away from that constitution creates health imbalances; if such imbalances are not addressed, Ayurveda says that illness may develop. So, the early signs of imbalance serve as a wakeup call to make gentle and natural shifts in behavior to return to balance—such as adjusting diet, modifying daily activities and taking herbal remedies for a time.”

      I think this makes a very good point about the individual differences…

      I would find it very hard primarily to give up citrus fruits, mushrooms as well. Oh yes, she also told us… “no pineapple!” We use pineapple to sweeten our kale juice.

      Peta

  9. Sue Slaght

    I have learned a great deal from your article Peta. I must say that as a nurse I am not very knowledgeable about other medical practices. I am definitely open to them and am fascinated to learn more. Your time at the wellness retreat looks so calming and rejuvenating even through the photos. I loved the video and seeing your photo on Instagram too. Wishing you good health and much happiness.
    Sue

  10. Johanna Bradley

    Do the foods you mentioned have to be avoided in all cases, or is this for individuals, Peta? The surroundings are certainly beautiful and I’m sure I’d feel better in general if I stayed there. 🙂

  11. Peta Kaplan

    Johanna it was interesting as we wondered the same thing. Ben had his consultation first and told me the foods he was supposed to avoid for optimal health. Then at my consultation I was given the same recommendations. So we concluded that this advice is for everyone.

    The setting is so tranquil, that yes, just being there one does feel good.

    Peta

  12. Pamela

    I feel calmer, lighter, just reading this post and your experience at the Ayurvedic spa. I’m in awe of the experiences you two have. I’ve heard of Ayurveda and the definition of it here makes sense. We are all energy, and we combine our physical, emotional, spiritual selves to live as completely as possible. If I had my druthers, I’d probably live – permanently – at that spa. (Smiling.) At home, I eat what foods help me feel most complete. Some (and believe it or not, that includes mushrooms, oranges, apples, pears, etc.) do not work well with my system. So I don’t eat them. Lots of lemon though, and vegetables, of course. Yoga every day to ground me, and an amazing yoga class once a week. Dance class to bring out my joy. Reading to engage my brain. And love -lots of love – to balance it all. Sorry – your posts brought out my contemplative self. Thank you so much for sharing. Oh! and what is kundilini yoga?

  13. Peta Kaplan

    Pamela, glad to have had that effect of tranquility and contemplation….

    I am totally in agreement with you: my priorities to be in a happy and positive state are, health (therfore good nutritious food full of enzymes and lots of yoga plus yogic philosophy) )and love. Lots of love!

    And for me, nature ~ as much as possible to stay balanced and calm.

    Kundalini Yoga derives its name through a focus on awakening kundalini energy through regular practice of meditation, pranayama, ( breath) chanting mantra and yoga asana. It is all about moving energy using breath and movement and sound vibrations. It can be quite challenging at first until one gets used to it.

    My current favorite yoga is YIN, have you tried it?

    Peta

  14. gabe

    What a beautiful retreat! So glad you were able to immerse yourselves and then to share with us. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka. But it’s definitely on my bucket list now.

    As a “youngster” steeped in western traditions when it comes to medicine and plans for a career as a surgeon, it was easy for me to choose to go to an allopathic medical school rather than an osteopathic one. However, over the years, especially now that I’ve retired, I recognize several gaps in the allopathic tradition, particularly with regard for mental and idiopathic illnesses, that Eastern medicine is (in my opinion) more likely to successfully treat.

    1. Peta Kaplan

      Hi Gabe….thank you! We love to share good “finds”

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments… I do not have close to the knowledge that you do, but I do agree with you, from my own personal experience and exposure to both.

      Peta

  15. Cheryl

    So serene and peaceful. Thanks for taking me here, Peta. I’d love to relax in such a wellness spa after the excessive outdoor activities we’re indulging in.

    1. Peta Kaplan

      So glad you enjoyed this post Cheryl. It was definitely restorative to be in such a serene environment with no obligation other than remembering the time of your massages! 🙂

      Peta

  16. Lisa Dorenfest

    I love Sri Lanka more and more with every post of yours Peta! 2018 can not get here soon enough. We will definitely have to make our way to Sen Wellness Sanctuary when we are visiting there.

  17. Peta Kaplan

    Oh I am so flattered that my posts are having such a positive impact on you. Excited at the thought of meeting you two courageous adventurers. I am full of admiration and respect for your lifestyle!

    Peta

    1. Peta kaplan

      I definitely had just a moment of hesitation before getting into that skinny narrow boat. My thinking was that if I did fall out, I do know how to swim and the water was not cold….

      Definitely both serene and beautiful and also restorative.

      Peta

  18. J.D. Riso

    Looks like a delightful place to spend a few days. I have been familiar with Aryuvedic medicine for many years, since my time as a massage therapist in the early 90s. To be honest, I much prefer Chinese medicine, because I have experienced more dramatic results with less effort. I do practice oil pulling almost daily, however, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for my health. The concept of hot and cold foods is also in Chinese medicine, though the definition and diagnosis may be different. I’m currently on a hot food diet and it’s not so easy to adhere to. I think the main thing is to listen to your own body. It knows what works best.

  19. Peta kaplan

    We also practise oil pulling having learnt it as part of our yogic practice in India. I recently went to get my teeth checked in the US in February after no dentist visits for about a year and was pleasantly surprised when the dentist said my teeth were so clean that paying for a cleaning would be a waste of money!

    For those wondering…

    https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/lifestyle/how-to-do-oil-pulling/

    Thanks for the feedback J.D.

    Peta

    1. J.D. Riso

      I only go to the dentist once every five years. They always tell me that I’m not a profitable patient. I never need my teeth cleaned or have any problems. 😃

  20. Caroline Helbig

    I think I’d immediately feel well just “chilling-out” in this setting…looks glorious. Thank you for describing the Ayurveda approach. I’ve heard about it but didn’t know any of these details. A 30 minute massage is far too short…I just begin to relax at this point! Hmm, interesting and peculiar about citrus, mushrooms, and cooked tomatoes; these are some of my favourite things. BTW, Trish and Steve loved Sri Lanka. Thank you for providing them with recommendations. Now it’s my turn! Cheers, Caroline

  21. Peta Kaplan

    Caroline, totally agree. Thirty minutes of massage is exactly when relaxation begins! 1.5 hours is ideal and we can get good massages five minutes from here, for $30. In fact we try to go once a week ~ massages have become such a necessity for us!

    We enjoy those foods too. Citrus? So packed with vitamins! Mushrooms? Such a variety of benefits. In the end we have to select what works best for our individual constitutions.

    So glad Trish and Steve had such a great time here!! Fantastic. Yes, do come and visit.

    Peta

  22. Louise Terranova

    The yoga shala is such a beautiful space. The two of you must be so bliss-ed out the majority of the time.I just read your green Buddha post a few posts back. I wanted to make a comment but the comments must be turned off. What a stunning temple. I had somehow missed that you painted Peta, so I will have to look out for that side of your in future posts. Louise

  23. Peta Kaplan

    Thanks Judith, glad to contribute to tranquility in your life.

    Yes one can get oranges and limes but not really lemons. Grapefruits yes in Viet Nam, but not Sri Lanka. Mushrooms yes,but a limited variety.

    Peta

  24. Laurel

    What a gorgeous retreat center! I’ve long been fascinated by Ayurveda as well as Chinese Medicine, and find the two can be quite complementary. I’m not opposed to choosing what works from different traditions. :-)) We’re finally back on the road….I could really use a few days at an Ayurvedic retreat right now, but I’ll settle for the Oregon coast. Love the photo of you meditating in the early morning light, Peta.

  25. Peta Kaplan

    Thank you Laurel, your kind words are much appreciated. Glad to hear that you two are back on the road! The Oregon coast sounds incredible. Looking forward to reading about it.

    I totally agree re taking information abput health and healing from different sources and use that which is applicable or works best for you and your body.

    Peta

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